Mount Whitney – Day 47
Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the Lower 48 states, sitting at 14,505 feet tall. It’s only a round-trip total of 17.6 miles (according to signage) added on from the PCT so of course we wanted to do it. Kelsey hiked Whitney last year as it is the terminus of the John Muir Trail and thought it would be pretty neat to see it again in a high snow year.
Wake up: 12:15 a.m.
Start hike: 12.45 a.m.
Summit: 5:05 a.m.
Leave summit: 6 a.m.
Finish hike: 10 a.m.
In total, the hike took eight hours and 20 minutes for 15 miles (7.5 up and 7.5 back). The summiting portion was the most exhilarating/terrifying as we did almost the entire thing in the pitch black of night (except for our headlamps).
We ended up doing the hike on a night with no moon so we didn’t even have that to brighten things up a little bit! It was nearly impossible to find the trail from about mile three until mile five or so, causing us two hours of walking around blindly and pulling out the phone for the Guthook Guides app to see which direction we needed to walk.
We could see other headlamp lights far behind us but nothing ahead. There were little creature footprints in the snow and we walked directly over the top of extremely quick racing water that we could see through a hole in the snow.
The snow was firm and crunchy and quite easy to walk on but you never know when a step could give way. Another thing that was making us nervous were the echoing sounds all through the canyon of rock slides. We hadn’t a clue of which direction they were coming from.
We finally made it back to actual trail and started on the 11 switchbacks that take you to the junction for the final trail up to Whitney. Two of these switchbacks were chutes of snow that we needed to traverse. We donned our Microspikes and ice axes and made the treacherous journey. They weren’t too bad because of the firm snow but we were VERY happy to be done with them. We finished the final switchback and reached our sign for the junction noting that we had 1.9 miles left to the summit. The rest was pretty easy, just one foot in front of the other to get to the very top where we had a steep, snowy ascent.
We made it! And just in time for sunrise too. To our surprise we were the ONLY people at the summit; we got to enjoy the highest point in the Lower 48 all to ourselves for a full 45 minutes and got the sunrise all to ourselves as well. It was a pretty special moment and won’t be one we forget anytime soon.
We hiked down in full morning sunlight and felt like a new hike we hadn’t done before. We could see everything we had missed on our way up, and boy was it beautiful. When we finished we crawled back into the tent that we had left up full of all of our unnecessary gear and went back to sleep for a little catnap before continuing on with some real PCT miles for the day.
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