First, thanks to the others who posted about their Mt. Whitney experiences and best practices. I had 2 permits cancelled in 2020.(first covid and then fires), so I've spent the last year lurking on this site, taking copious mental notes. I wouldn't have been as prepared were it not for the insights gleaned from these posts. While I was more physically prepared in 2020, i felt good about my chances of summit.
We had a day permit for Saturday, September 18th (full moon was epic). This was interesting timing, as the forest had just reopened from fire closure.
Drove up from San Diego and arrived into Lone Pine on Thursday the 16th, giving me about 36hrs to acclimate. Picked up permits at the visitor center and got guidance about hikes for Friday. It was super smoky, and I was worried about hiking in bad air. However, the smoke thankfully cleared at higher elevations.
Went to the portal that afternoon and there was only one other car in the lots. saw more deer than people while checking out surrounding area, which is pretty unique (from what I understand). Portal store was also closed. Drive thru Alabama hills was otherworldly in the fire haze.
On Friday, I spent time at Onion Valley & Kearsarge Pass, hiking several miles to adjust to altitude. Beautiful day and trail near the lakes. There was nobody on the trail, except a super nice ranger I met on the way back. We talked about the smoke and how it'd hopefully clear for our ascent up Whitney on Saturday morning. Can't wait to go back and explore that area more.
After getting lunch in lone pine, arrived at the portal Friday around 5 to get prepped for car camping. A few more cars had arrived and more people were hanging out. Met a few other hikers and discussed start times. Had a veggie burger at the portal store (thankfully it opened back up that day) and called it an early night... getting a little bit of anxious sleep before our alpine start!
I could hear people arriving in the lot and beginning to head up the trail close to midnight. We'd planned to hit the trail around 130, and ended up leaving right on time.l, headlamps ablaze.
Shout out to the guy from Seattle who hiked up with us, drinking beer and red bulls...oh to be 25 again!
I'd packed 2 liters of water and another of Gatorade. I don't typically drink a lot during hikes, but preferred to be extra prepared given altitude. Ended up drinking way less than anticipated... consuming only a liter on the way up and another on the way down. Was prepared to filter water, but didn't have to. Ate a few snacks l, but also not really a big eater while hiking. Definitely ate more on the way down.
We hiked the first half of the ascent in the dark, with sunrise occuring while we're on the switchbacks (just after 6 am). They're bad and seem endless, but thankfully not too steep. Beautiful experience. Sort of bummed to have missed the first 6miles of scenery due to dark, because it's beautiful and we were too tired to fully appreciate it on the way down! Incline was manageable and we made great time (about 30mins/mile) up to trailcamp (about 6miles).
We passed a number of other hiking groups and everyone was super gracious and we all encouraged each other through the dark and cold.
Switchbacks took a while (almost 2 hrs) but weren't too bad, however trail crest to the summit was gnarly. Super tiring and challenging terrain, and it got very cold and windy. I'd brought a few layers so body was warm, but forgot my gloves(!)...kept wondering if frostbite was possible without seeing frost lol! While it was challenging, it was equally inspiring and beautiful. It was also not as sketchy as I'd feared, and I don't love heights. Ample room on the trail to stay safe. Don't think I'd feel so comfortable if there was lots of ice/snow.
Scenery to the west was spectacular even with the fires raging somewhere nearby, and the views to the east also clear and magnificent. Took it very slow and ended up being about an hour for each of the last 2 miles!
Came upon the summit rather suddenly, just after 9am (7.5hrs in). So stoked to see the hut! I laughed out loud, feeling energized but also delirious. Picked my way up the trail to the geo marker and views off the ledges. There was only 1 other guy up there when we arrived. We took photos for each other and checked out the hut for about 5 mins before heading back down. It was uncomfortably cold and we didn't want to waste energy shivering when we still had 11 miles to hike back.
Trail back was very tiring...22miles is a long day! However, great opportunity to encourage others on their journey. We were all smiles on the way down! About 2-3 miles from the trailhead, I met the same Ranger from day before at Kearsarge Pass. Super nice coincidence. Ultimately, it took us about 6 hours to get back to the car, limping across the finish. Wished I'd packed my running shoes to switch into for a bit more comfort on the final stretch, but it's all good.
Arrived to the car around 330 and drove the 5 hours back to San Diego that evening, basking in the glory of a bucket list accomplishment. All the training and preparation was worth it for such an amazing hiking experience. Not something I'd do again anytime soon though - lots of trails out there!
Thanks again for all the insights gleaned from this site and fellow hikers. https://photos.app.goo.gl/uZcHbqwWUFxFs2UC7