Sequoia National Park High Point Trip Report

Mt Whitney

Date: July 16, 2002
Author: Peter Maurer

The one-day ascent of Whitney started at 4:15 a.m. and after technical difficulties with head lamps moved along without much incident. Sunrise over the Owens Valley to the east occurred about an hour later, shortly after leaving the wooded area of the first two miles. The trail is so well used (over used?) that there is no way of getting off the trail, and it is primarily a steady climb up the Lone Pine Creek canyon. We reached the first of two backpacking camps as most there were getting ready to begin their climb, and there was quite a line-up at the composting toilets provided to handle the number of climbers.

The trail continues up a series of switchbacks and benches, reaching the second camp at about the 5.5 mile marker by mid-morning. Make sure you fill up water bottles at this lake; it is the last reliable water. Then begins the interminable switchbacks up to the ridge: a ranger stated there are 99 of them, over a distance of 2.5 miles. Fortunately the views are increasingly spectacular and tenacious wildflowers cling to the rocks. I kept thinking about Brewer and his party in the 1860's climbing this route without the benefit of the CCC and the USFS trail. Now that would be an ascent! The view at the crest of the Sierra is breathtaking, almost more so than the summit itself. The whole of the upper regions of Sequoia National Park opens up to the north and west, and mountain ridge after ridge rolls on in every direction. The last two miles along the back side of Whitney and Mt. Muir is almost anticlimactic after that, although crossing some of the gaps between the intervening peaks left you breathless with nearly sheer drops of a thousand feet or more on both sides.

The view from the top is classic, with 360 degree views to the horizons. A solid stream of hikers were either arriving or departing the summit, and we counted upwards of 80 people who signed the register before us that day. Clouds were beginning to gather as we reached the summit so we didn't tarry long, and by 2:00 we were on our way back down. We paid dearly for our failure to replenish our water supply on the way up, and got a bit dehydrated descending the switchbacks to the backpackers camp at the lake. But rehydration and some carbo-loading rejuvenated us after that. The lack of sleep from the previous night and the overall exertion of climbing 6,000 feet in 11 miles took its toll, as we dragged our way down the last 5-6 miles. We reached the trail head just before it got dark, 17 hours after we began the hike, with a mixed feeling of euphoria and relief.

In retrospect, hiking it in one day gave us a feeling of accomplishment, but a more enjoyable trip would have been to pack in and make a several day, if not a week, trip of it to fully enjoy the spectacular scenery of the high Sierra. For those contemplating Whitney, the Inyo National Forest now has a lottery system for which you must apply in February. The details are on the National Forest's web site. Good luck!