Mount Whitney - 14,496 ft. Tallest of the lower 48!

I've made 2 runs at this peak, suceeding on the second attempt. The first time out we got killed by altitude. We discovered the evils of red coolade on an upset stomach, and the importance of getting some sleep before getting the permit and hitting the trailhead. The next year we came better prepared and made it, despite an extra 10-15ft of snow on the ground.

When there isn't snow on the trail, it's 11 miles and 6000ft to the top via the traditional trail. This is a crazy one day run, unfortunately due to the present permit system it may be hard to avoid. 150 people can enter daily for a day run. Only 50 can enter for multi days. The only way around this is to hike early or late in the year. For us, that meant a snow climb in May. This year I might see if I can get access on short notice during the week. Maybe a day run isn't much worse than Half Dome.


The first half of the trail consists of alternating climbs and meadows as you ladder your way up the mountainside. There are a couple lakes to camp at if you don't want to go as far as Trail Camp, but be sure to know the current regulations - one of the lakes has been closed off to allow restoration. Wherever you do stay, do your best to minimize impact. The entire Whitney Trail is overly congested. In this type of wilderness, it's better to reuse a preexisting campsite over a new one.

Trail Camp - 12000ft. Makes for an interesting campsite. Even in the late season trip there is considerable snow here, and the overnight temperature can really drop off. Still, this is the ideal staging point for the summit run. It's the last flat spot, below the big climb to Trail Crest - via 103 switchbacks or one vertical snow climb. And it has an outhouse - almost too civilized for mountaineers, but pleasant.

Until we tried Shasta, this was the nastiest long face Tom and I trudged up. 1700 vertical feet from Trail Camp to the saddle. (Shasta's Avalanche Gulch is about 2100' from Lake Helen to Red Banks). Note the two people above Tom: that's my mother and her friend Sherry. It's quite a haul, but the view at the top is fantastic - it's even steeper down the other side - a tad scary to those who get a bit nervous seeing exposure. And when you've gotten to there, it's only another 800 vertical to the summit, and relatively gradual going.


Once you make it up to the saddle, there is a long traverse across. Most of the summer it is a nice granite path, but unfortunately it is but a snow drift at this time of the year. In some parts the trail was a foot print wide, with a long steep slope to the side. I'd have been much happier with the self arrest skills I have now.

By the end, the slope looks more moderate, but doesn't feel it. It's the region where I can't eat and my mind is a bit narc'd, as though I were 120ft deep in the ocean. Different cause (too little oxygen rather than too much nitrogen), but similar effect. The top of Whitney is unusual in that it's very big - more of a open plateau many tens of yards wide. To the east the mountain drops off sharply - you can see over 10,000ft down to the Lone Pine floor and well beyond. In other directions you can see several of the other 14ers. There is a hut that you can take shelter in, though this shouldn't be done without need as 8 died from a lightning strike in the 90s.

--Jason O'Rourke, July 2002