♪, ♫ “Who’s Whitney?, they said and smiled in her special way. Whitney, you know I love yah.” (Sing it like Who’s Johnny from El Debarge.) ♪, ♫
Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states of contiguous United States of America and the Sierra Nevada with an elevation of 14,508 feet (4,422 m) above sea level. It is located on the boundary between California’s Inyo and Tulare counties. The west slope of the mountain is in Sequoia National Park and the summit is in the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail (JMT). It lies near many of the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada and rises above the Owens Valley.
The hikers on the group aside from myself are Darlene Arzola, Donny Melara, Edith Rivas, Lucy Montejano, and Pedro Montejano, who I first met them at Havasupai Trip. Then we have Christina Hinojosa and Crystal Gonzales, who I knew from previous hikes. Then there’s Mirella Vela, whom I first met in the San Gorgonio hike earlier. And lastly, Enrique Lucha who I last saw at the Painted Canyon hike at Mecca Hills in March of this year. Darlene got the permits for all of us, a total of 10 hikers. Thank you guys for inviting and letting me join this amazing one day hike.
Originally, I was going hiking with Crystal and Dolores Grant to Iron Mountain which is by itself the number 1 beast of a mountain in Los Angeles for being very hard to hike. That quickly got postponed when Mirella reminded Crystal she was hiking Mt. Whitney. Meanwhile, Dolores had already gone up to Mt. Whitney last June. Crystal’s group is the same group that Christina told me she was going. So I Facebook message her and asked if Crystal is on the same group as hers. She quickly replied and said yes and also wanted me to go with them. I was hesitant at first because I can’t get Friday off since it’s too late to inform my boss. She told me that she’s leaving for Whitney after work. It is doable but with very less sleep. So I told Christina that I’m coming. This was my first time on a blind date with Whitney and I don’t know what to expect of her.
From my home, I used the I-210, I-5, CA-14, and the US-395 freeways heading north. Our meeting place was at the beginning of the Mt. Whitney Trail on 12 am, Saturday, at the Whitney Portal which the elevation is already at 8,360 feet. I got there around 8:15 pm, Friday and parked at the Overflow Parking Lot and did my 2 and half hours of sleep. I was already had less sleep from the previous night worrying about hiking Mt. Whitney. When I got there, I heard loud sounds of water flowing. That was coming from the Lone Pine Creek.
At 11:30 pm, I started walking to the Mt. Whitney Trailhead and didn’t see anyone from our group. There’s a weighing scale hanging to weigh your backpack at the beginning of the trail. My hydration pack measured 15.5 lbs. I laid down on the rock wall and gazed up to the heavens. Wow! Amazing view of the stars and caught some shooting stars too. Few minutes later, I saw light coming down the trail, a hiker just finished the trip from the summit. I greeted and heard her voice with her headlamp pointed at me. She said, “Is that you, John?” To my surprise, someone knew me here. I couldn’t recognize her because it was so dark. It was Ellen Leung who I met at the San Gorgonio hike 3 weeks ago. We chatted for a couple of minutes and she told me a quick story of her hike which lasted 21 hours with her friend before she bid farewell.
The group arrived at the start of the trailhead at 12:15 am. We greeted each other and took our first photos in the dark. Enrique then drove me to the Overflow Parking Lot so I could transfer my car on the side of the road that was just close by. We did that because we were only day hikers and we don’t have permits for overnight parking. Bee got stuck in the sand but with the help of the group, I moved and parked correctly on the side of the road. Enrique then drove us back to the start of the trailhead.
Darlene gave a few instructions to us. Mainly, if someone is far behind and catches the rest of the group coming back from the summit, that someone cannot continue to summit and must go back with them. We all agreed, turned our headlamps on, and started our hike at 12:45 am.
On the first part of Mt. Whitney Trail, there were a lot of poop that I later found out that they came from mules. I tried not to step on them which I probably succeeded. We did saw a few deer on the side and they didn’t even get scared while we were trying to take photos of them. Christina, Enrique, and I were ahead of the group at a good pace. Soon later, I started burping. After 2.4 miles from our starting point, we were right beside the Lone Pine Lake at 9,900 feet. This is the area where permits are required beyond this point for all hikers and overnight backpackers. If you don’t have permits, you will be very likely be escorted off the mountain and possibly fined penalties. My hands started to swollen up due to the altitude. At 3.5 miles, we passed the Outpost Camp, the first of the two popular campsites, at 10,400 feet. My stomach felt funny and I started burping. Beyond this point, Mirella and Crystal overtook the lead and the rest of the group followed. Then after 3.9 miles, we passed Mirror Lake at 10,640 feet. All of these areas were hard to see when it’s dark. After Mirror Lake, the trail transitioned from dirt trail to hiking on granite rocks. As we passed 5 miles on our trek, I started vomiting. At first nothing came out then later on I threw up water. Enrique patted the back of my neck to help let it all out and gave me Ibuprofen to ease the pain. I later found out that Outpost Camp is the best place to acclimate yourself before summiting Mt. Whitney and to minimize the chances of getting altitude sickness. The 3 of us continued our ascent at a slow pace until we reached the Trail Camp. Enrique suggested that we would rest there and get warmed up.
We arrived at the Trail Camp before the sun rises after almost 6 miles of our trek. This campsite has an elevation of 12,000 feet. Beside it on the right is the Trail Camp Pond and a little further on the left is Consultation Lake which I didn’t notice coming up since it was still dark. Although my vomiting had stopped, I needed to take a long breather at this area. This is also the last reliable water source along the trail. At that moment, I thought I was no longer going to make it to the summit. Christina and Enrique told me that this is the best place for me to wait until the rest of the group to come back. I can walk around and explore or try the 99 switchbacks and even go further halfway on the Trail Crest. Enrique pointed out to me also that if I started to have any signs of altitude sickness again, I am to rest and slow down my pace. Heading back to Whitney Portal by myself would be very tricky and I can even get lost since I’m new to the environment. So I agreed and off they went.
I rested for quite a bit at the Trail Camp and I started to feel cold. Even my toes felt it. So I started walking around back and forth as the sun rises but as soon as I stopped at one place, I felt cold again. I decided to walk slowly up to the 99 switchbacks which is around 2 miles long. On the right side, I saw clearly the Chute that is the faster way to reach the summit but only when there’s snow on it. It is a very dangerous route to climb were my friends Dolores and Christina had done this before and succeeded. Along the switchback trail, I saw little red, blue, and yellow flowers blooming and marmots wanting to become your friend. There is also a 50 foot section of cables that protects hikers from falling off on the side when the trail is covered by snow. At the end of switchbacks lies the start of the Trail Crest at 13,600 feet. This area has a great view of Mt. Whitney Trail that we came up and Sequoia National Park on the other side that includes Mt. Hitchcock, Guitar Lake, Hitchcock Lakes, and the John Muir Trail. I have not seen the others from the group coming back yet. I did felt better hiking on the Trail Crest. So I decided to push forward.
At the JMT junction of the Trail Crest is 8.7 miles from Whitney Portal. The 1.9 miles going to Mt. Whitney summit feels longer as you hike the rocky trail. Be cautious on where you step in this area. I saw lots of beautiful rock formations. I thought to myself that it looks like someone perfectly carved them. Each section of the Trail Crest felt that the summit was within my reach but it wasn’t. It felt too long for me. I saw Darlene and Donny in this area. I thought they were heading back. They too were surprise that I was up there with them. Darlene also felt the altitude sickness and slowed them down. I told them that I would like to reach the summit. They gave me the boost to move on forward. Moments later, I saw Crystal, Mirella, and Edith coming back. They were shocked too that I’m up there too. I told Crystal that I’m trying to prove to myself that I can do this. I also told them that I felt better this time. I bid farewell to them. Minutes later, I saw Pedro and Lucy coming back. This doesn’t bode well for me.
On my last push up the mountain, I saw a landscape full of granite rocks. The hut which I know is on the summit is still not visible. It was a struggle but luckily I didn’t have severe signs of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) while climbing up slowly. AMS is another term for altitude sickness. My abdomen felt and looked bloated which is one of the symptoms of AMS. If you know someone who is having severe AMS at the summit, that person must be brought down the mountain. People have died on Mt. Whitney from AMS and many rescues had been made due to severe cases AMS. It should be taken seriously.
I saw 2 people coming towards me and I noticed it was Christina and Enrique. I can barely make a funny face because I was so tired but I surprised both them and gave them a high five and a hug. With strength, will, and determination, I finally made it to the top of Mt. Whitney. They escorted me to the hut which is called the Smithsonian Institution Shelter or Mt. Whitney Summit Shelter. It was erected in 1909 by scientists but most importantly was built to shelter from thunder and lightning storms. A guest book where you can sign that you made it to the summit and is protected by a metal casing is located in front of the hut. There are also other smaller objects and stickers inside the casing. An older sheet metal plaque on the rock is still there that shows the original elevation of Mt. Whitney. We took some photos and relaxed for a short time. A helicopter was above us carrying an injured man who was rescued while doing the mountaineering route. We wanted to wait for Darlene and Donny but as we looked at the clouds above us, it was turning dark. That scared me a bit as we don’t want to be struck by lightning. So we started heading down the mountain and bid farewell to Whitney’s summit.
As we started our journey back down the mountain, I was still struggling hiking back at the Trail Crest area due to a slight pain in my abdomen. At the JMT junction, we took a quick break. I didn’t notice that I fell into sleep mode. It was so funny that Christina and Enrique made sure that was recorded. Our hiking pace quickly became faster coming down the 99 switchbacks. As the sun was about to set, I saw how beautiful Whitney Portal is as we passed by Lone Pine Creek and a couple of waterfalls along the way. It took us 6 hours that felt so long. We got back at the parking lot after 8 pm. I was so grateful to Enrique for leading us back safely. 22 miles in 20 hours is not bad at all. It may not be fast but sure was an accomplishment in my book. Doing Mt. Whitney in a day was fun and a great experience. I will be seeing Whitney again next year were I will be camping with 3H and acclimate before heading to the summit.
I bid farewell to Christina and Enrique as I drove off to Lone Pine. I stopped first at a gas station to use their restroom and changed my clothes. I later got my dinner at an opened restaurant. I rested for an hour at their parking lot before I drove off on the US-395. As I connect to the CA-14, my eyes felt sleepy again. I took a quick nap on the side of the freeway. I drove again and exited at Lancaster to get Bee more fuel. At their parking, I slept until I woke up at 4 am and drove again and got back home at 5 am. I showered and got ready for another adventure that day at Baldwin Scenic Overlook in Culver City with some close friends.
A very special shout out thanks to:
- Darlene Arzola and the rest of the group for accommodating me.
- Christina Hinojosa for believing in me that I could do this one day hike.
- Enrique Lucha for leading us on the trail and keeping us safe.