This October I had the privilege to hike Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, 14,505 ft. The opportunity presented itself when a friend and colleague, Shayla Hope, obtained a permit and extended the invitation.  I instantly committed as I love exploring the mountains and am generally always up for an adventure.

A total of 10 people were in our group, one of which, Darren, had completed the hike before and had valuable Intel on where to resupply water, and rest. Our mission began just after 1:00 am at the Whitney Portal trailhead. The temperature at the trailhead was a mild 40 degrees with an almost full moon to guide us. The first section of the hike is a gradual uphill to Lone Pine Lake, elevation 10,050 ft. 

Four hours into the hike, as we continued to gain elevation and the moon began to descend; the temperature plunged to about 18 degrees Fahrenheit.  We stopped to resupply our water reserves before entering the, “Whitney Zone,” where permits are required to continue onward. With the moon down, the brightness of the stars kept our spirits up.  My favorite part of the hike, was watching the sunrise at the trail crest ~13,600 ft.  The sunlight on the face of the mountain was magical, awe-inspiring and very welcome, as my fingers felt near frozen.

The final two miles of the hike are through Sequoia National Park and arguably the most challenging. An elevation gain of just over 900 feet to the summit caused my legs to feel heavy, heart to ring in my ears and mental clarity to wane.  It felt like we were traveling through a never ending Labyrinth after hiking the infamous 99 switchbacks.

Our crew reached the peak around 11:00 am. We posed for a few photos, feasted on an early lunch and cruised back down the winding Whitney Portal trail. The descent was gorgeous, and new as we were unable to observe our surroundings while hiking in the dark. After the 22-mile trek, a few of us were already discussing the next California 14’er to summit.  A dip in Travertine hot springs near Bridgeport on the way back to Truckee completed my shoulder season, Eastern Sierras exploration. 

Things I learned on the trail:

  • Ibuprofen is your friend
  • Hand warmers are worth their weight in gold
  • Hydration in key
  • Hiking poles are the best invention since the wheel
  • No one wants to know how many switchbacks are remaining out of 99