Mount Whitney via the Whitney Trail

About 4 weeks before this trip I found myself barely able to walk. After almost a week of pain and stiffness in my right knee I decided it was time to see a doctor. The diagnosis was patella tendonitis. By the time this trip rolled around my knee was feeling better but still not 100%.

Now I had a decision to make about which route to take - the Whitney Trail or the Mountaineers Route. After talking to a few locals my decision was easier. Although the Whitney Trail is longer it was described to me as the better route under current conditions. The Mountaineers Route was a better choice when it had snow. Everyone I talked to about the Mountaineers route warned me about rock fall with the current conditions and stressed the use of a helmet. The shorter distance of the Mountaineers Route was certainly attractive but the steep loose rock wasn't, especially for my knee.

Mount Whitney from the Owens Valley

I had a few days to acclimate so I spent one day exploring the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest where you can drive to 12,000', and another day hiking in the Horseshoe Meadows area where the trailhead elevation is 10,000. Another area that could be used to help acclimate is the Onion Valley but I didn't discover that area until I was on my way out of town. Outside the hostel I took pity on a PCT through hiker holding a sign that simply said "PCT" and gave him a ride up to the Onion Valley Trailhead. He ended up being a Japanese Journalist who was writing an article on the PCT.

Other things that I found interesting in the area are the Alabama Hills and their picture rocks and the site of one of the WWII Japanese relocation camps at Manzanar National Historic Site. There apparently were quite a few movies shot in the Owens Valley and there is a Museum dedicated to that... not really my thing. The Merry-Go-Round is a good place to eat if you like Chinese food and the Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery had great breakfast.

Soul Consoling Tower - Manzanar National Historic Site

I got started at 4:30AM from Whitney Portal (8360') hiking by headlamp for the first half hour. In a little over an hour I arrived at the trail to Lone Pine Lake (~2.8 Miles). From here the trail is more interesting with something new around every corner. Sometimes a lake, sometimes ledges, sometimes a waterfall, sometimes a small canyon all of which made the time pass quickly and I found myself at Trail Camp at about 12,000' at around 8:30AM (~6.3 Miles).

Hikers on the Whitney Trail

Consultation Lake near Trail Camp

Trail Camp is the last reliable water source on the route so I stopped there for food and to filter some water for the trip to the summit. From the small lake I could see a steady stream of hikers making their way up the infamous switchbacks that take you to the ridge crest.

Starting up the switchbacks I contemplated counting them but decided that would be demoralizing so I put on my headphones instead and started up the 96 switchbacks. There was still some snow lingering above some slabs where there is a handrail.

The Hand Rail on the Switchbacks

Looking Down the switchbacks

Finally reaching the ridge crest at about 13,800' (8.5 Miles) I was greeted by a sign for Sequoia National Park and a short descent. The trail traverses the west side of the ridge reaching a junction with the John Muir Trail at 9 miles. There is a sign at the junction that warns about the threat of being struck by lightning ...who would have thought? The trail continues traversing passing below Mount Muir and Keeler Needle before making the final ascent to the summit where I arrived at about 11:30AM (10.7 or 11 miles depending on the source). The actual summit elevation is a bit of a mystery to me. I have seen everything from 14,491' to 14,508'. There seems to be some evidence to support the claim of 14,505'.

The summit from the traverse

Iceberg Lake, Whitney Portal and Owens Valley from the summit

The summit hut erected by the Smithsonian Institution in 1909... note the lightning rods on the roof

I started down a few minutes before noon and arrived at the trailhead around 5:15PM, just under 13 hours from when I had started. I had read the average is about 16 hours round trip so I didn't feel too bad about my time. Although a long day it went by fast due to the variety of terrain and the scenic views.