July 27th, 2001
Getting a late start, I reached Lone Pine (the gateway town to Mt. Whitney & Mt. Russell) at 23.38. Continuing what became a fairly common practice for me during that California 14er peak-bagging summer, a miniscule amount (~ 3 hrs this time) of sleep & acclimatization were the order of the day before heading up a big mountain with big-time elevation gain. I left the car at the Whitney Portal overflow parking lot at 5.22, intent on gaining the summit and returning by that afternoon/evening.
Starting on the main Mt. Whitney Trail, I branched off at the N. Fork of Lone Pine Creek bush-whacker's trail. Upon reaching the brush-filled portion of the trail where the sides of the canyon start to squeeze together, a few detours were needed to allow further progress. After a little bit of inspection, I found access to and successfully negotiated the ledges which take one above and out of the lower section of the canyon. No big deal- easier than I thought! The trail leading to Lower Boy Scout Lake was fairly easy to follow at this point, and the hike enjoyable under the clear blue Sierra summer sky.
The altitude started becoming a factor at Upper Boy Scout Lake, when I started feeling ill. I forged on, heading NW, up the drainage feeding the lake. While the surroundings were spectacular, my apprehension (and altitude sickness) grew as I neared the cliffs of Russell's SE face. My frustrations with the guidebook's ambiguity (or perhaps just my own inability to follow directions) increased the farther I went, walls steepening on all sides. I decided to ditch the guidebook instruction & follow (not-so) common sense to the Russell-Carillon col. Traversing E-NE, I came across several sections of 4th to easy 5th class rock, not the approach I had anticipated, but actually a lot of fun. After awhile, I finally reached the gentler slopes seen on the map, that were perched above the steep section which I'd just surmounted. A quick jaunt took me to the elusive Russell-Carillon col, the beginning of the final portion of the climb.
The view from this vantage point was incredible. Mount Whitney was finally fully visible on the other side of the ridge N of Iceberg Lake (that had mostly hidden it until now), Mt. Carillon seemed close enough to touch, the basin N of Russell and Carillon was seen far below, its lakes midnight blue surrounded by the light-colored granite, and of course, Mt. Russell loomed E-ward, still separated from me by the erratic knife-edge that was the East Arete (& unfortunately, hundreds of feet).
Feeling quite ill by this point, some spring of stubborn willpower urged me (slowly) on. Clinging to the cliffside at the edge of the arete, the awareness of loftiness and the incredible surrounding proportions was greatly heightened (no pun intended). A misstep at this point would send one for a wild final ride, hundreds of feet to the lake below.
Battling through the weakness, vertigo, & nausea, I finally arrived at the summit at 14.37. Two guys from SoCal were there as well, who'd obviously had an easier time with their experience than I with mine. Envying them, yet grateful to finally have attained my goal, I decided to take a well-deserved break, and relax in the beautiful weather amidst the spectacular surroundings. Neither exerting myself nor gaining additional altitude improved my condition considerably, and I vegetated.
Finally leaving the summit at 16.00, I descended quickly, this time on the 'correct' trail- a miserable exercise in scree travel to which my unintended ascent detour was greatly superior. At least this path made for quick travel, though, and fairly soon I was again at Upper Boy Scout Lake.
Still having a fair amount of daylight left, I continued, feeling confident about the rest of the descent, & reached the top of the ledges soon thereafter. Having successfully negotiated the ledge system earlier, I knew that doing the same thing in reverse would be no problem. Wrong! Running out of cliff before a ramp leading down presented itself, I back-tracked to repeat the process. The failure to locate the way down was repeated as well. This recurred times too often to count, my frustration and anger mounting with each succession. It had become gloaming by this point. Eventually I descended a tight gully that seemed the only viable (or not) alternative, dropping down at a point I'd before determined would be too high up to climb back up. Fortunately(?) the gully terminated at the stream. There being only one feasible option at this point, I followed the tortuous, alder-choked 'trail' of the rivlet as it wound downward, slipping on the wet and slimy rocks and squeezing over, under and through the thick vegetation. A long mile later (approximated), I found the faint (yet still a trail!!) trail that intersected the stream.
After careful hiking down the serpentine, rutted path in the increasing darkness, I finally ran into the highway- the main Whitney Trail! I was home free. Following the broad way in the now complete darkness, I reached the trailhead without further drama at 21.20.
Exhausted & famished, yet free of any remaining altitude sickness, I returned to the car and dumped my belongings. Out came the subway sandwich brought along to the summit, yet not eaten due to my earlier pathetic condition. At this point, though, the soggy, day-old meal seemed quite the delicacy, and I ripped open the packaging with inconcealable zeal. Minutes later, however, the sandwich ½-way eaten, a hungry local resident decided to come visit and share my dinner. The being in question was a fairly large black bear (a hell of a lot heavier than I was, anyway), but my meal had been hard won, and I was determined not to give it up to the impudent creature. I sprang to my feet, arms flailing, & cursed loudly at the shameless beast as I advanced towards it, driving it away. Warily continuing to enjoy the cuisine, it was only a few minutes later that I heard a rustling in the forest behind me. My headlamp caught 2 green orbs directed at me (or my food), presumably the same welfare recipient hopeful encountered before. Yet again came the requisite aggressive defence of what was mine, driving my competitor away. I quickly finished my short-lived meal and stowed any potentially olfactory-detectable (& thus desirable) items in the bear box.
Setting up my pad and sleeping bag next to the car, I crashed & got some much-needed sleep. I felt little concern that any bear would disturb a food-lacking & shower-deprived camper in the middle of the night (I was right). Awaking the next morning, I left the Whitney Portal feeling good about the successful outcome, & (mostly) enjoyable experience.
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