Sunday, August 28, 2011

Where has the summer gone and what have I been doing?

Over the long 4th of July weekend, I headed to Mount Whitney in California with John and Dave to summit the highest peak in the United State's lower 48. Located just outside of a bunch of little towns (e.g., Lone Pine, Independence, Bishop) hardly anyone's heard of but in an area I love, I could easily see the still snow-packed peaks rising above the forests and drier salt desert shrub valleys further below.

Knowing I would be arriving from Las Vegas and acclimated to elevations between 3000-4500 feet, I was kind of worried about being above 10000 feet. I've never experienced altitude sickness but have seen friends struggle and knew it was one experience I wanted to avoid. With that in mind, we decided to spend a few nights at the lower elevations (8500 feet) of the Whitney Portal area before putting our packs on and heading up. Don't you love that name, the Whitney Portal?? I've heard John talk about it since I've know him, and a sort of mystique has been built up in my brain about it, like we were going to be transported somewhere once we entered. What I imagined was pretty vague. As it turns out the Whitney Portal consists of campgrounds for car and RV campers, parking lots for folks hitting the trails, including the Whitney Peak trailhead, creeks, a pond, which was surprisingly packed with avid fisherfolk and fish (hardly seemed like fair sport for the fish: imagine a big, couple-feet deep swimming pond that the fish can't escape and that tantalizing foods keep getting tossed into; we were a little worried there was one pair that appeared to be catching enough to serve at a restaurant ruh-ruh), and a shop that contains mostly souvenir-type stuff but also a cafe, an amazing and wonderful cafe. Check out that cinnamony pancake!!That'll get you ready for a backpack trip. Although the day I consumed at least half of that monster (plus bacon and eggs), I mostly sat around camp trying to keep the mosquitoes at bay. That's tough work too.

Out of two nights camping at the Portal, we did hear neighbor campers whistling and ringing bells like there was a gypsy wedding going on or something. Turns out they were "scaring" off a bear. I think Pepper-dog had the right idea for where the safest place in camp is should a bear of come by... Hey, isn't that box supposed to be used for keeping bears from our food, Pepper-dog?!?!?Anyway, to make a long story short, the Whitney Trail is pretty and long and kicked our butts. All along the trail, we kept running into folks who said there was still a lot of snow above Trail Camp (12000 feet), the highest campground and still 5 miles from the Summit, and that crampons and ice axes would be necessary. We had been planning a pretty mellow walk up the mountain and really weren't prepared with that kind of equipment, so we quickly scrapped the idea of summiting. With that change of plans, we ended up camping at the lower camp and just day hiked up to Trail Camp. Yes indeedy, there was still a lot of snow above Trial Camp, and I'm sure even more above that. Wowza, going down is faster than going up. Check out Dave's quick downhill descent. This was much steeper and scarier looking in person than in film.

This is what we saw as we bailed off the mountain around 5 p.m. on day two. Because we were all trying to save weight in our packs, none of us brought rainflys for our tents. This was unfortunate for us as we watched thunder clouds build all afternoon before we made the decision it would be in our best interest to be in dry hotel beds instead of soggy sleeping bags that night. This is one of those 'where's Waldo' pictures. Can you find the rainbow or lamebow as John called it? It really was bright and vivid in person but uncaptureable on film. And here is the really pretty Mirror Lake, which is an easy day hike, along the Whitney Trail.

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