How to Get to the Summit of Mt. Whitney

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By Heather

Part of what I love about my hiking adventures is all the planning I get to do. Many people may love to wing it, but I don’t. Not every moment must be planned, but I like having a general idea of what I’m getting into and, most importantly, I like a plan that ensures success.

Mt. Whitney differed in one big way from all of the other hikes I plan for: it’s the highest I’ve ever gone to date. And because of all the reading I’ve done about Mt. Everest, I know that acute mountain sickness (AMS) is no joke. I do not want to be Green Boots!

So, not only did I get to plan for a really big hike, I got to plan for not dying!

The two most indispensable resources I used to plan were the First Timers’ thread on the Whitney Portal Store message board, and One Best Hike: Mt. Whitney by Elizabeth Wenk. I highly recommend starting with those, then supplementing with other trip reports (including mine here).

I consider my posts on the subject as just adding another personal experience to the canon, so your mileage may vary here!

The keys to success

Everything I read and everything I personally experienced says that making it to the summit of Mt. Whitney is the result of four things:

  1. Training, especially at altitude
  2. Acclimating
  3. Hydrating
  4. Fueling

It’s completely possible to make it to the summit without doing all four things – in the case of our party, my cousin Jessie had done no training at altitude. She does, however, compete in anything that ends in “-thon,” is in the National Guard and is still in her 20s (sob, I’m so old).

1. & 2. Training (especially at altitude) and acclimation

First things first: Because I live at sea level, have a full-time job and a limited amount of vacation time, there was no way I was going to be fully acclimated to go to 14,000 feet and not feel it. All three of our party took Diamox, a medication that increases the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream. The drug is meant to speed up acclimation when you don’t have the proper amount of time to devote to doing it naturally.

Diamox is no substitute for being as prepared as you can, however, so we did all we could: Hiked to high elevations, stayed at the Whitney Portal Campground the night before and ascended Whitney slowly. The rest we left up to Diamox. I highly recommend it. Plus, blind taste-testing fizzy drinks after a dose of the stuff could be hours of fun for the easily amused! It works quickly — 15 minutes or less.

Obviously, if you already live at a high elevation, acclimating won’t be as important or difficult for you.

Gym-based exercise

For roughly eight weeks, I trained really hard to climb Mt. Whitney. The trails aren’t close to where we live, so all of my training during the week was done at the gym.

Because there’s an elevation gain of about 6,900 feet on the ascent and descent, I focused on making sure my thighs were strong enough to crush steel. But I also focused on overall strength and cardiovascular endurance.

My regimen generally was:

  • Cardio (spinning, elliptical): Five days a week, 50 minutes a day
  • Weights: Five days a week, 25 minutes a day, alternate upper/lower body
  • Leg blasters (20 squats, 20 lunges, 20 jumping lunges, 10 jumping squats): Three days a week, add a set each week (this woman demonstrates them well)
  • A training hike each weekend

Besides the training hikes, I’m telling you, those leg blasters are murder! They will get your legs incredibly strong.

Training hikes

The general consensus on training hikes is that your focus needs to be primarily on elevation, followed by steepness. The hike length is not as important.

Mt. San Gorgonio is supposed to be the Whitney training hike around these parts, but the wilderness was closed because of wildfires this summer.

We had to find some alternatives, so we did:

mt. san jacinto summit

Mt. San Jacinto via Deer Springs: This one was like Whitney in that it’s not a very steep hike (aside from the last mile to the summit), and it’s a long hike at 21.3 miles. The elevation is great, too: 10,800 feet.

darren on mt. baden-powell wrightwood

Mt. Baden-Powell via Vincent Gap: I don’t think this one really makes the best Whitney training hike. It’s too short, too low in elevation and not steep enough to feel tough. There are 40 switchbacks, though, which resemble the mental challenge of Whitney’s 99! And the views all the way up are just gorgeous, so there’s that.

cucamonga peak

Cucamonga Peak via Icehouse Canyon: This is just an enjoyable, beautiful hike that’s a challenge all the way through. It’s not impossible, but your legs will be working. The 13 switchbacks from the canyon to the saddle are especially tough.

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Mt. Baldy via the Ski Hut Trail and Thunder Mountain: Darren never wants to do Mt. Baldy again, but I love this hike! It’s really, really hard and steep, so it’s perfect for Whitney training. It’s 10,068 feet, so it’s the tallest mountain in the San Gabriels.

I tacked on Thunder Mountain that same day. The peak, which really is just the top of a ski lift, is behind the Top of the Notch lodge. Going up there made the total hike that day 6,000 feet of elevation gain.

The combination of gain and unrelenting steepness will definitely get your legs ready for Whitney.

Another training hike I would recommend, but didn’t do: The Three T’s Trail! I never saw this mentioned as a training hike, but it seems like it would be a fantastic one. The hike up to Timber Mountain alone had my legs aching. I didn’t continue on to Telegraph or Thunder that day, but adding in those two would make up one really difficult day hike.

3. Hydrating

The adage says that you should pee once an hour, and it should be clear-ish. If you’re doing that, consider yourself hydrated. I brought 2L of water and 2L of PowerAde, and stopped to fill up once on the way back at Trail Camp using Jessie’s Platypus 2L Water Filter.

I almost regret buying my water filter, even if it is easy to use. It’s just that the Platypus is not only even easier to use, but it’s practical: First, use it to fill up all of your water bottles, then, fill it up again and use the 2L bag for your campsite. Genius!

We tried to stick to a schedule by hiking for 50 minutes, then stopping for 10 to eat and drink. I also have a bladder, so I could regularly drink some water as we hiked.

There is plenty of water up there. Do not worry about it. But your last chance for fresh water will pretty much be at Trail Camp, so if you need it you should grab it then. There’s a stream up on the 99 Switchbacks, but it was pretty well frozen even when we went in mid-September.

4. Fueling

Many things I read said that I might lose my appetite at 13,000 feet, which is right around where you hit Trail Crest.

I can’t say I had to force anything down necessarily, but the higher we went, the more food just became something I knew was important to eat for energy. There was zero pleasure in it.

The key is to bring the foods you love on dry land. What do you absolutely go nuts for in real life? Snickers? Cheese? Salami? A loaf of bread? Bring whatever that may be. But do try to make sure that there’s sugar, protein and fat in whatever you’re bringing.

If you merely like something but could easily see yourself moving on with your life if it disappeared tomorrow, such as me with Laughing Cow cheese, I guarantee you’re not going to touch it.

I brought:

  • Peanut Butter M&Ms
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Chocolate-covered espresso beans
  • Laughing Cow Cheese
  • Jolly Ranchers
  • Clif bars

I ate most everything except the Laughing Cow cheese and the chocolate-covered espresso beans. Because while those are things I like all right, I could live without them.

There you have it. Any questions? Ask away!

Our Tent Is a Little Emptier Now

It feels strange remembering a dog on a camping blog. I know this sort of thing isn’t why you come here.

But it would be equally strange to let Nabby’s passing go unmentioned on this blog. Whenever I told someone that “We’re campers,” in my mind, “we” always included our dogs.

As Heather mentioned in her post about Nabby, Nabby and Rufus were there with us on our first camping trip. Together, the four of us discovered our love of eating around a campfire and sleeping under the stars. I don’t recall there ever being a time when we considered going on a camping trip without them; unless it was against the rules or impractical on some level, there was never any question that Nabby and Rufus would come along.

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Joshua Tree National Park, March 2015

I remember how odd it felt the first time we went camping after Rufus passed. Something felt off. He’s been gone since March of 2013, and I still catch myself looking for him while I’m setting up the picnic table for dinner or grabbing another log to toss on the fire.

Nabby was with us on so many more camping trips than Rufus because she outlived him by a number of years. As hard as it’s been camping without Rufus, the idea of loading up the car with our gear and heading out without Nabby is almost unfathomable. She was such a fixture, such a presence. She was our mascot. We’ve never known camping without her.

I spent some time alone with Nabby before we said goodbye to her. I told her I couldn’t imagine going camping without her and promised we’d always sit around the fire and tell stories about her. It won’t be hard. I have a lot of good Nabby stories, but most of my favorites involve camping with her.

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Chilao Campground, August 2013

The part I always look forward to on any camping trip is getting up just after sunup and feeling like I have the whole place to myself. It’s always nice having a little bit of time before the campsite and campground come to life again.

Nabby was almost always a part of that routine. I think knowing that I had left the tent made her fidgety; there was always the chance that I might be dropping or giving away food. So she’d climb out with me—I usually had to give her an assist because her stubby little corgi legs couldn’t quite clear the lip of the tent door. While she did her business, I’d light the burner to boil water for coffee. I’d then scoop up a handful of dog food and put it in her plastic travel bowl for her. Once the coffee was made and her breakfast was eaten, we’d both sit by the fire ring. Sometimes I’d read, sometimes I’d stare off into my space.

What I liked about that morning routine was how calm and contented Nabby would be. Most of the time, she was a restless dog, always wandering and exploring. But for that half hour, forty-five minutes when it was just the two of us, she was silent and still and quietly kept me company. I’ve always thought of it as my time, but now I realize that was our time, just me and Nabby.

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Table Mountain Campground, July 2013

One time that she did stay in the tent after I got up in the morning always makes me laugh. Our first tent had a small doggy door with a mesh screen. That was her spot in the tent. If Nabby had a job, it was keeping an eye on things for us, and that little door was perfect for her. The morning after a disastrous night of high winds and lost sleep at Gaviota State Park, Regina and I were enjoying coffee in our camping chairs. I glanced over at the tent, and there was Nabby staring at me through the doggy door screen. What was funny about it to me was that she was positioned in such a way that only half her face was visible, almost like she was peeking around the seam. Half a snout, half a nose and one unblinking black eye staring at me through the mesh. Her face said, “Don’t even think about trying anything. I am watching you.”

Nabby had a funny side, but she wasn’t silly the way some dogs can be. She didn’t have patience for things like costumes or posing or, well, really anything that didn’t involve being fed and being fed right away. That was what cracked us up about the time at Table Mountain Steve and I were tossing an LED Frisbee on the road on a pitch black night. We looked over to see that not only had Nabby followed us out onto the road, she was lying there on her back with her head tilted all the way back so that her nose was nearly touching the pavement and with all four paws face up. I have no idea how long she had been there like that or why she was doing it. I put a baseball-sized LED ball on her belly and expected her to jump up right away in a “Don’t you mess with me!” huff. But instead, she didn’t move and just lay there with the ball slowly changing colors and rising and setting with each breath. She looked like she could have stayed there forever like that and she might have if the headlights of an approaching car hadn’t made me scoop her up and bring her back to the campfire. I so wish I had gotten a photo or video of that.

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Table Mountain Campground, September 2012

Heather told the story about that freezing, misty stay in Idyllwild when Nabby had had enough and hid in the tent. I can still feel the stink eye she gave me when I checked on her, and it was one of the reasons we called an early end to that trip.

There’s that video we shot of the cork rocketing out of the bottle in the campfire. It was a truly inspiring cork shooting, but my favorite part of the video comes toward the end when, if you look carefully, Nabby doesn’t react by flinching, running away or crying out. Instead, she just very calmly stands up and slowly walks away in a way that says, “Ya’ll be crazy.”

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Chilao Campground, August 2013

Then there were the eggs. My god, the eggs! The moment we stood up and started preparing breakfast, Nabby was nearly beside herself with anticipation. We’d put her steaming bowl down for her, and for the next few minutes, Nabby was dead to the world and it to her. I always imagined that in her head, it was like the astronaut in the vortex at the end of 2001.

There’s more, of course. They’re small things and not full-fledged stories. Like the way she once or twice lay in the hammock with me. Or how she hated windshield wipers so much that we had to cover her eyes at Barker Ranch to avoid being assaulted with high-pitched barks while Steve cleaned the window. Or the time she was being a little bit of a pest, and I jokingly told her to go bed and she immediately got up, went inside the tent and then glared at me until we told her she could come back out. Or how cute she looked in the little knitted sweater Heather’s mom made for her. Or the little wet dot her nose would leave behind on our pillows. Or how I envied her for how content she seemed curled up by the fire ring on a chilly night. Or the walks we’d take around the campground before dinner.

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Wheeler Gorge Campground, June 2013

The words are not original, but that makes them no less true: You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten.

Goodbye, Nabby.

Nabby the Camping Corgi, 2001-2015

nabby corgi joshua tree national park

By Heather

On Thanksgiving, our beloved Nabby became very sick and we had no choice but to free her from her pain. She was exactly 14 years and 5 months old.

Nabby is named after my favorite hockey player, retired San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Although I chose her name before I ever met her, it suited her perfectly. She was just…Nabby.

The hole in my chest where my heart would normally be is a cracked and jagged canyon. I know it will heal, but that doesn’t feel possible. Right now, the only thing that can heal it is the one thing I can’t have.

When Steve and Regina invited us to go camping at Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree four and a half years ago, we weren’t sure how it would go. I was pretty certain that I was going to hate it, and that the dogs were going to hate it 10 times more than that.

Imagine our total shock when not only did Darren and I love it, but Nabby and Rufus did, too.

That first night, the dogs were restless and confused. Up until then, their evenings were spent mostly indoors in front of the television. Going from that to being outdoors sitting around a fire wasn’t what they were used to. The next morning, though, it was clear: they were totally into it and in their element. By the second evening, they were blissed out and sleeping by the fire.

From then on, whenever possible, Nabby and Rufus went camping with us. It was non-negotiable, for the most part. For us to leave them behind, it had to be that bringing the dogs was impractical or just not allowed – such as Yosemite’s Housekeeping Campground.

After Rufus passed away, it was us and Nabby. We were most surprised by how well Nabby took to camping. We took her for a princess, a delicate thing who didn’t like being dirty or the concept of “roughing it.”

Boy, did we underestimate her. She was right there with us.

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Nabby proved to be as adaptable as anyone. She moved from the beaches to the mountains to the desert with ease, eagerness and curiosity, the way she approached her whole life. She thrived in new environments and loved having new things to explore and smell and investigate. Camping gave her that, and maybe it’s part of the reason she lived so long.

She and I spent many mornings snuggling in the tent, waiting until the sun came up and chased us out.

As she did everywhere she went, she trolled hard for food. Known treat-givers were followed with an intensity that eventually wore down all but the strongest and most resilient.

I could fill a museum named “Pictures of Nabby Begging for Food from People.”

One of her favorite spots was under any picnic table, enjoying the shade.

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But she loved a good sunbath, too.

nabby corgi joshua treeShe didn’t mind sitting in a hammock.

hammock, hammock bliss, camping hammock

She loved, loved, loved her doggy door in our tent. Every single morning, we woke up to find her there, keeping an eye on things for us.

nabby doggy door tent

Nabby was a watchdog and a protector, through and through. She had to know what was going on at all times, and she let us know when stuff was going down that she didn’t think was cool. One time, we had a site next to a water spigot and she spent the whole weekend growling at anyone who used it.

She has been camping all over: Big Sur, Wheeler Gorge, Table Mountain, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

She went to The Racetrack in Death Valley.

nabby corgi racetrack death valley
Darren and I will wager right now that she is the only corgi ever to have gone up to the Manson Family hideout, Barker Ranch. She even pooped there. Take that, Charlie!

nabby corgi "barker ranch" "death valley"She roamed the beaches at Leo Carrillo State Beach and Park.

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She had an absolutely miserable time with us when we went to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. She really had a knack for telegraphing when she wasn’t into something.

It was so gross, wet and cold that weekend, she actually went into the tent without us, climbed onto the air mattress and went to sleep, likely thinking, “Fuck this. Wake me when we’re leaving.” We left that evening.

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She ate our leftover eggs for us, too. Wasting food is a terrible thing, and Nabby made sure we never had to resort to it.

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What we always forgot about Nabby when it came to food, though, is that as soon as something happened once, it had to happen every time. After we gave her eggs that first time, it was over. From that point on, as soon as we woke up and drank our coffee, the pacing and staring would slowly intensify.

When she saw us getting out the camping stove and cracking eggs, she began stomping her feet and snorting. If we tried to give her green pepper while she waited for eggs, she’d turn her nose up. Eggs. The dog wanted eggs, only eggs. You have never seen a dog be so happy to finally get those eggs!

I can’t imagine not camping with my girl again. What will we do without our guard? Our comedian? Our egg eater? Our snuggler? Who will keep us warm and cozy on chilly evenings? The thought is breaking my heart over and over.

Darren promised her that whenever we camp, we’ll tell a story about her. That won’t be hard to do. There are hundreds of them. I treasure the memories we made with both her and Rufus. Little by little, they will make me laugh more than they make me cry. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

Rest in peace, dear Nabby. Now you can see everything.

We love you forever.

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Review: Teton Daypack with 2-Liter Bladder

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Me, wearing my awesome daypack! That’s not a peace sign; I had just done two peaks!

By Heather

The short version is I love my new backpack by Teton. Love it, love it, love it.

When it arrived, I did not love it. It looked way too small for anything more than a couple hours of hiking. And I hadn’t even factored in the space the bladder would take up when full.

But as I transferred everything over from my old, much larger backpack, it was clear to me that my new backpack wasn’t small. It just uses space incredibly efficiently, and there’s actually a ton of it if you pack wisely.

Lots of storage

This thing has so much space!

While hiking last weekend and taking a breather at Icehouse Saddle, I decided to take a moment to show off some of the stuff the pack has:

If you don’t feel like watching the video, here are some of the features:

  • There are four compartments with zippers. The one closest to your back holds the bladder. The compartment in front of that is accessed via a hidden zipper and runs the entire length of the pack, so it’s pretty big.
  • There is also a small pocket on top of the hidden zipper and a pocket on the front of the pack, intended to hold keys and such.
  • There are two mesh side pockets. I like to put my sunscreen and hard candies in those.
  • The pocket on the front of the pack separates from the rest of the pack so you can cram a jacket or shirt back there. Whatever you put back there is held in place with adjustable straps, and they’re very secure.
  • The front of the pack has a zig-zag of bungees for yet more storage.
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Half Dome patch on my daypack.

Practicality and comfort

There’s a rainfly, which resides in the bottom of the pack. To use it, you just pull it out of its pocket and pull it around the pack. It’s lined with elastic and remains attached to the pack.

The 2-liter bladder tasted slightly of plastic on the first use, and that has improved with time. The nicest thing about the bladder is the large opening, which makes for easy cleaning and drying. To fully dry it, I suspended it above our sink and put a paper towel near the mouth to prop it open and expose the inside of the bladder to air.

Last but not least, this pack is incredibly comfortable to wear. There’s a chest strap, hip strap, padding for breathability on the back and padding on the shoulder straps. I can’t say my water stayed cold, but it didn’t get warm. I credit the mesh padding on the back, which kept the pack suspended off my gross, sweaty back.

So far, this pack has taken me all over, including to the top of Mt. Whitney. There’s definitely enough space to carry the fuel and layers you would need on an long day hike like that. If you’re on the market for a daypack that holds everything you need, I can’t recommend the Teton Backpack enough.

I hope to have it for many years! Any questions? Ask away.

Mt. Whitney via the Mt. Whitney Trail

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Me, Darren and Jessie on top of Mt. Whitney!

By Heather

Oh, did you think we were dead?

After roughly a year of planning, making lists, thinking, dreaming, panicking, training, more planning…our Whitney Adventure has come and gone. I’ve put off writing about it because aside from my day job having been so crushingly busy and exhausting that I haven’t wanted to do much of anything (other than hike), I don’t know how to put the whole experience into words that would be the poetry it all deserves.

Outside the visitor's center the day before our hike.

Outside the visitor’s center the day before our hike.

But I have to, before I forget everything! Mt. Whitney is my favorite adventure so far. Better than Half Dome, though I’m not sure why that is. Both hikes were stunningly beautiful, challenging, bucket-list level hikes. Perhaps it was something about being on top of the contiguous United States that made it just a bit more thrilling.

Aside from the sense of accomplishment I feel when I get to the top of a mountain, there’s also that feeling of knowing there’s no other way to get there. No easy route, no shortcut. The only way is hard work. Mt. Whitney was pretty much the ultimate of that feeling, because damn, do you earn that.

Two years ago, I couldn’t fathom this. It wasn’t long ago that I took great pride in how sloth-like we were when we camped, and I waved away suggestions to take up hiking as a way to burn off camping calories. Now, I start going a little stir-crazy if too much time passes between hikes. Now, I do things like climb Mt. Whitney. This astounds me as much as it does anyone who knew me even five years ago!

The trailhead

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The Lone Pine Creek running through the Whitney Portal Campground.

Our group – myself, Darren and my cousin Jessie (who is an all-around bad-ass) – stayed at the Whitney Portal Campground the night before our climb. It’s about a mile down the road from the trailhead, so it’s a great place a get some rest at 8,000 feet – a moderate altitude – before you climb. A lot of people start their Whitney climb from here, so you think it would be bare-bones, but it’s a gorgeous and well-kept campground with the standard amenities (water, vault toilets, host). I’ll write more about it in another post.

Our site was booked for the next night, so we had to pack up and store our scented things in bear boxes at the trailhead (there are about eight of them and they’re massive). There’s also plenty of parking at the trailhead.

Rumor has it that the Whitney Portal area is full of bears, but we didn’t see a single one. I’m always equally relieved and disappointed when things work out that way.

Trailhead to Trail Camp

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On the Mt. Whitney Trail.

We officially hit the trail around 2:30 a.m.

The first half of the hike is from the Trailhead to Trail Camp, and I thought it was pretty smooth sailing. The trail is fairly flat, you’re still at an easy-breathing elevation, you’re fresh and excited and ready to go and full of adrenaline. It’s not a cakewalk, but compared to what’s to come, it kind of is.

During this segment, we passed a few stream crossings (so glad I chose waterproof boots!), Outpost Camp, Lone Pine Lake and Trail Meadow. Since it was still dark out, we didn’t see a thing. But that’s okay, because we would be seeing it on the way down.

Behind and ahead of us, tiny headlamps zig-zagged all up and down in the darkness. Many people start the hike right at midnight, when permits become valid.

We took regular breaks to keep up our momentum and energy: 50 minutes on, 10 off to eat, drink and do business.

During one break, we switched our headlamps off and stared at the stars. One of them streaked over our heads, a good sign.

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The magical alpenglow.

Our arrival at Trail Camp could not have been timed better: the sun started to light up the sky and before it rose above the horizon, the jagged peaks in front of us were entirely bathed in breathtaking pink light – alpenglow. Pictures can’t do it justice.

Trail Camp to the 99 switchbacks and Trail Crest

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Darren and Jessie coming up the 99 switchbacks.

Right after Trail Camp is where it gets fun: the infamous 99 switchbacks (or 97 or whatever other number you’ve heard. I counted but I don’t trust my accuracy).

Not only did it get more challenging at this point, the trail suddenly seemed a lot more crowded. It’s not a cattle herd by any means, but this isn’t a hike where you’re going to find any solitude. The closest we ever came to that was when we started in the wee morning hours.

Some of the switchbacks are really, really short. Some are frustratingly long. I found it mentally tough getting through this section, so as I said, I kept count of the switchbacks and tried to keep my breath under control.

At the end of the switchbacks is Trail Crest, which outside of the summit is pretty much the most incredible, mind-blowing part of the hike! From this point, you can see both Sierra National Park and Death Valley.

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Trail Crest, looking into Sequoia National Park.

We gawked, took photos and then then headed down a fairly long descent that had me crying a little because I knew we’d have to go back up on our way out. At the end of the descent, you’re on the back side of the Whitney Needles and the trail converges with the John Muir Trail.

The back to the summit

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On a break at Trail Camp.

Until this point, the hike felt “doable,” grueling as the switchbacks were. Even on the backside of Whitney, it’s not that steep. But putting one foot in front of the other gets very, very hard. Breathing is noticeably more difficult. Trail Crest is where it seems like a lot of people give up, because at 12,000 feet, many people will feel some degree of altitude sickness.

My sickness? I got a cough that started around the 99 Switchbacks. By the time we got back down to Lone Pine that afternoon, I sounded like a carton-a-day smoker. For the next three weeks, I coughed and hacked. (One lesson learned is that I should have kept my mouth covered better so I was breathing warmer air that had a little more moisture).

We also took Diamox in the days leading up to the hike, and I really credit it as being the reason we did so well at the high elevation. Other than the cough, I felt great. Although acclimating naturally is preferred, it just wasn’t possible for any of us.

We did what we could by arriving the day before and camping at a higher elevation, but two of us live at sea level, so we needed an assist. The only side effect that we all had on the medication is that it makes carbonated stuff taste crazy. Beer goes flat, soda becomes bitter and fizzy but somehow not fizzy. Try it. It’s fun and really weird!

Final push

The last push to the summit after descending and converging with the Muir Trail is a long walk along a very rocky and exposed trail. The first part of this section is where many people slip and fall to their deaths. It’s very narrow and I can totally see how this would happen.

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Darren celebrates on the summit.

On the way up the back of the mountain, we passed behind the “needles,” which are the peaks leading up to the summit. (One of them is named after Hulda Crooks, my hiking spirit guide.) As we passed by each needle, there were breaks in the mountain (called the Whitney Windows) where we could see down to Lone Pine and into Death Valley.

We also got buzzed by a fighter plane, which was deafening and fantastic and talk about feeling small.

As they say, you know you’re near the summit when you see the Sierra Club Summit Hut. Seeing it in person was every bit as exciting as I imagined it might be.

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Darren signs the register.

Signing the register was also a great feeling! My experience with registers up until now being notebooks shoved into coffee cans, I was not prepared for the size and beauty of the register on Mt. Whitney. It felt like we were signing a historical record of some sort, and I guess we were.

What do you do when you’re on the highest spot in the continental United States? We took a ton of pictures of each other, shot video, attempted and failed at phone calls and texts home, had snacks, high-fived other summiters, signed our names. And then it was time to go.

mt whitney summit

Me, on the summit!

Summit to Trail Camp

The trek back down from the summit to Trail Camp went by fairly quickly, though that downhill part I mentioned earlier was every bit as unpleasant as I thought it was going to be.

mt whitney trail camp

The lake no one wanted to leave.

There’s a lake at Trail Camp where we topped off our bottles, had a snack and relaxed. Except, once we sat down, no one wanted to get up. We wound up hanging out for about 45 minutes. Worth it, though. It’s one of my favorite memories of the hike.

Trail Camp to the Trailhead

Mt. whitney summit

Beautiful lake on the way back down.

There’s not much to say here, other than that it was long and we were tired and just wanted to get back to the car.

Sometimes the hardest part of a hike is heading back down, and it’s definitely true here. After Lone Pine Lake especially, we were beginning to wonder if we had slipped into a vortex where we would hike forever and never stop.

I shouldn’t complain too much. This was all territory we missed going up in the dark, and it was beyond beautiful. Every photo, straight out of the camera, was gorgeous. Not because I’m an amazing photographer, but because the light is that magical.

At long last, we arrived at the parking lot around 5:30 p.m.

All I wanted was a photo at the trail head sign, then to go sit down and drink a lot of water. According to my FitBit, we walked 25.73 miles in 15:09 hours.

We went back to our cars, drove down to our motel in Lone Pine, forced down burritos for dinner (I ate half and didn’t even want that! Darren, however, ate his entire burrito and still wanted more.) and then crashed hard until 8 the next morning.

And that’s how we hiked Mt. Whitney!

Everyone wants to know…would I do it again? Hell. Yes. Yes, I would.