I'm a little late in posting, but there is a saying 'life is what happens while making other plans'.
Anyway, here's a few recap points:
The last call for a burger at the portal store is now 7:15pm
It's getting down into the low 30's overnight, so be prepared with warm sleeping gear. If you are hiking in the dark, be aware of ice around any water crossing.
The cable section is starting to ice up. Still very passable, but be careful on the way down. I saw 1 person with a full pack (possible JMT hiker) slip on the ice and hit the ground at 3:30pm. Luckly, when she fell, she slid in towards the mountain and not through the cables and over the side.
The remaining snow field near the summit has a good foot trench and is passable without too much struggle in the warm daylight hours. I'm sure it freezes to ice in the early morning hours.
Consider packing a disposable camera in case of battery failure. My camera only has a rechargeable battery that requires the use of a USB cable to my laptop to recharge. The battery died at the cable section of the switchbacks. (I know, it's time to upgrade the camera)
The skeeters are minimal, but still around. There are a lot of bees at the Portal Store that dive bomb your plate of food as soon as you bring it out of the store. You will have to develop a technique to swat the bees away with one hand and shove the food in your mouth with the other.
A little background for this TR:
This was my 3rd attempt at summiting Whitney. The first time was 2006 with a couple of friends on a overnight. I got a splitting headache at Trail Crest and returned to Outpost Camp. I attempted a day hike last year (2010) and a intestinal bug had me turning around at Lone Pine Lake.
To minimize AMS, I had been hiking to 10k in the local So Cal mountains for 3 Saturdays in a row before leaving for Lone Pine. I was able to scheduled a few days of acclimatization into my hiking plans. I made it to the summit without any symptoms of AMS on Fri 9/2.
Sun 8/28 - Arrive at Horseshoe Meadows,Cottonwood Pass Campground, 3pm and set up camp for 2 nights. (10k elevation)
There were a few clouds and raindrops when I arrived, but all cleared out by 5pm and did not see another cloud until Friday at 4:30pm. I did get a little cold overnight. I had a 30 degree bag, long underwear, wool socks, and a beanie. I use a Big Agnes air mattress and a closed cell foam pad. I wasn't shivering, but I did add a second layer of clothes about 3am.
Mon 8/29 - Got up after the sun was up. Took my time with breakfast and by 10am was on my way up Cottonwood Pass (11,160')over to Trail Pass and return to camp. About 11 mile loop. As I started to adjust my hiking poles, one of them would not lock after adjusting the length. I have 20 year old Leki poles. I have a sentimental attachment to the poles and I was really bummed that I might have to get a new set of poles. Beautiful day. Took it slow and easy, getting used to the elevation. Went to bed with 2 layers of clothing. Really helped. Had to think about the next few nights on Whitney. I was car camping and had a bag full of extra clothes. I did not have extra room in my pack for more clothes.
Tues 8/30 - Packed up and went to pick up Whitney Zone permit in Lone Pine. While in Lone Pine, I went by the store, Elevation and picked up a sleeping bag liner. Had a big lunch in Lone Pine then up to Camp at Whitney Portal (8k elevation)
Wed 8/31 - Got up about sunrise and packed the backpack and got the car camping gear stored away. Had breakfast at Portal store. (Bacon & Eggs. No pancake for me) While I was ordering breakfast, asked Earlene if anybody at the store knew how to fix poles. She said Doug Sr was cooking and after he was done he might be able to take a look at them. The store has poles and replacement parts for hiking poles. After I was done eating, Doug was able to get out of the kitchen and take a look at my non-working pole. Basically, it took Doug all of 2 minutes to get my 20 year old pole back into working condition. YEAH! No need for new poles. Now to start the hike up to Outpost Camp. Made Outpost Camp in 3 hours with 30lb pack and set up camp for the night. (10k elevation) Since it was only 2:30pm and I just didn't have enough switchbacks for the day, I decided to do a little more hiking. I went up to the beginning of Trailside Meadow (11,359') with just a water bottle and snacks in the afternoon and returned to Outpost Camp for dinner. On the return, a few switchbacks before Outpost Camp, I ran into a couple of grouse. Or what I thought were a couple of grouse, until I saw a slightly larger 3rd grouse. It sure looked like a mama grouse protecting her 2 teenagers. She chased the kids uphill and perched herself on a rock overlooking the trail, ready to poke my eye out as I passed if I made a move towards the kids. I didn't have my camera at the moment, but saw them the next day and got a couple of pictures.
Thurs 9/1 - Took my time getting up after sunrise. Listened to the downhill hikers (walking zombies) until 9pm or so. Had a few hours of quiet until the first of the uphill hikers came through around 3:45am. The downhill hikers are very quiet and no energy. The uphill hikers are talkative and full of energy. As I was packing up, I noticed a deer grazing on the willows near the creek. I took a few photos and watched as she moved over towards the waterfall. I lost sight of her in the willows. I went back to packing, and then noticed 2 deers on the uphill side of my campsite. As I was reaching for my camera, I noticed there were 2 fawns with the does. Was able to get a few photos. Very hard to make out, but there are 4 deers in the picture.
They all made their way over to the stream and into the brush of Big Horn park.
As I started to hike up to Mirror Lake, ran into the grouse again. Was able to snap a few pictures.
I had originally planned to camp at Consultation Lake on Thurs & Fri nights, but when I arrived, there where tents all over the place. I had met a fellow solo hiker on the trail above Mirror Lake and we played leap frog for awhile and then hiked together as we got closer to Consultation Lake. He was going on to Trail Camp and I decided to go on up to Trail Camp. It took 3 hours from Outpost Camp.
All this time, there were no clouds and very little wind. The sky was amazingly clear and blue.
I set up camp for 2 nights. Both nights were chilly, but the sleeping bag liner really helped with keeping me comfortable. On occasion there was a slight breeze, but for the most part, there was no wind for 2 nights.
Fri 9/2 - Got up a little after sunrise. Started up the switchbacks at 7:50am. (Arrived at Trail Crest in 1 hr 50 min.) There were not a lot of people on the switchbacks when I started. I was really taking a chance with the late start, but I was really hoping the weather forecast of clear skies would hold up. On my way up, I took a couple of pictures of the cable section to show the start of the ice build up. It was the last photos as the battery died in my camera. I continued on, but was kinda bummed that I had no way to take summit photos. I was going to have to count on someone else to take pictures and send them to me. It was a long shot.
As I arrived at Trail Crest, there were some people sitting on the rocks by the TC sign. They were taking a break before continuing to the summit. I found a spot near them and started a conversation. (So far, no symptoms of AMS.) I mentioned this was my first time going past Trail Crest and I was a solo hiker. I also mentioned I'm a little bummed that my camera battery died. One of the guys mentioned that he would be willing to take a summit photo and send to me if we were on the summit at the same time.
They leave about 5 mins before I do, but it wasn't long before we started playing leap frog. At some point, I ended up joining them. Somehow we ended up in a line with Chris as point, his 20 something daughter Jenny, me, and Chris's friend Mike as sweep. Chris set a good, slow, steady pace. We stopped to let the downhill hikers pass (returning from summit)and on a few occasions to let faster uphill hikers pass. If any of us needed to stop, we all stopped. It was never discussed, it just sort of happened. We had some great conversations, marveled at how great the weather and views were. As we got closer to the snow field, Jenny was starting to really feel the altitude. We made it across the snow field and started towards the summit. We made a several stops, as Jenny was getting a little light headed. I never thought of continuing on and leaving the group. We arrived at the summit hut at noon. (4hrs 10min for me from Trail Camp) I had no symptoms of AMS. In fact, I felt really good. Chris took a few summit photos for me. Fortunately, I had a little notebook and pencil to write down email addresses. And I'm glad I got his email & gave him my email soon after arriving on the summit, as I dropped my pencil somewhere on the summit.
Stayed 50 min on summit and had lunch. I met the rest of Chris's group. There were 3 other guys that were faster hikers and went ahead of Chris, Jenny & Mike. We started the return at 12:50pm. I started back down with the group of 6. We got a little spread out after the snowfield, but at the first uphill section of the return, the 3 faster hikers are way ahead, and the group of 4 got together again and stayed together to Trail Crest. We get to Trail Crest by 2:30pm.
On the way up the switchbacks, I passed a used wag bag that was wedge in some rocks. (A lot of people passed by this same wag bag.) I decided if it was there on the return I would pick it up. We had caught up with the 3 faster hikers at Trail Crest, and all 7 of us started down from Trail Crest at the same time. We were staying pretty close together and having some interesting conversations. I'm about 3rd in line when we pass the wag bag. I grab it and pull to the side so I can put it in my pack. So this puts me at the end of the line of 7 hikers. Probably due to the altitude and the long day, but we were in a section of the shorter switchbacks, so we were pretty close together, and the song from the 7 dwarfs pops into my head. You know the tune "High Ho, High Ho, it's off to work we go...." (now get that tune out of your head) I mention the song and the 7 dwarfs, which starts a conversation of who is which dwarf in the group of 7. That is, if anyone in the group can come up with the name of the 7 dwarfs. As I recall, we were mixing up the 7 dwarf and Santas raindeer names. A entertaining way to pass a few switchbacks.
We get to the cables section and wait a little as we watch a downhill hiker with a full pack slip on the ice. We take our time and get spread out at this section. I get ahead of Chris, Jenny, and Mike. Mike & Jenny seem to be really fatigued. Chris is staying with them and tells me to go on. I go down a few more switchbacks and wait until I see them. Chris waves to me to go on. They are ok, just moving slow. I go down to Trail Camp, drop my pack at my campsite, and go back towards the trail to make sure Chris, Jenny, and Mike make it down. They make it to Trail Camp around 4:45pm. They are camping at Outpost Camp, so have a few more miles to go. (They had started from Outpost Camp at 5am) Jenny is feeling better, just fatigued. Mike is dragging, but says he is looking forward to dinner. I say goodbye, and thank them for a great day on the summit.
Sat 9/3 - Pack up and start down the trail at 7am. I see Chris, Jenny and Mike at Outpost Camp. All are up and moving around. The 3 faster hikers have already left as they have a long drive back to the Sacramento area. Chris, Jenny and Mike are in the So Cal area, and not as pressed for time. I take my time getting down and stop several times to just take in the beauty of the area. I stop and chat briefly with a few uphill overnight hikers. As I get closer to the North Fork water crossing I'm thinking about using the old trail, but it's only 10:15 and burgers don't start until 11am. I go down the main trail. After passing the water crossing after the North Fork, I see a can of tuna on the trail. And not a small can of tuna, but the very large, family size can of tuna. I'm trying to figure if it was accidentally dropped or intentionally left. Either way, I pick it up and take it down with me.
I get down to the parking lot, and being Sat and a holiday weekend, the place is jammed packed. But the best part of all, when I drove up for breakfast on Wed, I found a parking spot right across from the TH. In between the pit toilets and the store. I was able to dump wag bags, trash, and put the pack in car in 5 mins. Then it's over to store for shower, burger, fries, and beer!
This was the best week ever!