|January 24 – 28, 2004
|This was my overall sixth, in any winter fourth, and in that winter second attempt on Mt Whitney, and it was also the longest and hardest and even so I still did not reach the summit. Three weeks before, after spending the last night by Consultation Lake in very cold and windy conditions and failure of my stove, I retreated with a promise to come back better prepared. However, we can promise all we want, get as prepared as we think is right, but the ultimate factor of reaching the summit belongs to the mountains. And it's not only the route and weather conditions, but how those conditions affect our physical and mental functioning, based on which we make decisions which lead or not to a successful return. That's right, "summit is not the most important"; definitely not anymore if one is dead.
Trail Camp, my second camp
The toilet at Trail Camp
|I remembered from my previous trip how difficult it was climbing the chute in similar conditions and to ease my suffering decided to follow "indications" of the switchbacks instead (what a big mistake). To reduce the weight I also left extra food and fuel to carry the minimum necessary supplies to survive till the next morning. However, the switchbacks were disappearing with elevation and finally I hit a near vertical snowy wall which stopped me from continuing. The wind, especially strong gusts which tried to throw me down the slope, did not make the climb any easier.
Snow chute below Trail Crest
|At that point I did not give up the summit; instead, I decided to get down but to the highest place I could set up my tent. While descending straight down the slope, I postholed and fell. My foot got imprisoned in between rocks below the snow and my body, pushed by a heavy backpack, insisted on sliding down the slope. Fortunately, even though twisted, my leg was not broken but it took some art to liberate myself without taking a free fall down the slope.
Above Trail Camp, my forth camp
|The night was miserably cold and noisy. Another storm went through. In the morning my tent inside was covered all over with frost. I realized my journey was over and without eating packed my stuff and started heading down to Trail Camp where I left my extra supplies to have a breakfast.
Minutes later I stopped and looked at the top of the mountain to say good bye and noticing that the weather improved said to myself, "this may be a great opportunity to reach the summit," and my journey continued straight up the chute.
View from my forth camp to Trail Camp
Windy but otherwise nice weather
|With no breakfast, and only a liter of water witch froze after two hours, I kept struggling up the slope covered with deep and powdered snow slowly moving toward the ridge. The higher I was the less I was able to see the surroundings. The increasing snow storm and decreasing daylight made everything gray without any depth. In addition, the top of the chute had become steeper. When I finally took off my sunglasses for a moment to recognize my position, I realized I was way too far to the left from Trail Crest. I'll not mention at this time how much it frustrated me. However, while getting down to Trail Crest I decided to remove my SLR from beneath my jacket and take a few pictures. Unfortunately, due to a very cold wind after one picture the camera stopped functioning.
Trail Crest, 13,600
|I continued traveling the ridge hoping to reach the summit but was stopped in the growing dark by a steep slope with unfavorable snow conditions. I decided to make a camp. At this point I'll only mention that setting up the camp was a painful nightmare lasting way too long. Once in the tent I was fine but only for a while. Even though I had two sleeping bags my feet were painfully cold till I lost any sensitivity of them. I was afraid of losing my toes to frostbite.
|In the morning my tent inside looked like after a snow storm. Long icicles hung down above my head. The weather was gorgeous and I had another dilemma if I should continue or descend the mountain. The summit was close but lack of water since the previous morning and potential avalanche hazard in the chute as well as the possibility of spending another night on the ridge with unknown weather convinced me to retreat. As they say, "the mountain will always be there.
The Ridge, my fourth camp
Trail Crest, 13,600
View from Trail Crest down to Trail Camp
|There were two cracks in the upper part of the chute which I had to cross moving very carefully. Even though at the Trail Camp I tried very hard digging in many places, I was not able to find my extra supplies which were deeply buried under the snow dumped by the last storms. All my footprints were completely wiped out. I reached my car intact as usual.
It was a great adventure in complete solitude.