Okay, so we're finally back from our almost week-long trip to the Sierra Nevadas. We met Courtney out in Lone Pine, CA, which is the town right next to Mt. Whitney. We picked up our permits at the Sierra Interagency Visitor Center on Tuesday morning, and I talked with the ranger there for a while about the mountaineering route up to the summit. He said it was tough, and that it wasn't a "trail," it was a "route." There was no marked trail, you just hiked and climbed from cairn to cairn, or if you didn't see one ahead of you, you looked for a worn out pathway up the mountain.
We would need to start hiking before dawn, he said. He suggested leaving at 3 or 4 am, and that we would need to hike the first part of the trail while it was light out, the day before, to familiarize ourselves with it. So we hiked up the route for about an hour. We figured we'd leave at 4am, and it would be dark until 5am, so we'd be hiking the first hour of the trail in darkness with only our flashlights.
The next morning, the day of the climb, we woke up at 3:15am, and it took us a while (1 hour) to get out of the campground! We were soooo sluggish and tired, but we made it out to the trailhead at 4:45am and started our hike with flashlights in hand, under the bright stars and the Milky Way. There was even a huge bright planet shining overhead and the new moon was rising from the east. We hiked up and up and up until the beautiful sunrise lit up our 'path'.
The next part of the trail required some 4th class climbing, and traversing some ledges. We hiked up a cascading creek until we came up to a rock wall which we had to climb. It had some ledges which you zigzagged up. The ledges were maybe one foot wide, with a sheer drop on one side and a tall rock face which you hugged and grabbed for your life while traversing. "Don't look down!"
After the ledges, it was quite a relief. There was more steep hiking up broken rock until we got to the first lake, Lower Boyscout Lake, about 2.5 miles from the trailhead and about 10,000ft. We paused for a group photo, and then moved on. The next part of the trail was hiking up huge granite slabs. We followed the creek, which was cascading down the slabs. It looked like a giant slip-n-slide! We thought it might be fun to slide down the whole mountain. Hahahaha! At this point we started feeling the altitude. We were breathing like fat guys, and our heart rates were sustained at 160bpm or more while hiking. They were even elevated just sitting and doing nothing. It started getting uncomfortable, and we started taking more and more breaks. The slabs were sometimes at 45 degree angles, and we were taking baby steps up.
After the slabs, it was more hiking up broken rock and scree until we got to Upper Boyscout Lake. We didn't stop at the lake, but we went just past it as we got closer to the foot of Mt. Whitney. The peak is one of a series of peaks which looks like huge granite outcroppings from a larger ridge. There was one more lake to hike up to, Iceberg Lake, before the summit scramble. To get there, you had to hike up and over a moraine. Snow was more common to see up here. There was no more plant life, only eroded rock, scree and sky. The altitude was starting to get to Courtney and I. At about 11,000 ft, Courtney said she got a huge headache, and began to feel like throwing up. I was feeling lightheaded, but we kept going up. We finally reached Iceberg Lake, at about 13,000ft at 11:00am. At that point, Courtney and I were ready to puke our brains out, and sick! We weren't physically tired, our legs were okay, but we were so overtaken by feeling sick from the altitude that we just couldn't move without a lot of discomfort (thats putting it mildly). Romy was set to go for the summit.
When you looked at the summit, it was about 1,500ft of 45 degree steep scrambling and 3rd class climbing up. There was also still snow on the chute which you had to climb up, which meant skirting around it somehow. The ranger said the day before that if there was still snow on the route, you would have to do some more technical climbing to get around it. We were gonna go climb up there to check it out, but the longer I sat at Iceberg Lake just looking at the summit climb, the more uneasy I felt about it. It looked as though if you made one slip, you'd tumble all the way back down to the lake. Romy was all set to go, but Courtney and I were soooo out of it! Eventually we decided that it might be too much for us in our condition, since we were dizzy and lightheaded. We decided to take our last pictures at 13,000ft, and start to go down. After descending only about 500-1000ft, we instantly felt better.
The views we had were amazing. Even though we stopped 1,500ft short of the summit, we could see a lot of the peaks around us and the valley below, and all the way across the Alabama Hills to the Inyo Mountains by Death Valley. The weather was beautiful! Clear skies, and the temp was in the 60s with no strong winds, just light breezes (what a relief compared to the gale force winds in Patagonia). I will post pictures later.
We made it down around 4:00pm. We spend about 12 hours on the mountain and we were exhuasted! What a great feeling it was to take off our boots and sit down! Then we all took showers, which we refreshing. All three of us went to town and ate dinner at the Mt. Whitney Restaurant. We were starving! Real food tasted good.
The next day, Thursday, we started driving back to the Bay Area. It took 6 hours to get back. We met with our new landlord, Mike, that evening to sign the lease for our new apartment! How exciting! So now we live in Oakland, 2402 Delmer St. It is about 7 miles from campus. This morning, at 8:00am, it only took 15 minutes to drive to school. Last night, we went to our public storage place to get a few things, like our couch. We have no electricity yet, so we had to put our couch together with a flashlight since it was night. We taped a flashlight to the ceiling fan. It worked!