It’s Whitney Day! My watch alarm woke me at 4 am and remembering last night’s cold temperatures, I maneuvered myself to the door while staying inside my sleeping bag. I wanted to heat my breakfast and coffee water inside my vestibule and get as much packing done as possible while staying all warm and cozy inside my down cocoon. As I started moving around I realized it was warmer than the previous night – a check of the thermometer on my GPS revealed a temperature of 47, warmer than most mornings in the Sierra. I ridiculed myself for being a baby and finally got out of my bag.
We packed up quickly and were on the trail by 4:50 am. Hiking by headlamp is fun, but we didn’t need them for too long. My eyes adjusted and the starlight reflected off of the light colored granite enough to see the way. The only disappointing thing about starting this earlier is the inability to photograph the scene around us.
I mentioned in the blog entry from the previous day that Backpacker Magazine had named Guitar Lake as the best place to watch a sunset, but I have to disagree. It’s the best place to watch a sunrise. As we climbed the switchbacks to Trail Crest we could see the predawn sky start to lighten, creating a strip of pastels above the Kaweahs. Sunrise was scheduled for 6:10 am, and at 6:11 we could see the first morning alpenglow sunlight begin to hit the distant peaks. As we climbed, the sun did too, exposing more and more peaks. Eventually the lower lakes like Guitar and Hitchcock caught the colorful reflection and started to glow orange. It’s a trail experience unlike any other, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have enjoyed it twice.
We dropped our packs at the junction below Trail Crest and headed up to Whitney. After a week of hiking with the pack on my back it felt like I was flying that final couple of miles to the summit! This is another favorite stretch of trail in the Sierra – the views and structure of the trail are just out of this world. Additionally, the polemonium (sky pilot) was in full bloom and brought a burst of color to the desolate granite landscape. This is my favorite flower, mostly because I can only find it in my favorite of places – the very highest peaks and passes in the Sierra.
It was a lot colder up there at 14000 ft, the wind was blowing, and the sun hadn’t yet hit the back side of Whitney so we didn’t spend a lot of time on the summit. Enough time to snap pictures, sign the log, take in the views and revel in the feeling of a successful trip, and then it was back down to warmer temperatures to thaw our hands and faces. We found a Staples Easy button in the summit register and delighted in pushing it. “That was easy!” it told us. I don’t know if I’d call it easy, but we were blessed with a successful trip without any major mishaps or injuries.
Signing the Summit Register:
Once you turn around off the summit there is another motivating factor, especially after spending a week on the trail: real food. On the hike down I would recite with each footstep: “burger…beer…burger…beer…burger…beer.” I don’t know if it made things go any faster, but it sure made me hungry. I also tried counting the 97 switchbacks. I lost count at 88. Guess I’ll have to go back!
We made it down to Whitney Portal around 1:30 pm and headed to the Portal store for cheeseburgers, fries, and beer. David pulled up to meet us just as we sat down – great timing! Then a few others showed up to welcome us back to civilization. We had quite a little party there at the Portal store, and finally left to continue it in Lone Pine. As we spent the night celebrating Paige’s birthday and our successful High Sierra Trail trip in the town of Lone Pine, I kept glancing back up at Mt Whitney, wondering when I’d be up there again. I’m already jonesing for another entry in the log sheet.