Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day #2: Heading to the Whitney Summit from Trail Crest

The trail to the Whitney summit goes around the backside (west side) of the Whitney peaks, the opposite of what we could see from Trail Camp. While the east side is mostly a vertical face, the west side has some vertical faces, but it also has lots of boulder fields at a sloped angle. The map says that it's 900' of net elevation gain from Trail Crest to Whitney Summit spread over two miles. Given what we just did on the chute, that 900' doesn't seem like that big a deal, but there are a bunch of things working against you. Besides being at nearly 14,000 feet, the first thing working against you is that the trail goes steeply down the backside at first. I don't know if this is the only way that could have been built to the Whitney summit, but the trail goes down a ways to meet up with a spur of the John Muir trail so people doing the Pacific Crest trail (from Mexico to Canada) can do a side trip to the top of Whitney. In any case, we go down a bunch, meet up with the spur from the Pacific Crest Trail and then start the ascent up to Whitney.

After about 30 minutes of hiking, we can spot the shack on top of Whitney in the distance. It's exhilarating to see the final destination, but it was also a long ways off in the distance. It didn't seem like a long climb (relative to everything else we'd done), but it seemed pretty far away nonetheless.

Our First Look at the Back Side of Whitney Peak (in the distance) - The Hut on Top is Barely Visible

And, just making steady progress at 14,000 feet was hard. At first, we were doing really well. We passed several groups of people we'd been at Trail Crest with. We passed several of what are known as the "windows". These are essentially the v-notches between the sub-peaks. When you go past a window, you can see both east and west (a long ways down in both directions). I thought they were pretty cool, but Kevin didn't feel very comfortable in the windows. We also had absolutely gorgeous views westward over the Sierras of hundreds of other peaks and lots of frozen lakes. Really, really rough terrain, but amazingly beautiful.

Views Westward Over the Sierras

Then, the pace and altitude started to catch up with us. We hit a long set of sweeping switchbacks and then went across the west face of the Whitney peak itself to get to the north side which was less steep and the trail went up the north spine of the peak. We had a couple long traverses through snow fields and when we got to the north spine of Whitney, I needed a long break. I really thought we were close enough that we were going to make it, but I thought it might really take a long time because I couldn't go very long between breaks. We'd hike a bit, take a sit down break, then hike some more. Kevin was doing better that I at this point, but we were still encouraging each other. At one of the breaks, I explained to Kevin that I was just going to need a lot of breaks, but with the right breaks I thought we could make it. I noticed that we couldn't actually see very far in front of us up the spine and I figured that was a good thing. That meant the the slope must be flattening out as we progressed.  There are no pictures from this part of the trip because all I could think about at the time was getting to the top.  Even at breaks, I didn't even think about taking the camera out.

Just when I thought I was going to need breaks every few minutes, something kicked in and we just powered up to the top. Again I don't know if it was adrenaline or the slope flatted a bit, but we came over a rise and could see the shack at the top there in front of us and it was only five more minutes to get up there. I don't think I've ever seen Kevin so happy. He really, really, really wanted to make it to the top. We arrived at the top around 12:30.

Remember that magic rule before of 2 miles per hour and one additional hour for each 1000' of climb. That's exactly how long it took us on this last segment (2 hours to go 2 miles and 1000' up) to get from Trail Crest to the Whitney Summit. We weren't carrying heavy packs at this point, but the added altitude probably evened things out. Five and a half hours from Trail Camp to get to Whitney Summit. Not a speed record, but plenty of time left in the day and no bad weather threatening us.

Next Page