I got maybe three hours of sleep before my alarm went off at midnight. It was 7.6 miles and over 4000′ of elevation gain to get to the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 at 14505′.
I changed, packed my bag with quilt, first aid, food, etc, and left behind some heavier items like the bear can so I’d have a lighter pack. There were supposed to be six of us for the midnight crew but Stretch decided to wait until light since it was raining slightly, so five of us headed out.
The climb started out fairly gradual. I could tell when we were above treeline when the wind picked up. It started raining more so we all put rain gear on. I started slowing down when we were halfway up the switchbacks to the ridge and needed to catch my breath a little more frequently.
It was still pitch dark when I got to the ridge trail, and it was still two more miles to the summit from there. We had passed a little bit of snow before then, but the ridge trail itself was almost completely covered. Once I realized we weren’t going back to rock for a while, I put my microspikes on. The trail was very narrow and there was a steep drop off on one side so I felt much more secure with the added traction.
I had been hanging back with Clark Kent since his headlamp was so weak, he needed me to shine mine on some of the difficult spots. The sun started coming up on the other side of the ridge but I got a few peaks at the pink sky through notches in the rock. Then a cloud descended and there were no more views.
About halfway up the trail, it widened and became less steep, so I took off for the summit. I lost the trail a little bit towards the top but kept heading up until the small emergency shelter appeared out of the fog right in front of me. I found the rest of my group inside and more and more hikers quickly joined us.
I wanted to wait for the clouds to clear so I could get a view but it became obvious that was not going to happen so we packed up and headed out. I did quickly grab a viewless summit photo. The summit is also the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail, which will run along with the PCT for a while now. I plan on doing the additional miles to complete that trail as well.
The way down went much more quickly, although it started snowing as soon as we left the shelter. We ran into Stretch coming up just as we finished the difficult section so I gave her my spikes to wear to the top. She said it was sunny with blue skies at the bottom. I couldn’t quite figure out how we’d make that transition but I was hopeful.
As we made our way down the switchbacks off the ridge, we could start to see faint blue skies in the distance. The snow slowly turned to rain as we kept descending, but it wasn’t until we were a few miles from the ranger station again that it stopped raining.
I was very tired and trudged the last few miles but certainly enjoyed the views both ahead and behind me.
I got back to camp by 11am and changed into dry clothes, hanging everything on a tree to dry. I tried to nap but got maybe five minutes of sleep so just spent the rest of the day laying around, playing cards, and talking. Very early to bed tonight.