I find it odd, and somewhat sad, that I never cared much for the outdoors while growing up in California, unless being outside included a lot of sand and an ocean, until I moved to Colorado. I was, by definition, a Californian beach goer prior to heading east. I loved the beach, the ocean, the waves, the sunshine. I loved grabbing a towel, a book, and Copper and heading to La Jolla Shores beach. I loved watching the sunset over the water.
Once I graduated college in Massachusetts I headed straight for the beach and was fortunate enough to call San Diego (more specifically, La Jolla) home for a year and a half. I soaked up all the sunshine on the beach I could from that gorgeous place.
And then on a whim I decided to move to Colorado to start something new. I never planned on sticking around for 9 years. But I fell in love with the mountains and hiking and everything being outside in a place like this has to offer.And somehow, at some point over the past several years, because of my love for Colorado… I became curious about the state I grew up in. The state I really wish I would have spent more time exploring. And the state I completely took for granted.
Why Mount Whitney?
Colorado has 58 14’ers, or high mountain peaks that top out above 14,000 feet in elevation. California has 12. I have now climbed half of Colorado’s highest mountains. Naturally, once I got closer to the halfway mark, I started to get a little bored. Because that’s reasonable, right? No. Definitely not. But most of the peaks I have yet to hike in Colorado are much harder and require Class 3 scrambling which I’m not comfortable with yet & they require looooooong drives (4+ hours one way), so yes, I got bored. So I began researching other big hikes. And then Mount Whitney popped up on my radar one day and I said to Ben, “I really want to do Whitney!” And what did Ben say? “Let’s Go.”
Fast forward to May 1st. To hike or climb Mount Whitney you must first obtain a permit. California only allows 150 permits per day– some of the permits are for day use only, and some of the permits are for overnight backpacking trips. The permits cost $15 per person + a $10 use fee. You can obtain a permit by entering into a lottery system on the internet in I believe, February. I missed the lottery altogether this year. Lucky for me and everyone else who did the same– on May 1st of each year, the lottery spots that were awarded to people but went unclaimed are released back into the online system and are then up for grabs on a first come, first served basis.
So starting May 1st at 8am or so, dates start to pop up and if you’re lucky, you’ll find a date with an available permit that fits your needs. September 14th, a Friday, with two open spots (!!!) popped up first. I snagged those spots as fast as I could. I had been refreshing my internet browser over and over AND OVER since 8am so around 10am when that date popped up and it was on a Friday AND in September (my favorite month of the year to hike!), I was so very excited. I swooped them up.
Could we hike Mount Whitney in a day, though? Of course my mind, miss negative nancy sometimes, doubted our ability. To summit Mount Whitney in a day requires 22 miles of hiking with 6,100 feet of vertical gain. And a round trip flight to California, sleeping accommodations in the area, and a lot of grit.
But with Ben as my partner, I knew we could do it. So we did.
On September 12th we flew into Los Angeles. We picked up the rental car (a Kia Soul! My fave rental car!) and drove to Palmdale, California where we stayed the night at a hotel.
On September 13th we drove to Lone Pine, California and picked up our permits from the Interagency Center right in town. After, we checked into our AirbNb which was conveniently located just 20 minutes from the Mount Whitney trailhead.
On September 14th we woke up at 2am and got ready. We ate a quick breakfast prior– me: yogurt, strawberries, pecans. Ben: eggs– and we headed to the trail head.
We started our hike at 3:45am. It was 59 degrees outside! I was pleasantly surprised at the warmth considering the trailhead is at 8,300 elevation. The wind was calm and we gained the first 2,000 feet quickly.
The Mount Whitney trail is in pristine condition. We had our backpacks, supplies, snacks, water, headlamps. We were enjoying our early morning hike and this became even more true as the sun began to rise.
After several hours and a few breaks later– to eat, to filter water at 12,000 feet in elevation (you need a lot of water to hike 22 miles in a day), and to layer and delayer (the battle to find a suitable hiking body temp is difficult–we were making progress and almost to the top.
Hiking this mountain took a while– the higher in elevation you get, the colder it gets outside. However, the higher in elevation you get the harder your body works, and therefor, sweats more. And then of course when you add in the wind that day– which was anywhere from 10mph to 45mph, well, you can imagine that there was a lot of taking off jackets, putting on jackets, taking off gloves, putting on gloves, taking off a beanie, putting it back on… you get the idea.
We finally made it to the summit at 12:45pm. And boy did we feel accomplished. What a mountain! What a view! What a special moment to share with my best friend, and the love of my life. Together, we stood on top of the highest mountain in the contiguous United States while I celebrated my 30th unique 14er summit.
After spending an hour on the top of Mount Whitney, we began our hike down. By the time we reached 12,000 feet my knee was hurting so bad I had to stop and put on a knee brace (I carried it in my backpack… just in case). We still had to get back down to 8,300 feet where the car was parked.
It took a long time. On this day we watched the sun rise and set again from the trail.
We arrived back to the trail head, and the car, at 7:45pm.
It took us 16 hours to hike, summit, and hike back down Mount Whitney. 22 miles. 6,100 vertical gain. It was hard. Not because the hike itself is hard or requires tough moves or because it’s a challenging trail– because it isn’t– but because it’s LONG. 22 miles in a day kicked my butt! But it was so very worth it. This hike will forever be known as one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve completed. I’m so thankful for the opportunity and means to hike Mount Whitney.
Things I’d do differently…
Every mountain summit attempt, where successful or not, is accompanied by a time of reflection either while on the summit, or on the hike down, or maybe even a few days later. Reflecting and understanding what went well, what didn’t, and what I should change for the next hike is really important. For Mount Whitney–
- Start earlier. A 2am start would have put us back at the car in the day light assuming we kept our same pace.
- Bring more water, and carry it the whole day, so I Don’t have to filter. –we filtered at trail camp at the tarn and later towards the end of the hike I had a horrible stomach ache and nausea. A few days later I read wag bags have been spotted floating down the tarn. A wag bag is a bag you poop in to if you gotta to during the hike. You then carry your bag down the mountain and dispose of it. Some people are bad humans and lazy and leave their poop bag on the trail for the rangers to pick up. Not cool.
- Consider attempting to get a backpacking permit and hike Mount Whitney over a 2 day period. Not as foot pain inducing & bonus: much more time to enjoy the views
- Bring a lunch. Not just snacks for the day. An actual lunch. Eating random snacks for 16 hours isn’t the easiest on the belly or the energy levels.
- Bring a better camera. IPhone pics are good…. but I wished I had something better.
Next year I’d really like to go back and hike Mount Whitney and her lesser known but harder next door neighbor: 14er Mount Muir. I can’t wait!