This was a somewhat unplanned trip. My original plan was to day hike Mt Whitney on August 10th, shortly after returning from a backpacking trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico the first week of August. Instead of day hiking I had to deal with some family business so I wasn't sure whether I was going to make it to Mt Whitney this year.
Last week on recreation.gov I found a single overnight permit for Sunday, July 27th, so I reserved it. My new plan was to hike to Outpost Camp, spend the night (or part of the night at least), then get an early start and hike to the summit by sunrise. I figured (hoped) that there would be some residual benefit from hiking at altitude at Philmont 3 weeks previously (we spent several days above 9000 feet and went up to 12000 feet).
I drove to Lone Pine on Sunday, arrived late morning, and hiked to Outpost Camp. Set up my tent and got some water (4 liters) from the "5+ Outpost Camp" location on the Rockwell Water PDF. Later while exploring Outpost Camp I found that someone had taken a crap about 20 feet from the creek below the waterfall; there was crap and toilet paper with no effort made to bury or disguise it. Other campers were refilling just downstream from there. There was another turd and t.p. pile across the creek towards Bighorn Park but that one was covered with a few rocks.
Anyway, I drank a couple liters, ate an early dinner of dried apricots, a Macrobar, and cashews and settled down for the night. I slept a little off and one over the next few hours, waking up a few times to pee (I drank about 4 or 5 liters total that day). Shortly after midnight the day hikers started showing up; one group went off trail (unintentionally) and walked through the the campsite. I got ready to go and left camp a little after 1:00 a.m.
The trail from Outpost Camp to Trail Camp is tough and probably the least enjoyable part of the trail for me. Between Trailside Meadows (where I refilled my water supply) the trail became indistinct in places, and at one point I was surrounded by granite and nothing felt familiar so I had to boot up my phone and check my location. (A similar thing happened heading towards the John Muir Trail junction after Trail Crest, I did not recall the downhill being so steep and thought, incorrectly, that I had missed the sign and went left down the JMT.)
The switchbacks were uneventful; my legs felt fresh and my breathing was not labored. The trail from Trail Crest to the summit however was not all that fun. It was dark, cold, and lonely, and harder to maintain a steady pace with good foot placement than in daylight hours. As Iíve become older my balance in the nighttime has gotten worse and I was feeling that on this stretch of the trail. This part of the trail was the only part where I was having negative thoughts, primarily wishing that I was taking a nap and that it wasnít so cold, and how it wasnít worth waking up so early to see the sunrise.
I had read about the bypass trail to the summit to avoid a snow field and also that the trail was marked by cairns. I saw the cairns and figured why not Iíll give it a try. It was pretty steep and not much of a trail, and I could not determine any logic to where the cairns were placed, but eventually I found myself on the usual trail and made it to the summit before sunrise.
There was a hiker before the summit who seemed to be wandering slowly and aimlessly; I said good morning and he just gave me a blank look. Near the summit hut another hiker asked me if the hiker was part of my group, I said no I was solo, and he the yelled out to the hiker I had passed ďhurry up youíre going to miss the sunrise.Ē I think he called him Ricardo? I canít remember but more on these two in a moment.
It was pretty cold on the summit, Iím guessing somewhere in the high 30s. Minimal wind. Maybe about 8 hikers total on the summit including me and the 2 hikers I had just encountered. The sunrise was worth the effort. I ate some cashews, and some dried apricots, and drank some water. It was cold and wanted to get off the mountain and get a hamburger at the Portal store.
Leaving the summit, I overheard the second hiker talking to one of the other sunrise watchers about the first hiker I had passed. What the second hiker said was that there was no way the first hiker was going to make it down the mountain, and that both had ďbeen awake for 3 days.Ē The sunrise watcher offered up some electrolyte tablets and water and said the first hiker should nap for a couple of hours. I did not inject myself into the conversation and was not asked for help. I figured there wasnít really much I could offer. Based on my observations, there was not a reasonable possibility that the first hiker (who was now resting in the summit hut) could be assisted down the mountain in the condition he was in; water, electrolytes, and rest/sleep seemed like his best option at the moment and that was being handled; and there was cell reception on the summit (another sunrise watcher was talking on his cell phone) so an emergency call could be made if necessary. But Iíd be lying if I said I didnít want to know, who are these guys, where did they come from, and why have they been awake for 3 days?!
The view to the west while leaving the summit was fantastic with the early morning, changing light (Iíll post some pics below). I took the regular trail off the summit and walked through the snow field, which was not very big and was easy to navigate. There were less than a handful of day hikers I passed on the way to Trail Camp; most were coming up the switchbacks while I was headed down. It didnít seem like there was as many people on the mountain as I had seen in previous years.
I stopped for a bit at Trail Camp to watch and take pictures of 3 fat marmots digging through a pile of food/trash then headed back to Outpost Camp to break down my tent. I stopped at Trailside Meadows to dip my feet in the water and in the light of day it was incredibly scenic with snow and wildflowers.
Some darker clouds had developed before 10:00 a.m., and I was glad I was not headed towards the summit like most of the day hikers.
I made it back to Outpost Camp, broke down the tent, collected the bear canister, and headed back to the Portal. It had become more cloudy and the temperature was pleasant. Closer to the Portal I took the old trail down to the Portal; if you have a general idea where to look it is readily visible from the main trail.
Once at the Portal, I had a bacon cheeseburger (which was excellent), fries and a Coke, then drove back to LA. Temps in the Valley and Mojave were 108-113.
- No abandoned wag bags...but poo and t.p, near water sources, was not hard to find.
- To filter water I used a Hydrapak Seeker 2 liter reservoir and a Katadyn BeFree filter. I carried the filtered water in 2 one-liter Smart Water bottles.
- It was worth getting up early to see the sunrise from the summit but it was not easy to hike alone in the dark from Trial Crest to the summit. Not sure I'd ever want to do that again.
- What I wore to the summit: hooded midweight Polartec PowerDry baselayer and Frogg Toggs hooded jacket over that, Patagonia Houdini wind pants, and thin polyester liner gloves. Once I stopped moving I put on a Montbell U.L. Down parka. I wish I had worn warmer hiking pants and had thin fleece gloves instead, as my hands were a bit numb by the time I reached the summit. What I was wearing kept me warm long enough to watch the sunrise but I wanted to get moving again in order to warm up.
- I had a change of clothes (shorts and long sleeve linen shirt) ready for when I descended the switchbacks which was a good call. It was significantly warmer going down the switchbacks than it was the backside of the mountain.
- Day hike vs. overnight: I prefer day hiking Mt Whitney, but I really enjoyed camping at Outpost Camp.