Mt. Whitney has been on my bucket list for a long time. For many reasons, I just haven’t made the summer trek but that all changed when a friend had an extra permit for July 9th. If you’re not familiar with Mt. Whitney, it is on the Sierra Crest just outside of Lone Pine which is south of the Mammoth Mountain area. Mt. Whitney, at 14,505’, is the highest peak in the lower 48.
There are many different ways to summit Mt. Whitney. We chose the Whitney Portal Trail, and again, there are options here as well. The Whitney Portal Trail is a 22-mile out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of 6,137 feet. Many opt to backpack, spend a night or two along the trail, and then make a final push for the summit. We, however, had a 1-day permit which meant doing the entire trail and elevation in one day. This also meant we could travel light, with just a day pack containing food and some extra layers.
We intended to begin our hike at 2:30am but ended up with a bear delay! As I was organizing my items at the back of the vehicle, Anna, my hiking partner, walked away from the car for a minute to put all of our food, toiletries, etc. into the bear locker. When she returned, her backpack was missing and then I heard “the bear has my pack” to which I realized that in those few moments, the bear grabbed her pack out of the passenger seat and was now standing at the front of the car with the pack in its mouth. We made noise to scare off the bear, which worked, however he took the pack with him. We were now a bit perplexed as to our next move. All of Anna’s water, food/nutrition, warm jacket, gloves, hiking poles, and sunglasses were in that pack. We quickly pivoted, grabbed an extra pack from the car, and put together a back-up. When we went to the bear bin to gather extra food, another hiker had a similar story. The bear took his backpack out of his backseat, but he was able to retrieve it 20 min later. Granted the pack was destroyed, and the food was gone, but his other items were still intact. So, we decided to play the waiting game as well. Eventually, the bear finished the goods, sauntered away, and in we went. The pack was useless, but we did retrieve her other items, so off we went, up the trail!
The trail immediately began to climb but we were in darkness, which always hides the truth. After about an hour and a half, the sun began to rise, the darkness faded, and we were surrounded by incredible granite peaks. It was truly mesmerizing and unimaginably beautiful. As we continued along the trail, we passed through Outpost Camp at 10,400’ and then eventually Trail Camp at 12,000’. At this point we were feeling strong and moving well. It was barely 7am, so we both were confident in making the summit. The next part of the trail is the 99 switchbacks which brings us to Trail Crest at 13,700’ and just 2.8 miles left. At just before 9am we reached the summit and were surprised at the number of people that were also there. We hadn’t seen these people on the trail, but it was fun to share the moment with so many strangers that became our instant friends!
The descent down was essentially uneventful other than passing a woman who was attempting a “double tap”. Quite impressive knowing she was putting in 44 miles and over 12K ascent in one day.
The day was quite hot as we finished up the trail. I was very happy with our early AM start so that we were finishing before the day was too incredibly hot. The lower elevation of Whitney can get into the high 80’s to 90’s in the heat of the day.
What was in my pack:
- Pack – I opted to use a running pack versus a standard day pack. I knew we would run some sections so opted for the Salomon Adv Skin 8 pack.
- Hydration – I used one front bottle that was filled with Skratch and a bladder in the back that was just water. I brought some extra Skratch for refills later
- Clothing – My clothing choice was the Janji 7” pace short. I chose these for the extra warmth compared to running shorts but not as warm as capris or full leggings. The side pockets are a nice addition for quick access to iPhone and lip balm. Short sleeve wicking top covered with a long sleeve slightly warmer shirt. Arc’teryx light insulated jacket that is easily stowable. I opted for the extra insulation but a wind shell would’ve worked as well. If going this route, I would then have a slightly warmer long sleeve.
- Poles – Leki Ultratrail FX.One Superlite running poles. This was my first time with poles but very happy to have these, especially for the ascent. Unfortunately I ended up breaking a pole on the descent, but Leki’s 1 year warranty means that they’ve already put a new one in the mail for me.
- Headlamp – Petzl Bindi headlamp that we needed for the first few hours before sunrise.
- Hat & Gloves – Lightweight Skida hat and The North Face gloves
- Food – I had a mix of “real food” and bars/gels such as Honey Stinger waffles and chews, Spring Energy gels. I ate 2 PB&J sandwiches and probably would’ve eaten another one if I’d packed it. I definitely enjoyed the actual food and next time will opt for more food and less bars/gels. Potato chips and cookies are always delicious (which Anna had packed). Gummy bears were a nice change. If the attempt had been geared towards running, then the bars/gels would be a better option.
- Water filter – There are many options for refilling along the way, but good to have a filter or iodine.
- Garmin 645 Music for time and route recording.
- Garmin Mini inReach – We had no cell service, so always good to have in the event of an emergency.
- Space blanket – again good to have in case of emergency
- Cell phone – in the airplane mode and used for pictures as I did not seem to have any cell connection. Others seemed to be able to connect on the summit, so perhaps it depends on your carrier.
- Shoes – Both Anna and I wore the Salomon Speedcross 5 trail shoe. We both love the shoe and especially the huge lugs and grippy sole. But, by the end of the journey we were both commenting that our feet were really sore from the hard granite. The Hoka Speedgoat has a nice grippy sole and a bit more cushioning. That might be another option to consider.
Now get out there and start checking items off your own bucket list! For some ideas, check out this Fall Bucket List blog that you can get a head start on now.
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Kim is an avid outdoor enthusiast and enjoys playing in the mountains whenever she has the chance. You’ll find Kim trail running and mountain biking in the summer. In the winter months, Kim enjoys the nordic trails and downhill skiing. Her latest adventure is kite boarding, but she has yet to have much success with this new sport.