Posts Tagged ‘Whitney Portal’

We waited there for almost 3 hours to get a ride down to town.  For the first hour, only one woman drove by in her empty SUV and tried really hard not to look at us and go completely to the other side of the road as if we had the plague.  The one plus about the Horseshoe Meadow road was everyone heading out from where we were literally had to pass through Lone Pine, where we wanted to go.  Lucky for us, a nice guy named Dave in a blue pickup took pity on us and drove us down since all the other few cars that passed had been filled to the brim with stuff.

In Lone Pine, we found food, a hot tub, and a small outfitter.  We stayed in the Dow Villa Hotel (which for some reason was cheaper than the motel…go figure) and got Gene Autry’s room.  I will admit, I totally had to google search who he was; Wikipedia is a great thing.  It also told me that the Horseshoe Meadow road was an engineering feat built for a potential Disney ski resort that never got built because of the Wilderness Protection Act of 1964, so now the road just goes up 7000 ft of sketchy-ness to the campground.

We did end up having to pay to get back up the hill the next afternoon in a super sketchy van where the speedometer didn’t work, a door or two was completely gutted out save for the frame, and it made all kinds of noises.

Having taken Mulkey Pass down, we decided to take Cottonwood Pass back up since both dumped down into the campground at the same spot, so technically, it was a continuous foot path still.  We ended up with an extra mile and an extra 600 ft or so of climbing.

Inspector Gadget had stayed in town to eat a late lunch and finish with his laptop while Dead Animal, Hop-a-long and I had gone back up.  The three of us started after watching a car full of weekenders take over an hour to fit as much as possible it seemed to the outside of their packs.  Four of five of them had giant boots while the last one had some super minimalist shoes.

We walked slowly under the heavy weight of the food we had crammed into our packs and the sudden rise of 7000 ft of elevation, only to go up another 1200 ft to 11,200 at Cottonwood Pass (the valley Lone Pine was in was not at 0).

The first water source was a small pond with an outlet stream called Chicken Spring Lake.  We ended up stopping there since Hop wasn’t feeling fantastic and that way Gadget could catch us easily as long as he got out of town.

While we ate dinner we saw two dudes coming down sobo, one without a pack.

“Hey!” The one with a pack called, “You guys have any extra water? We’ve been out the past few miles.”

“There’s a stream right there that you just walked over,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, but that looks dirty and those tabs take 30 minutes,” he replied.

Now, the logical thing would have been to immediately start whatever water treatment he had and then ask for a few sips to tide him over til he had more instead of expecting others to just give him water since they were obviously unprepared.  We gave them a little anyway and when he came toward us, I noted they were all in cotton.

As the one came over, the other one without the pack slumps over and pukes.  “Oh, that’s my uncle.  He’s been throwing up because of the altitude for two days now.”

My mouth dropped.  “Where were you guys?” I asked


“You could have just taken the portal straight down the east side and gotten him out before it got this bad,” I said.  If you get AMS, you just need to go down, not stay on the damn ridgeline.

“Yeah, but you gotta have a permit for that.  They’ll fine you.”  Was the reply he came up with.

Personally, I would have taken the damn fine instead of AMS, but whatever.

After they left for Cottonwood Pass, the other two with them rolled through, one with two packs.  They asked us how far Lone Pine was.  After telling them it was .6 miles to Cottonwood Pass, then 3.8 down to the campground, then 22 miles down a road, their only response was “shit.”  I’m not sure if they even had a map…

That night was freezing!  I had ice crystals in my water and all my layers on.  We decided to play the “wait-for-the-sun-to-warm-us-up” game, so we didn’t get out of our sleeping bags for quite some time.  Gadget had come in with Astro and Magellan getting a ride from Shutterbug’s mom, whom they had met in the Post Office.

I felt slow the whole day, taking lots of breaks, taking pictures and hoping my body would get over the elevation shock I put it through going straight from Lone Pine up to the ridge.  It did fine, I just had small headaches and felt sluggish.

The whole day we contoured around large piles of rocks, went through meadows, rock-hopped streams, and eventually got to Crabtree Meadow where a side trail went 8.5 miles up to the summit of Mt. Whitney which, at 14,505 ft, is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.  We had planned an extra day of food to do the 17 mile round trip side adventure.  We saw more deer there than we had in 750 miles of trail.  Buffet, Mr. C, Flatlander, June, and Taka were all there after summiting Whitney that morning.

Looking at the map, we chose to hike up 1.1 more miles to another meadow and closed ranger station to help us out just a wee bit the next day.  We found Condor there chillin’ in his tent doing Whitney the next day as well.  He had hiked the PCT last year and was planning on doing the High Sierra Route this year.

Now, if we thought Chicken Spring Lake was cold, this meadow was colder.  We managed to sleep, but getting up in the morning proved difficult. I gagged my oatmeal without sugar down fairly well, then borrowed honey from Dead Animal to help it out a bit.  He ended up staying there all day to sleep while Hop-a-long, Inspector Gadget, and I went to summit Whitney at a very ridiculously late start of almost 9 a.m.

We took our time too.  Taking our first break at Timberline Lake, 1.5 miles later, we had to de-layer and eat some grub.  Then another one, 1.3 miles later at the last water after Guitar Lake.  We took a decent break there with Murphy and Dump Truck who had hiked 1600 miles last year and came back to finish what they skipped this year.

From those ponds, the trail shot up 2300 feet in about 2.3 miles, came to Trail Crest Junction, then went up another 1000 feet or so to the summit along a dramatically sharp ridge.  The switchbacks going to Trail Crest were like a stair stepper on crack with the steps and their never-ending ascent.  Guitar Lake looked more and more like a guitar from up there as I peered down at it during breather breaks.

At Trail Crest Junction, I ate a few spoonfuls of peanut butter while watching people come up from the east side of the mountain, the Whitney Portal side there.  The last two miles from there went slowly up on the ridge.  At three points, the trail became only a few feet wide with large, steep drops down to the east, and rocks everywhere to be seen to the west.

At the top, all the thru-hikers were huddled in a wind break eating, snoozing, and chatting.  I joined them and laid down to eat.  I had felt completely fine until the last 200 ft of elevation or so, then felt queasy.  I solved it by eating, drinking water, and not staying too long at the top.

After a lot of pictures, we headed down, back the way we came.  We met a few people with very small day packs going up and they said they had meant to go down the east side back to their car at Whitney Portal, but accidentally gone down the west side.  An accidental extra 2000 ft of climbing or so.

We slept in that same cold meadow again that evening with all the marmots.  The temperature had not gone down quite as far that night.

If we had had energy, we should have gone another four miles that evening, but we didn’t.  Lucky for us, since this year has almost no snow, it wouldn’t matter if we did Forester Pass in the afternoon.  In a normal snow year, we should have done it first thing in the morning so as not to posthole in the warmed snow.

We motivated ourselves to only an hour lunch break, and set off for Forester Pass in the afternoon.  The last 700 feet or so shot up steeply, like that section on Whitney.  We stopped there to eat and grab water.  We made friends with two extremely friendly marmots aptly named Larry and Nelda by the creative imaginations of Inspector Gadget and Hop-a-long.

That 700 ft kicked my ass and at the end I could see how Forester Pass would be super sketchy with loads of snow.  The actual pass was super small and v-notched.

A few of us decided that we should participate in ESPN: Every Sierra Pass Naked.  Just to add a little more excitement to our lives.

The nakedness didn’t last long because the wind whipped through the pass really quick.  We put clothes back on and scurried down the switchbacks on the other side.

About halfway down I began to feel really nauseous and needed to eat and sleep.  We stopped in a tree patch right before diving further down in the valley.

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