31.08.2012 - 03.09.2012
Actually, my plan was to do the Half Dome Day Hike.
That's a really nice hike from the Yosemite Valley to the top of Yosemite's most famous rock formation.
14 miles / 23km round-trip, 10 - 12 hours hiking AND there are the cables: Two metal cables allow the hiker to pass a very steep section at the end of the hike:
Looks great, but if you want to hike to the top, you need a permit and I experienced that it is not easy to get this permit.
Searching for alternatives I stumbled upon a nice one:
Mount Whitney (14,505 ft / 4421 m)
Although Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States (!!!), the easiest route "Mount Whitney Trail" is technically not difficult. Nevertheless it´s a long route (22 mi round-trip ~36km) at high altitudes and therefore requires a good condition as well as acclimatization. Like for the Half Dome Hike a permit is required for hiking the route.
However, I somehow was lucky and managed to get two overnight permits for a weekend that even was a bank holiday weekend (September 3 = Labor day).
Just a few days later I found myself sitting together with Jan, another BMW intern in my Mini driving about 440 miles towards our starting point Whitney Portal close to Lone Pine in the Sierra Nevada. Having read much about the trail, we realized early that there´s most probably one deal breaker that decides whether we would be successful or not: Altitude sickness. As we live at sea level in Mountain View this issue deserves particular attention.
So we tried to prepare ourselves as good as possible within the limits of a very narrow time frame.
On our way through Yosemite on Friday we stopped late at night at the Tioga Pass (9,943 ft / 3,031 m) and spent about three quarters of an hour by doing a short hike. Afterwards we continued driving to Mammoth Lakes where we spent a night at 7,880 ft / 2,400 m.
On Saturday we went on towards the start of the trail and picked up our permit and our bear canister in between. All the way from Mountain View to Whitney Portal we tried to drink plenty of water because we knew, that altitude sickness often occurs when you don't drink enough.
Approaching Mount Whitney:
Before we left Mount Whitney Portal to start our hike Jan and me used the scale that is installed directly at the start to weigh our backpacks:
uffff... thats heavy but we knew that at least a part of the weight is food and water, so the packs should get lighter.
1. Mt. Whitney Portal
3. Outpost Camp (Camp 1)
6. Trail Camp (Camp 2)
7. Trail Crest
We just left Whitney Portal (8,360 ft / 2.458 m):
3.8 miles later we arrive sweaty but in a good mood at the Outpost Camp (10,400 ft/ 3,169 m). To shorten our next day we decide to continue to the second camp at 12,000 ft / 3 657 m.
Having hiked half of the way to the second camp, Jan starts to feel sick and soon his condition worsens. So we decided to back to the first camp. At this point of time I thought: "Ok it's over, Mt. Whitney got us, we won't reach the summit tomorrow".
On the next day, on Sunday, we both felt good again and decided to continue our hike and see how far we can get.
Breakfast and view somewhere between Outpost Camp and Trail Camp:
Soon we arrive at the second camp: "Trail Camp" at 12,000 ft / 3 657 m:
After refilling our water at a small nearby tarn, we continue on the part where according to several reports many people come to grief: The infamous 97 / 99 switchbacks that lead to Trail Crest.
Due to increased physical exertion we now hike considerably slower than than before. After a while Jan and me talk about how we should continue and finally decide to split up. Jan would wait for me at the Trail Camp or if that got to shady or cold at the Outpost Camp.
I increased my speed again for the remaining switchbacks knowing that there was not that much time left, as I wanted to be back before darkness (Jan also gave me a turn around time that I didn't want to exceed).
Almost at Trail Crest, (Zoomed) Look back to Trail Camp (close to the small tarn):
At trail crest, I enjoy an amazing view:
I have a little "fading" headache now: Sometimes I feel it, sometimes not. I anticipate that this is my bodies my first response to the altitude. I am already at 13,700 ft. For the first time in my life, I am (forget about planes) on an altitude > 4000m!
Hiking on the other side of the ridge now, I soon recognize the summit which is still almost 3 miles away.
It's daunting to see how bad the constitution of several people is here. Some are walking very slowly, wheeze and half their eyes half-closed. I have to think of mountaineering films where people behave like when they approach the summit (and sometimes don´t make their way back). I didn't dare anymore to greet with a "How are you doing?", to that I got used to on the first part of the trail.
In thought I said to myself: "If I my constitution should worsen, I will definitely have to turn around because I don´t want to take the risks that these people are taking".
Slowly I get closer:
It´s still quite some way to go but I am relatively fast and my headache disappeared again.
Having reached the summit slope, the view back on the trail is impressive:
Finally, I make it to the summit! Wow just a great feeling.
And the view is gorgeous:
After spending about 20 minutes at the summit, I start my descent. Unfortunately my headache returns during the descent and this time it´s not a vague headache. I definitely feel it.
I hike down fast but concentrated and pass many of these people who still look definitely not good. Back at the Trail Camp I refill my water bottles and continue my hike towards the Outpost Camp where I meet Jan, who is waiting for me.
My headache is still present, but I happy to be back.
After one more night above 10,000 ft we descent back to Whitney Portal on Monday. We both still feel tired, but somehow we manged to drive about 8 hours back to Mountain View on the same day.
Anything left to say?
Yes: Mount Whitney rocks!