Let's back up a bit...
The third week of May marked the end of my sentence, err training, in Monterey. We did the whole graduation thing, the Parks Director pinned a shiny star on my jacket, I packed up and got the hell out. Holly and I rolled in to San Diego at about 11PM that night and collapsed on the bed. Done.
Earlier that week, Dan had flown a message on Facebook that his climbing partner for Whitney blew his knee out (chronic injury got worse) and he needed a fill-in or he'd be forced to stay home. Whitney permits are a little difficult to come by, I'd always wanted to do it (it was on the "Bucket List"), I had the time and the money. I ran it by Holly since it was the weekend after I just got home from 8 months in Monterey and she gave me the go-ahead: "Do it."
I sent Dan a message, spent WAY too much on gear and last Friday, I pulled into Lone Pine to meet up with him. I'd never done any mountaineering, but I'm pretty fit, I've done solo backpacking and used to rock climb pretty aggressively. Besides, it's just walking, right?
I met Dan in Lone Pine around noon and we hit the local grocery for last minute supplies. I followed him up to the trail head (Whitney Portal) and we did one last gear check before hitting the trail.
At long last, Trail Crest!
I was hurting for sure by this time. I was tired, had a headache, was pretty nauseated and could tell I was way low on cals...and then I ran out of water. With the closest water source at Consultation Lake and about 45 minutes before we even reached the summit, I knew I getting back would be very difficult to say the least. I don't think he knew it, but when I asked Dan how far to the summit, I was mentally deciding if it was time to bail on the summit and head for some water. Luckily, Dan had enough water to share some, but it would be close for us to make the summit and make it back to water. Moreover, it was getting late (12:45-ish) and we still had to hike all the way back to camp. With increasing wind speeds (65-75 mph gusts) and snow forecast, it was decision time. Spending the night on the ridge line or at Trail Camp would be ugly.
We needed to pick up the pace so Dan suggested we ditch our main packs. We put our crampons back on, I took a small summit pack with just some emergency supplies, Dan grabbed his camera and water bottle and we and went for it. Game on.
I could tell we were making better time with the lighter load. Finally, we hit the last snow field on the back side of the peak. Soon I heard Dan yell out: "There's the hut!". I looked up and there it was. The peak!
Yeah, it's high. Still seems a bit surreal.
We spent about 30 mins on the summit, relaxing and taking pictures. We headed started the journey down at about 2 PM, 7 hours after leaving camp that morning. Most people had already summited and we knew we were close to the last people coming down. It occurred to me we, possibly, had no one behind us to help if we got in trouble. Kind of a sobering thought, really. We hiked back down to our packs, re-shouldered them and trekked back to the "notch". We took our crampons back off for the trip down the tough snow chute climb; this time, we'd make it down in 5 minutes; glissading! Imagine a snow slide with a 1000' vertical drop and you get the idea. Adult-sized fun! A fellow climber summed it up: " I wanna go again! That was fun, but it feels like Mr. Frosty just had his way with me." Quote of the trip.
Alas, the fun had to end. By now it was late in the day and the snow had softened considerably. As smashed as we were, post-holing was taking a huge toll on our bodies as was the dehydration. I'd walk/stumble as far as I could until I thought I was going to vomit and then take a break until the waves of nausea passed. Not fun. Add to that the 65-75 mph wind gusts and it made for extremely slow going. Dan won the "deepest post hole" award when he sank all the way to his groin in the snow. You get the idea.
Finally, we were close enough to Consultation Lake that Dan pushed ahead to see if he could find water for us. I could see him below me trying to figure out how to get through the ice and not break through and fall into the water. I caught up to him and plopped down on some rocks where he was looking at drinking from a snow melt pool when he spied a small snow melt waterfall nearby. He filled a bottle dropped the bleach in to treat it and we both sipped the cold, delicious liquid. Saved!
Again, time was not our friend and we had to press on before dark and before the snow blew in. After a final, tricky descent we made it back to camp and threw ourselves to the ground. Exhausted. I heard Dan moving about re-securing his tent that had blown over during the day, while I made some weak gatorade from the lake. Cold, tired and nauseated, I changed out wet clothes for dry and climbed into my sleeping bag to warm up. I fell asleep from the ordeal and awoke 30 mins later feeling much better. Dan had also fallen asleep without meaning to. We made dimmer and ,eventually, the gusty winds drove us into our beds. Unfortunately, a good night's rest was not in the card; Mother Nature had other plans for us.
HOWLING winds all night long. Several times I thought the nearby trees were about to fall on us or that my tent would rip apart from the winds. Around 1100, I heard it the unmistakable sound of snow falling on my tent. The winds were strong enough during the night to blow snow under my tent's rain fly and through the mesh of the inner tent. By morning, I had a small pile of snow inside my tent and a 1" snow drift against my tent. We both only slept about an hour at a time, but sleep we did. I awoke Sunday morning to clear skies, weakening wind gusts and fresh snow on the ground. Perfect!
Sunrise! Oh yeah!
Dan finally got up and I debated out loud if to make breakfast or not. Dan mentioned breakfast in town and I was hooked. Let's go.
From the cold tamps the night before, the snow had hardened considerably, which made the trip down exponentially faster than the day before. Soon we were out of the worst of the snow and back onto dirt. Not before spying a few, last winter reminders.
The scenery still amazes me.
We made it back to the trail head in a few, short hours, but not before one, last snow flurry to remind us who was really in charge. We packed up and hit the local cafe for breakfast. More disappointment: no pancakes after 11 and it was already noon. Dammit. Luckily, they serve breakfast all day; we chowed down.
After lunch we said our goodbyes and I hit the road.
I'm stoked to check this one off my bucket list. People in the parking lot were mirroring the challenges we had faced: lots of soft snow, losing the route, emergency bivvy sack use and even shacking up with strangers while waiting out the weather. I'd love to go back in the Summer and see all the trees and plants green and the lakes in the unfrozen state.
Hope you enjoyed the story and the pics. The rest of the pics are here. There's just too many to show on the 'blog.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”