Thursday, July 31, 2008

Whitney and Muir

Being the highest point in the 48-contiguous states, Mt. Whitney, near Lone Pine, CA, is many a hiker's goal. Since I've already done it twice (2003 & 2004), I really didn't have any plans to hike it again. Don't get me wrong, it's a great hike and goes through some beautiful Sierra high country, but there's too many other hikes in the Sierra I haven't had a chance to attempt yet.

But my colleague Tim (a poli-sci prof) asked me last year (2007) to go with him up Whitney since he had never been up there before. He didn't have to twist my arm to get me to agree. He trained well for it on local trails, but unfortunately, in 2007 we failed to get up there on top of Whitney. We secured a permit through the February lottery, but a family funeral out of state ended up being the same day of our permit. Then I got us another permit for the end of August (from a cancellation). We camped in Whitney Portal ready to hike, only to get rained out by incessant storms (the remnants of Hurricane Dean).

So in 2008, I was determined to see Tim get to the top of Whitney. We secured our permit in the Spring. Tim trained throughout the summer. On Tues, July 29th we headed to Lone Pine. We camped in campsite #23 in Whitney Portal (which ironically was the exact same campsite my friend Dan would be camping in just a week later for his Whitney hike). We would start hiking soon after 5:00am on Wed, July 30th.

I had three goals for the day (and in this order of priority):

(1) See Tim make it up and back down Whitney. I still felt bad that we didn't make it up Whitney in 2007 after he prepared so well for it.

Since I wasn't sure how fast Tim wanted to hike, I let him set the pace. However fast he wanted to hike, I'd be happy to follow. Tim and I made good time up past Lone Pine Lake (10,000'), Outpost Camp, Mirror Lake, Trail Camp (12,000'), the 97 switchbacks, and Trail Crest (13,600'). We had a perfect day... temps in the 50s, no wind, and not a cloud in the sky. Our pace slowed some as we got into the thinner air above trail camp, but early in the afternoon we were both on top of Mt. Whitney.

Goal #1 - accomplished.

(2) Climb up Mt. Muir (14,012'). Me and Mt. Muir have some history. It's just a short 300' class 2-3 climb off the side of the main Whitney trail. It should only take about 10-15 minutes to complete, but yet less than 1% of Whitney hikers ever attempt Muir for a double-14er day.

In 2003, I attempted to bag Muir but I felt too unsure of myself when I got above the class-2 scree. Then in 2004, I attempted it again. I tried following a friend (who is a class-5 billy goat) as he quickly hopped up that short climb. But I got too nervous about the exposure on the class-3 part of the climb and stopped.

This time around, I was determined to make it up Mt. Muir. Now I had some good class-3 climbing under my belt since I went up Longs Peak in Colorado last summer. Now I felt more sure of myself on class-3, even with some exposure. Prior to our trip, I also did some online research and plotted out the best route to the top.

As we were heading up towards Whitney, I soon found the well-worn path through the class-2 scree leading up to Mt Muir. (It's actually easy to overlook since the west side of Muir from the Whitney trail looks very similar to the other needles and peaks at that point on the trail.)

After bolting up the scree, there were a couple of cheeky little moves on the class-3 stuff, including a short traverse.
But in a mere 12 minutes, I found myself sitting on top of the summit block. (No, I wasn't comfortable standing on it because the drop off the east side is 1,000'+.) I signed the summit log and sat there enjoying my view and glad to finally exorcise the demons of two prior failed attempts on Muir. I took a few pictures looking west across Sequoia National Park and north towards the needles and Mt. Whitney.

Goal #2 - accomplished.

(3) Fly my kite on Whitney. I've always wanted to fly a kite on a mtn peak. Twice in Yosemite I've attempted this (once on North Dome and once on Half Dome). Even though I tried for hours, neither time was I successful in my attempts to get it in the air. On North Dome, I had no wind at all that morning and on Half Dome the winds were too erratic to keep it airborne.

So I packed my kite in my backpack as Tim and I headed up the trail. Even though the kite collapses down to roughly 1" in diameter, it's still over 3' long and stuck well out of the top of my backpack like a quiver of arrows. I got lots of questions and comments about it as I hiked up the trail. I looked like Big Chief Flying Kite as we ascended the trail.

On top, I assembled the kite and discovered I was missing one of the small sticks. I still tried to get it airborne. I got it up a few times, but it was difficult to control and it quickly spun to the ground.
It's much easier to fly it at the beach with constant, sustained winds in a single direction. I tried for a good while and then realized it just wasn't gonna happen. Oh well. It would have been really cool to fly a kite on the highest point in the 48-contiguous states. I guess I'll have to hike Whitney another day and attempt this again.