It was my first trip to California – ever – and also the first time I’ve ever climbed such a huge mountain. I was unable to summit the mountain on this attempt due to snow cover and some other factors due to inexperience – but overall the trip was a lot of fun.
Although last year I attempted (and succeeded) in climbing Mt. Elbert, the state high point of Colorado (14,433 feet), this year was a completely different. Mt. Whitney is a different animal compared to other mountains I have hiked. On many mountains you are able to hike directly up the mountain, and then back down. In the case of Mt. Whitney, you hike many miles into the mountain and then you have to get back out. In addition, Mt. Whitney is a beast of a mountain in terms of the 6,000-foot climb required to summit the mountain, in addition to the trail being 10.1 miles from the Whitney Portal to the summit. There were many factors here that I had not planned for due to the nature of this mountain compared to others.
For instance, when planning for this trip I was concerned about my water supply being sufficient throughout the trip and decided to carry 10 liters of water with me up the mountain. At 2.2 lbs per liter, that equals 22 lbs. just in water weight! In my own defense, I did drink tons of water on the trip in order to stay acclimatized properly. However, I realized after speaking with others on the trip that I could have brought a water-filtered hydration system instead. For those of you not familiar with filtered water systems – it simply means that I can carry one pack of water and fill it from the stream/lakes located on the mountain, which is filtered through the system and turned into drinking water. In short, my supply could have been unlimited with a total weight of about 2 liters of water!
Now this situation is not necessarily true on all mountains – but in the case of Mt. Whitney there are many available water sources throughout the hike to the top. The last water source available on the hike is near trail camp located just above 12,000 feet, which is only 3 miles from the summit.
The other realization I found was the reality of hiking this mountain in 1 day with snow on the ground. Even without snow I realized that doing it in one day requires starting your hike at early hours of the morning, while also coming back down in evening hours later that day. Typically, this is not such a problem for me; however the snow on the trail melted and began soaking my hiking shoes after it melted in the afternoon sun. In many areas on the trail I found myself standing in puddles of water, which meant cold feet when the sun would set later. I knew that would not be fun, and I had already been thinking about how to do the trip better next time. I felt good about the progress I had already made, so I felt that the trip was already a success. And the other hikers were really cool to hang out with as well, so I already enjoyed the trip and had no need to go further on this attempt.
So as late afternoon approached, my gut feeling was to start heading back down the mountain.
The hardest part was turning around and going back. I felt great and had no real signs of alititude sickness and my legs didn’t seem tired. I really wanted to keep going. As I spoke with others they told me that the snow was waist deep further up the trail, and it was already 4:00pm in the day with 3 miles left to go. I also remembered how cold my feet were when coming up in the morning hours in wet snow – it was something that I didn’t want to experience after the sun went down. And I knew that next time I could come back and do it better – I would setup camp at 12,000 and do the hike in two days, instead of one.
So the plan is to attempt the mountain again in the late spring months, when there is the least amount of snow, with the intention of camping at 12,000 feet at Trail Camp. I know this next time will be better, and can’t wait to get back on the trails.
I highly recommend the Mount Whitney experience if you’re up for the challenge.