Chuck (early 40s) and Rich (early 30s), co-workers in San Diego,California, departed sea level on September 16, 2000 and drove to Lone Pine. The purpose of the trip was to make a reconnaissance of the area for a future attempt on Mount Whitney, California (highest mountain in 49 of the 50 states). By reading http://www.whitneyportalstore.com/reports/ (as of this update on December 13, 2003 the current address is www.whitneyportalstore.com, then click on "message board." The format is very different from what it was in 2000.) We were aware that permits were needed to climb, and reservations were needed to camp. While asking lots of pesky questions of the Rangers Greg and Ginger (Park Officials) in Lone Pine, we learned that there were over 20 unused permits available for the following day. We had all of the necessary equipment, but were not actually mentally/equipment wise truly prepared to do the summit bid. After some discussion, we took two permits (they are free if you take what is available, versus the lottery held every February, where each person is $15). We immediately headed up to the Whitney Portal at 8,300 feet. This is the commercial store and mini restaurant located at Military Grid Reference System 11SLA89124978. Cars get parked here and hiking begins here. According to the store employees there, bears also rip open cars with various scents at this location! They sell prepared food, camp food, some supplies for hiking, camping and fishing, and even have a shower. They run and monitor the campgrounds, both reservable family sites and non-reservable hikers campground. We asked if there were any open hikers camp sites and got two. These sites are VERY close to one another and there is no privacy as such. They were $8.00 per night. We paid for two nights so we would have a place to come home to after a possible summit visit. Then we asked the Portal Store employees what the weather was looking like for the next day, and they said "perfect." We loaded up on some of their outstanding grub (food) and got to bed. A point of note, they sell bear cannisters at prices below anyone else in all of California, no exceptions, per my experiences (we both left with one each, for future trips). Realizing we "had" to make an effort for the summit, we placated ourselves by saying it was "just a reconnaissance," in case we could not pull this off.
It was very hard to sleep with the anxiety of the "shot at the summit." We got on the trail at 03:30. The bright moon was sufficient for walking and we only used flashlights for reading trail signs and the map, otherwise the trail is generally navigable in the moonlight night. Primarily we used a mini flashlight for reading trail signs. We made our way up the trail , zig zagging for a long time with packs weighing about 25 pounds (included water). We reached Out Post Camp (11SLA87394801) around 05:15, still in the dark, so we never saw much. In the dark I momentarily mistook a tent for a bear! It is well vegetated there with trees and grasses, plus it has a waterfall very close by so it makes for a fantastic campground if you can convince your friends to carry all of your gear! They do have a solar latrine for defecation purposes. The latrine is located on the uphill side of Outpost Camp so you may not see it until you pass all the way through Out Post Camp. We continued up and reached Trail Camp (11SLA85694720) in the morning daylight. It too, had a solar latrine. The elevation here is 12,000 feet. It is a very open rocky area with virtually no vegetation and in fact struck me as some sort of rocky "lunar landscape." There were campers around waking up and all looked tired or worn. Here was the first place we both could feel effects of altitude and wind, however excitement and anticipation pushed us upward. After a brief rest, we continued up toward Trail Crest (11SLA84434676) which is the ridge dividing the Sequoia National Forest on the west from the Lone Pine valley on the east. Going up from Trail Camp to Trail Crest is perhaps the most notorious portion of the whole hike as it is where the 97 to 99 switchbacks are located. You can count them and tell me your official count. Nevertheless, it is a long way up and you will encounter a heck of a lot of switchbacks. Trail Crest is located at 13,600 feet. From here it got psychologically tougher as we had to descend a bit and lose the difficult altitude we had earned with such an effort. We finally bottomed out and started back up when we were psychologically humiliated by an acclimated athlete wearing only shorts and carrying a water bottle. He jogged by while we "crawled," despite his encouragement. We struggled on for what seemed a life time on the nearly 2 mile walk to the summit at altitude. We took many many two to five minute rest breaks and at this point it became a struggle and a feat instead of a joyful experience. Rich was really challenged going up but he refused to quit despite body swelling and HAFE. I felt headaches and fatigue. At 13:00 we reached the summit and signed the log at the summit hut. We remained there for 30 minutes. After realizing that no cute mountain chick, Sherpa, Park Ranger, or foolish tourist was going to carry us down we worked our way back down. I needed many more rest breaks going down than Rich and it was interesting to see how altitude effected each of us differently. When we reached Trail Camp we were inspected by a female Ranger checking permits. We continued down, and down, and down, for what seemed an eternity. We finally reached the Portal, after dark. I went straight to the Portal store, got a snack and then went straight to my tent and went to sleep.
We employed a topographic map, lensatic compass, Garmin 12XL Global Positioning System, as well as quality hiking boots, Camelback Motherlodes for 200 oz. water, other water in bottles, carried Gore-tex jackets and pants (just in case of bad wether), plus gloves, Family Radio Service Radios, video camera, regular camera, and a digital camera.
The next morning, we felt surprisingly fine. The Portal Store breakfast was like a feast and I spent some dollars on every souvineer I could carry. Their web site should answer most first-timer questions. The Portal Store employees are a family business (run by Doug, Arlene and Doug Jr.) and some of the best business folks in all of America. They make a profit, but do not gouge you. They are very friendly and willing to give all kinds of information. They love helping (free) as much as selling. Except for not delivering food up the mountain, they'll do anything within reason.
The weather was fantastic the whole time at altitude. Long sleeves and trousers were sufficient. We only encountered ice at "the Cables" (just above Trail Camp), and slow deliberate walking rendered that not an issue. There was no need for an ice ax, crampons, or ropes. It is a great hike in the park if you can just deal with the "lung sucking" altitude.
This is a great hike for people in good hiking fitness, and I do suggest some hiking at altitude immediately prior to attempting this one. With some preparation at altitude you should not experience the acute mountain sickness (AMS) like we did .
We had no problem with bears, marmots, or thunder storms. I was so physically drained coming back down that a single highly motivated marmot could have beat my butt with one paw behind his back and run off with my snacks had he wanted to! Both of us experienced AMS to varying degrees.