Three of us from Riverside (Dan, Jason, and myself) drove up on Friday to camp in Whitney Portal. Dan had made the campsite reservations and secured our permits in February for this June hike. What a great place to camp with huge trees and a rushing mountain creek nearby. Saturday, Aaron joined us from central California. Saturday, we four low-landers headed up to Cottonwood Pass to 10,000' to get some acclimatization in thinner air without working our muscles hard before the hike the next day.
Sunday morning, we woke at 4am, ate breakfast, and were on the trail by 4:45am. About an hour up the trail we saw the most beautiful sunrise over the valley below. We made good progress past Lone Pine Lake (10,000'), Outpost Camp, and on up to Trail Camp (12,000'). Just below Trail Camp we encountered our first snowfield, though it was very small. We encountered a few more on the famous "97 Switchbacks" which take you up from 12,000' to 13,600'. They were great for snowballs to hurl back towards my friends.
Trail Crest was as inspiring as ever (see my photo from there). What a great view across Sequoia National Park. The wind picked up in that gap and so we put on more clothes. We were hiking in the shade along the backside of Mt. Muir and the needles and the spires. Aaron and I arrived on top at 10:40am and Dan and Jason were shortly behind us. Everyone had a great hike to the top with no problems. We had great weather on top. The skies were cloudless with temps in the mid-50s, but there was a constant nippy wind. We ate lunch next to the rock house on top to avoid the wind.
The weather conditions were very good compared to the two previous days. On Friday and Saturday, we could see the ominous clouds looming over the peak. In camp, hikers from those days told us about snow and bitter cold on top. We went up with plenty of food and clothes for the worst conditions but fortunately we didn't need all of that.
On the way down, Aaron and I attempted to bag Mt. Muir (14,012') and make it a double 14er day. Aaron is a great climber so he scrambled up the rocks very, very easily. I'm more of a hiker than a climber. Aaron was on top of Muir in no time. I only went about halfway up and decided not to attempt it because I was uneasy about climbing up some of the steep rock... and knowing that I would have to climb back down it. Aaron yelled down that the top was only about 10' x 10' and had awesome exposure on all the edges. I yelled up, "That's another reason why I'm not coming up!" I do have my limitations. I'll have to get some bouldering, scrambling, and climbing experience to feel comfortable doing Muir someday.
Aaron and I jogged down the trail and caught up to Jason and Dan. We then all made it down the trail together at a few minutes before 6pm. We then showered and went to Lone Pine to scarf down large amounts of pizza.
Great hike. I normally don't like to repeat the same hike since I have so many other mountains I'm wanting to hike. But Whitney is a great one. It's definitely not disappointing to repeat it.
One of the most exciting parts of the trip happened at 1:30am that night though. We were asleep in the tent and woke up to hear black bears just outside our tent. We all laid there still and quiet. The bears were within a few feet of the tent as we could easily hear their breathing and gruntings as they searched for food. The nylon wall of the tent never seemed thinner. It wasn't too frightening though because we had stored all our food and toiletries in the bear locker (not in the car or tent) as we were supposed to do. Within a few minutes the bears had moved on to some trash cans and other campsites. A guy in a nearby campsite had his backpack destroyed by the bears though. Always use those bear lockers. They're there for a reason. Black bears don't normally attack people like grizzlies might (which California doesn't have, even though a grizzly is on our state flag). Still none of us volunteered to go out of the tent to photograph the bears. We could easily remember the 50' shadow of the bears and the saliva dripping from their fangs the next morning or was that a 100' shadow?