Before yesterday, I’d summited Whitney twice by day hiking, both in past months of August. Both were hard, long days requiring some compromises at one end of the day or the other (starting or finishing in darkness since I need about 12-13 hours. So I thought I would try an overnight, camping at Trail Camp. NB: I score the permits last minute on Recreation.gov and not by lottery.
Here is my summary of Pros vs Cons for camping:
Pros for Camping
—Hiked in during daylight and at my pace, not the on-the-clock day hike feeling
—My evening at Trail Camp was pleasant until it was time to sleep (see below)
—The next day I woke up at sunrise and was off the mountain in time for dinner
—Took frequent breaks, lingered at the Summit, and just did things at a more relaxed pace
Cons for Camping
—The weather had better be perfect for camping. Trail Camp and the Summit were windless and warm with a full moon yesterday, which is rare. You can only plan that within about 5 days of departure. With wind or cold, Trail Camp can be a miserable place (see other posts)
—Getting the extra gear to Trail Camp was far more brutal than I expected. Shelter, Sleep system, Bear Can, Day Pack, More food, More clothes (you’re resting at camp), Extra Wag Bag, Phone charger...My pack weighed about 18 lbs more. At 12,000 feet, it makes a difference
—Setting up and breaking down camp at altitude is a chore, especially after you summit and just want to get down
—You can’t sleep after about 2am when the pole-clacking starts from the summit sunrise worshippers. By 4am, there’s a group clacking down the trail every 5-10 minutes
—I thought I’d be more “rested” and have an easier summit after staying at Trail Camp, but it was just as hard for me. Remember, you still have to carry a day pack and the dayhikers probably had a much better meal before they started their hikes. For me, my appetite is suppressed above 11-12k feet: and this is common for many.
In summary, despite the more “relaxed” pace, I’ll be dayhiking from now on. LED lights are bright and low weight so dusk and even total darkness are not a problem. And let’s face it: how comfortable is a climb up Whitney? Not very. So why turn 12 hours into 24?
If I had to camp again (which I won’t) I would try:
—Camp at Consultation Lake away from the trail (if that’s possible) to get some SLEEP
—Get the lightest backpack, 1 person tent and sleeping bag I could find (but that’s $1000+)
—Only go in perfect weather, which means getting the stars to align like this year
—Find another person to go last minute to split the weight
Hope this helps someone