Wednesday, June 30, 2010


In laying out the overall agenda of the trip, we set a goal to spend three days at an altitude of at least 8000 feet before starting the hike to help our bodies get used to the altitude and to help our odds with altitude sickness. Since we have to go over Tioga pass in Yosemite just to get to the trail-head and we both like trout fishing, we figure the first day, we'll spend around Tioga pass (9945 feet) trout fishing. The plan is to hike into a lake a little above 10,000 feet that we had some good trout fishing at last August and spend several hours there fishing. After fishing, we'll go on to Mammoth Lakes and spend a day there hiking to another lake where we can fish. Then, the third day we'll head on to the trail-head and maybe do a short hike there.

The first day turns into a bit of an adventure. We hike up to Saddlebag lake near Tioga pass and when we get there, we find the lake is frozen over.

Saddlebag Lake still frozen

There's a small sliver of water showing along one shore so we try fishing there for a couple hours, but it's just not enough access to the lake to make anything happen. This is our first indication of how much snow there really was here this winter. It's nearly the last week of June and the lake surface is still frozen solid. We pack up, hike out and try briefly at a lake at a lower elevation, but the sun disappears and it starts to get cold so we head on to Mammoth Lakes (with a brief stop to see the tufa formations at Mono Lake).

Tufa formations at Mono Lake

The second day, we were planning on hiking to another lake at 10,000 feet and we inquire at the hotel about directions to the trail-head The woman behind the counter summons a hotel worker who knows the local trails and we ask him how to get to the trail-head. He asks if we have snowshoes because the trail is still 5-10 feet of snow. OK, we should have known by now. We pick a lake at a lower elevation and hike there. Fishing there is fun because we catch a number of fish, but they're all too small to keep and eat. After trying to find larger fish in the lake, we eventually decide to go somewhere else. One of the other lakes mentioned to us was Convict Lake so we hike out and drive there (no hike required), inquire about what kind of fishing equipment is working and start fishing. In a couple hours we catch three keeper rainbow trout, one pretty sizable. As the sun goes down, we pack up. Now, we have to figure out a way to cook these trout. We're staying in a hotel, but I brought a small barbecue. So we buy some charcoal, some minute rice and drive to an area in the woods we'd seen on our previous hike where we can pull over on the dirt road, set up the barbecue and cook our trout. It's dark, quite cold and the only light we have is our headlamps, but we get the grill going, cook the rice on the backpacking stove and barbecue the trout. It's a scene worthy only of someone who truly loves freshly caught and cooked trout (Kevin). It's dark and I'm really having trouble telling whether the fish is done or not. Eventually I figure it's done and we bite into it and it was amazing. The best fish we've ever had. Of course, we're starving and the whole late night drama of cooking it in the middle of nowhere in the cold probably contributed to the experience, but it really did taste awesome. One of the fish was such a good size that we had more than we could eat.

The third day, we do some last minute laundry to make sure our trail clothes are clean and then drive down to Lone Pine to pick up our Whitney permit and our WAG bags. They confirm at the permit office that crampons are required. For those of you who haven't seen the eastern Sierras down highway 395, it's an amazing site. Whereas the western Sierras rise up over a span of 50-100 miles, on the eastern side, they just shoot straight up. Lone Pine is at around 4000 feet and Whitney is 14,496. That's a rise of more than 10,000 feet in less than 15 miles. Some of the rock faces go nearly straight up 5000 feet from the valley. It's a sight to see. I know we went there when I was a kid, but if you haven't seen it as an adult, it's something to put on your list.

Here's what Whitney looks like from near the town of Lone Pine (10,000' up)

After picking up a few last minute fresh groceries for our last dinner and breakfast before the hike, we head up to the campground at Whitney Portal. We set up camp, check out the trail-head and trail-head parking and the little store there and decide to just relax for the rest of the day, skipping any more warm-up hikes. We feast on spaghetti and broccoli, set the alarm for 6 am and get ready for the next day.

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