Day 41: Mt Whitney

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Mile 763.3 to mile 774.7

Whitney return: 15 miles

PCT miles: 7.7

Total: 23.7 miles, 38km)

3am start to catch the sun rise on top of Mt Whitney. Well that was the plan. I didn’t make the sunrise but had a great climb regardless.

Walking by torch light initially. Approaching Guitar Lake the massive silhouette of the mountain was like a wall of black against the dark purple of first light, secreting the features of the mountain itself for now. Head torches could be seen up high on the mountains flanks. A short procession of torch lit ants inching their way up to 14,700ft in the dark.

Soon there was enough light to flick the torch off. The trail leading right to the base of a cliff, before a series of really steep switchbacks finding a path straight up the mountain side. An engineering marvel.

It was slow going a hard slog with the increasing altitude. Several small patches of frozen snow and ice requiring careful manoeuvring lest you go careening off the side but not enough to warrant putting on microspikes for the small sections.

Through the switchbacks there were still 2 miles to go at a very slow pace. By now the sun was truely up and some of the very earlier starters were making their way back down. Light danced on the lakes below, casting perfect mirror images of the adjacent cliffs in their inky black water.

Several rock sections required some basic bouldering skills were past.

Finally summiting at 7:30am.

Spectacular views right around, still with the early morning light. It’s difficult to describe in works. Very chilly on top with a ferocious wind. I didn’t stay long. Just enough to take a few quick pics.

Descending at 8am was like finding a new lease on life as increasing oxygen found its way into my lungs. It was practically a sprint back down. Reminding me very much of descending back towards Lukla when climbing in the Himalayas.

In the morning light the animals came out to play. In a short space of time I saw Marmots galore poking their heads of hidy holes or lounging in the sun. The first one encountered was a real treat. Taking an opportunity for a break in the small space of shade under a rock overhang, the shadow of the overhand cast on the ground just in front of me. As I was munching on a bar I saw a additional shadow pop up. Slowly turning around there is a marmot peaking down on me – waiting for crumbs no doubt.

Lots of trout in the rivers on the way down in the clear snow melt.

A saw a coyote walking the trail towards Whitney. He got within 20metres of me before giving me a wide berth and continuing his way up trail.

Later a family of dear, the bambi kind with white dots on their hinds, completely unfazed by my presence.

Back at camp by 11am it was time for a quick nap, lunch, pack up and continue on to setup for the next major feature, Forrester Pass, tomorrow.

I pushed on for another 7 miles to Tyndall Creek, the first major water crossing to negotiate. It was a shoes affair as I’m not about to have wet shoes at the end of the day.

Setting up camp a young girl, Roomy, approached and ask to do Forrester Pass with me as she wasn’t too comfortable with snow travel. No problem. A 4am start it’s likely to be to make use of the frozen conditions.

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