Hey everyone (waves). I love reading trip reports and never see enough of them so.. here you go for anyone else feeling the same. First, thanks everyone for sharing all their experience and knowledge on these forums.
SO, I saw a good looking weather break so I grabbed a spontaneous walk up for June 3rd.
I didn’t have a plan beyond enjoying a day hike and run down. I slept at the portal and planned to leave between 4-5am. I was most looking forward to seeing the whole trail in daylight (I’ve been up twice but only in darkness).
I wore tights with shorts layers over top, brought an ultralight windbreaker and packed my serious goretex layers in my run vest with a serious pair of gloves (weather was supposed to be moderate, but I just feel happier with layers packed). Brought my good headlamp and extra battery even though it was going to get light soon (again, I just like knowing I can stay out all night if I want). Wool toe socks with normal wool socks over top, minimalist trail running shoes (xero).
Hydration / fueling strategy:
Running in the alpine, I carry 3x calories to account for accidents that might drop me to zero miles/hour, or distractions I want to pursue. I make a DIY powder for my water flasks (mostly maltodextrin with electrolytes, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and protein and caffeine), I packed 10,000 calories worth split in 5 mini popsicle baggies. I mashed one banana with some lemon juice into 2 baggies, mashed one avocado with salt and lemon into 2 baggies, and mashed one potato with cheese and salt into 2 baggies. All this fits easily in my run vest pockets. I carry 2 500ml soft flasks in the front of my vest (that I mix powder into), and I carry a 2 liter reservoir soft sack in the back of my vest. I also carry an empty Katadyn Be Free 1 liter soft flask with filter top to filter water. Carrying 3 liters of water may seem unnecessary with so much water access up to the switchbacks. However, I always run with full capacity water to be conditioned for when I need it (I live in the desert) so I’m very used to it and the pack is stupendously comfortable (Salomon ADV 12). Also, and most important, it allows me to summit without stopping to filter on the way up.
How it went:
I left the portal at 4:30 am with the plan to really take it easy. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was considering a double summit by going over and back. I thought about it last year and it’s been on my mind. Still, I didn’t think I was going to go for it that day. It was still just an abstract idea.
Temps were moderate and the wind was minimal. It got light quick but then hazy clouds covered the sun. It was perfect. I passed the Whitney Zone sign quickly and before I know it I was cruising through outpost camp. I hadn’t broken a sweat. Approaching big horn meadow the wind picked up a little but I only put my gloves on and felt great.
I was surprised how snow free the 99 switchbacks were. I know just last month they were dangerous. I stopped for some time at the base trying to understand how Lambo had lost his life. I felt sad, but filled with a sudden sense of purpose. I wanted to do something in his memory. I decided I’d try the double summit over and back if I felt good at the top, and honor his memory in the process.
I walked softly and steadily up the switchbacks and suddenly I was at the cables. I love these switchbacks. It’s a great section of sustained climbing and the views you get in both directions as you ascend are so spectacular. There was a small amount of water trickling and ice in places but no problem. The cables had snow on the left but exposed rock all the way up next to the posts.
Before I knew it I was at Trail Crest (or Superman’s fortress of solitude as I refer to it in my mind). There are trail crests and then there are trail crests. Whitney’s trail crest is in a league of its own. That whole section before the summit boulder field is just spectacular. I’ve been up there twice before but in pitch black so I took my time and soaked in the views.
I enjoyed the boring boulder field slog because I’d never seen it in the light. A couple small snow sections persisted but they were easily passable as they had deep footpath troughs worn into them. Finally the summit shack came into view. I signed the register, sighed as I have before at the sad dilapidated vandalized state of the shack, and wandered over to the old sign. It was 9am, somehow I’d summited in 4.5 hours, half hour faster than my personal record and I thought I was taking it easy.
Well, that settled any misgivings, I was certainly going to double up.
I turned around, jogged back down the boulder field, and took to trail crest again. This time when I got to the JMT junction, I turned right for the first time. It felt thrilling, I was going the wrong way. With every step I was descending down the wrong side of Mount Whitney getting further in multiple dimensions from the portal and my vehicle.
Cruising down the immense switchbacks down the west side was uneventful. The views were pretty, watching the basin open up as I descended and Mount Hitchcock begin to lift higher and higher while reflecting in its lakes. Very beautiful spot. I want to go up Hitchcock now. I got to the bottom quickly and jogged to Guitar Lake to filter water and have a picnic lunch. It was only a little over 2 miles down to the lake, why hadn’t I done this before? When I was ready I stood up and looked at Whitney (pretty ugly and uninteresting from that side to be honest). My vehicle was on the other side of this mountain, it felt great!
On the way back up the west side switchbacks it started happening. I started encountering JMTers and PCTers who I’d passed up top. They were confused to see me ascending now. We had a good laugh about it. Within no time I was back at trail crest. This was my bailout option, I could skip the second summit and instead continue over and down the main trail. I still felt great though, I hadn’t really gotten tired yet and I wasn’t sore. I wanted my money’s worth, I didn’t want to stop until I was tired. I carried on up trail crest for a second time, enjoying the views all over again as the day had cleared and little fluffy clouds had filled the sky.
The whole way up and down the summit boulder field I kept running into people I’d chatted with during the day on different parts of the mountain. Everyone was thoroughly confused to see me again and we all had a good chuckle over it. I love the ephemeral friendships that pop up on trail as we all share time on the mountain together.
Back on the summit, I signed the register again and also signed for Lambo in-memorial Rest In Peace and fly well brother.
Nothing but downhill back to portal. I snapped a pic of the old sign again and turned around for the ride down. The boulder field went quickly and trail crest was over too soon. Crossing back over to the eastern side I smiled as I got back to the switchbacks. I love the 99 switchbacks. Descending quickly is like upside down foot juggling hopping from rock to rock while maintaining momentum. The views to the left then to the right, Mount Whitney, Wotan’s Throne, Mount Irvine, Mount McAdie. It’s just the greatest section of trail ever. I love it. No problems at the cables, then before I knew it I was back at Trail Camp.
I stopped to filter water and added my windbreaker layer. Had a great chat with some people at the lake then continued on my way. Somewhere between Trail Camp and Outpost Camp I encountered Ranger Chris. It was the first time I’ve seen a ranger in the Sierra! I was so excited! He was really friendly and answered my avalanche of questions (I have so many permit questions). That was really cool. I’m bummed I forgot to ask him to check my permit, hah.
From Trail Camp down to the portal is a mellow descent with gorgeous canyon views. It’s relaxing to just flow down this section reflecting on everything that happened over the day. Before I knew it, I was passing under the portal gateways and my day was done.
12 and a half hours later from when I’d left in the morning. 30.5 miles 9528 total gain. Same mountain, different person. What a wonderful place. We are all so lucky. Rest In Peace brother Hawk aka Lambo, fly forever.
Very impressive. Thanks for posting (I agree, I wish there would be more trip reports posted here). Even when I am in my best mountain fitness I don't think I would ever have the mental strength to go down to Guitar Lake and back up after having summited Whitney. And you made it look easy.
Thanks, I’m sure you can though. It’s surprisingly close to get down to Guitar Lake and I’d say the trip back up to Trail Crest is easier than New Army Pass (need to look at distance/elevation to be sure). Overall I was surprised, the weather really helped also.