Mt. Whitney via Main Trail-Trip Report

Earlier this week, Walter informs me that they have permits available to hike the main trail of Mt. Whitney. It is another China Lake Mountain Rescue Group trip, but with vacancies, I get an invite! Happy to be included, I think for a nanosecond before responding, “YES, I’ll go!!!”.

Proof of Summit

I’ve heard from several people how demanding this hike is, but it just never registered. I’m excited, because I’ve only ever summited by 5th class climbs, so this will be a challenge. Since I’m not much of a hiker, the 11 mile one way trip up with 6k feet of gain is sure to push my limits! To see Bob Rockwell’s pictures, click on photo album.

On Thursday night, I met up with Walter & Bob and we carravanned up to Lone Pine. About 10 miles south of Lone Pine, my truck starts shaking violently. I try calling Walter-but his phone was stashed in his backpack. So, I try Kelly. Reaching her, I describe the behavior of my truck. She thinks it’s a flat tire, but before she could convey her thoughts, BLAM!!! My left front tire breaks apart, and I see sparks. I pulled the truck off the shoulder, just as a bunch of semi’s catch up with me. Thank goodness it didn’t happen a moment earlier!

Walter & Bob continue up to Lone Pine, grab the permits, and then Walter calls me. He’s surprised to hear about the tire, and they head back to help out. I got rescued by the CLMRG-on the highway!!! I couldn’t remember how to lower my spare tire, so it took a good half an hour to figure that out.

Good thing Bob is smart and knows how to read car manuals! Walter & I were grunting around on the pavement until Bob says, “Look for a small hole above the bumper, and insert the long rod”. Okay, so I’m an EEdiott because I forgot about the long rod! I had taken out the jack and the tire iron, but not the “Long Rod”. 8^) By the time we got up to the portals, it was pretty late. I got to sleep around 11pm, prepared for a 4:40am wake up time!

The Sun is Coming! Climbers in the Dark

Bob headed up the trail around 4:40am, Walter & I left at 5:18am. Gotta love short nights and Alpine starts! When we saw the sun rising, we were happy. It was a bit chilly in the wee hours. Some time after I took these shots, I lost my left polypro glove. Luckily, I had my leather fingertipless Metolius belay gloves. At least my entire left hand wasn’t exposed-just the tips!

What beautiful slabs of granite! Walter on the trail Clare on Main Trail

We had a nice hike, and caught up with Bob after probably 1.5 hours. He was with a group of people, and they were all stoked to have such an invaluable source of information.

CLMRG Members Bob & Walter, Honorary Guest Clare Clare at Bighorn Park

Walter and I broke off from the group not long after that, keeping a fairly steady pace. When we got up to Trail Camp, we took a short break, put on our wind breakers, ate some food.

At this point, we *should* have discussed some vital things, but we didn’t. I think we were both feeling alright, and making good time, so it didn’t even occur to us. Walter had brought the two way radios, but didn’t think we’d need it. Little did he know how things were about to change…

The bottom half of the switchbacks were fine, but somewhere about halfway up, I started sucking wind. I was having trouble with dizzyness, and feeling very lethargic. I felt exhausted. The altitude was really working me over.

Walter had caught up ahead with a couple and the three of them were going at a very decent pace. I slowly fell behind. I thought a couple times about turning around or just making it to Trail Crest and then going back. But, I just concentrated on breathing and one step at a time. Doing the rest step, I inched my way up.

Cables halfway up switchbacks

When I reached these cables, a mean man told me that by the time I got back to the cables, it would be dark. This is a picture Bob took on his way down (still plenty of light), and he was at least an hour behind me! So, that mean little man was wrong! Hah!!!!

Just before the cables, I lost sight of Walter, but I figured he’d wait for me up at the crest. Also, Bob was still behind me so we were both confident that I’d be okay even if something bad happened to me.

When I got up to Trail Crest, I got a second wind. Finally, I could breathe normally again! I was so excited to have this extra burst of energy, I decided to jog until I was at the base of the final push up Whitney. I passed about 10 people on my way over there, people who had passed me up the switchbacks! The same folks who thought I was not going to make it, were now standing aside as I ran by them. It was the best feeling all day.

I saw a man ahead, wearing a yellow parka, starting up the last hill. “Walter!!!” I shouted, but the dude turns around and it is some asian guy in his 20s. I was so disappointed, I thought for sure my running had paid off.

But, instead, I missed Walter in the worst possible way. He was coming down the shortcut(he made the summit at 12:15pm), as I was headed up on the main trail! So, when he ran into Bob half an hour later, and he hadn’t seen me, he was confounded and worried…What in tarnations happened to Clare?

What Beauty! Clare and the Hut Clare gets Cute...

At that time (1:26pm), I was up on the summit taking pictures and trying not to toss my cookies. As waves of dizzyness crashed over me, I started stumbling down. I ran into Bob about half an hour later as he was approaching the summit peak. He told me about seeing Walter, and how narrowly I must have missed him. MAJOR BUMMER.

I felt aweful, physically my eyelids kept drooping shut. N-A-P-T-I-M-E!!!! But, I couldn’t sleep, I had to make it back down. The altitude was really horrible. I felt so wasted-like a drunkard. I think I was even slurring my speech. People would ask me, “Are you climbing solo today?” and I’d say, “No, I have Friendths up here thumwhere”.

It took me about 8 hours to get up Whitney, and about the same amount of time coming back down! I couldn’t see the shortcuts because it was dark, and I was a little nervous about hiking in the dark by myself. I went for quite awhile before I caught up with another group. The Panda Express crew, who were out for a company appreciation event. Man, I don’t ever want to work for them-that hike is punishment for sure!!! Hardy har har.

Anyways, I barely held it together on the way back down. I didn’t stop, except to get out my headlamp, and for water. When I made it back to the car, Walter was keeping warm in a sleeping bag. It was really cold and windy all day, so I think it was smart of him to take a nap while waiting. He had the energy to drive my truck down to Lone Pine (so I could rest up a little bit too).

Walter was stoked that I was okay, and glad to hear that Bob had made the summit-and was likely headed down just an hour or so behind me. I passed on a message from Bob, that he was expecting Walter & I to be gone by the time he got back. So, we left for home, exhausted and relieved that everybody was okay.

Kelly, bless her heart, had the gate open for us when we pulled up. She helped Walter get his stuff out of the truck, and sent me home with a smile.

What a very stressful and long day! That night, I had the shakes off and on from lack of food, accompanied with hot and cold shivers and a side of achy joint syndrome. The mountains always seem to take more from me than I have to give, but the adventure is worth the risk!!!

4 Responses to “Mt. Whitney via Main Trail-Trip Report”

  1. cyberhobo says:

    Wow, epic day, congrats! Glad none of the mishaps were serious.

  2. Walter says:

    Great report, Clare!
    I am *so* sorry that we missed each other and you ended up coming down alone. That was *definitely* you I seen going up in the red parka when I came down the short cut. I just couldn’t believe you had made up that much time. I was sure I would meet you back near Trail Crest. If I had hooked back up with you I probably could have got you down before dark (1900).
    Lesson learned. I’ll do my best not to repeat that mistake again.
    – Walter

  3. climbergirl says:

    Walter, Thanks for calling on Saturday and checking up on me. I finally started feeling normal again on Sunday afternoon! It took a couple days to recoup.

    Cyberhobo-yes, we were happy nothing serious happened. This trip just cemented how crucial communication can be-it’s easy to be lulled into complacency by clear weather, good pace, and being part of a “group”. I’m glad it didn’t turn into one of those entries in the Annual Accidents book!

  4. granite4brains says:

    Good job Clare. That IS a BIG hike going up that trail. Reading this was bringing back memories of when I got a little sick on that trail too.