I rarely do this, but because I think it's an interesting story, a trip report. And, as Steve wrote, there are lessons to be learned. My pictures are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rockwellb/sets/72157629910183080/
Steve and I started up from the Portal around 10 AM on Friday May 25. Jay was delayed, and would start at 12:30. Our plan was to make Trail Camp that day, go to the summit and stay there, and come out the third. But a cold storm was coming through, with highs in the 20s at Trail Camp Friday and Saturday, and NNW wind gusting to 60 mph.
For a couple of reasons I had decided to not play Ranger Bob this time, so picked up a permit from the Visitor Center. Steve and Jay had their own.
I was hiking slowly, and at 2:30 we were only halfway between Bighorn Park and Mirror Lake. We met up with Stephan, age 60, an investment banker from the Bay Area. He was walking slowly, bent over to his right side. He had quite a story to tell.
Stephan had left Whitney Portal at 1:30 the previous morning
(Thursday) on a day hike of Mt. Whitney. He said he got to the summit at 5:00 PM (15.5 hours later!). It was very cold (probably around zero) and windy, and we wondered why he had not turned back much earlier. On the summit, he made a twisting motion, and felt immediate pain in his back, left side. He started down.
At 5:00 AM (12 hours later) he arrived at Trail Camp. He had descended in pitch darkness (with headlamp), negotiated hard icy snow on the switchbacks, and with his painful back injury and the cold and the wind. He went to the first tent he saw, woke the two guys up, and said he had a medical emergency and was freezing cold. Could he go inside? They said they had no room. He went to the next tent and got the same response from two females. Now he figured he was going to die of hypothermia and pleaded with them. They finally said OK; they were going to leave for the summit and he could get in their sleeping bags. They did, and he did.
At 8:30 AM, after 3.5 hours of "sleep," he got out and starting hiking down. Six hours later, he met us below Mirror Lake: a distance of 2.5 miles.
We asked about his pain and he said it was severe and constant. A couple of people had given him Motrin and Aleve, but they had made his stomach upset. Steve offered him a different kind, and he eagerly accepted. We asked if he were able to continue down by himself, and he said no problem; he was just going slowly. His spirits were very good. There being six hours of daylight left to travel less than 4 miles, we wished him luck and continued up.
By 3:00 PM, we reached Mirror Lake and decided to turn around. The impending two more days—and nights—of uncomfortable conditions were encouragement to come back another time.
Passing through Bighorn Park, we picked up Jay, and he was happy to turn around as well. Just below Bighorn Park, at 4:30, we met Stephan again. He had managed to descend less than a mile in two hours. He was off trail to the downside, having started to cross a small snowfield, and did not see the continuation of the trail on the other side. We told him to come back up, and he asked for help with his pack. His poles were of little help, one having broken and the other was bent. He said it was a lot better with his pack off!
So Steve offered to carry his pack down to the Portal for him and leave it by the store. Of course that meant if he was not able to make it out, he would spend a second night--with temperatures in the teens--and now without the contents of his pack. At that point I realized we could not leave him to descend alone. At his rate, I estimated he would reach the Portal between 9 and 10 PM—if he were able to keep walking.
I decided that Steve should go on, with Stephan's pack, to get to the Portal and turn off any impending search. He was now a full day overdue, and he said his daughter would be panicking. Steve would call his daughter and tell her her father was OK. Jay and I would assist him, and if at some point he were not able to continue, we had the contents of our overnight packs to make do. One of us could go for help the next morning if necessary.
The next four hours were slow, but uneventful. I stayed somewhat ahead, providing a carrot to keep him moving, while Jay engaged him in investment banker banter to hopefully keep his mind on something other than the pain. I knew he would not have eaten or drunk nearly enough, which would contribute to weakness and slowness. He complained of being dizzy a little. We managed to get a few bites down him, and a few sips of water, but only now and then.
Initially it seemed he could walk a couple of minutes before stopping to rest, but toward the end it was about 45 seconds of walking and 15 seconds of rest. We arrived at the Portal at 8:30 PM. Stephan had managed a day climb of Mt. Whitney in almost exactly 43 hours.
He said he would get in his car and drive home; it would be a seven-hour drive. We strongly encouraged him to spend the night at the Dow Villa but he didn't seem convinced. He was most interested in finding a mini-mart where he could charge his cell phone and call his daughter. Jay, Steve, and I got our gear organized and loaded, and started down the hill, fifteen minutes or so after we parted company. We passed him, driving slowly, about three miles down from the Portal.