19th July 2008

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Blog :: Whitney Round Two

Regular readers may recall that last year I hiked Mt. Whitney - getting altitude sickness and generally feeling miserable. I also was determined to try Whitney again - perhaps in better shape and with more time at altitude to acclimate.

The year rolled around and once again I tried Whitney. This time it was only Justin, Cyrus and I making the trip and we planned to make up for some of the deficiencies of last year. I may be in a little better shape - I've lost about 5lbs and got in a half dozen longer runs (5-6) miles in the last month and a half. The main improvement planned, however, was spending a night in advance at altitude and having a warm up hike the day before - I was pretty convinced that rolling out of the car at 8,000ft and immediately heading up the mountain was what killed me last time.

The Plan started out well enough. We left Modesto around 6:30pm and got up to Sonora Pass at approximately 9:30 (road construction having caused a detour through Knight's Ferry). We set up "camp" (air mattresses on a tarp beside the vehicle) and slept at 9600 feet of altitude.

The next morning we got up and made Coffee and fried cinnamon rolls on Cyrus' hiking stove and set out for Sonora Peak.

We didn't actually get to the peak - Cyrus and I had previously gone up from St. Mary's Pass which is a 4mile round trip, 2000 foot vertical elevation change hike). From Sonora Pass trailhead (starting at the PCT sign) I'd estimate it's more like 6 miles round trip. We didn't want to tire our legs out and had accomplished our goal of getting up a few thousand feet above where we would camp that night so we started down...

The air was a little smoky so the view wasn't the best I've seen from the high country.

The meadows, however, were spectacular - I don't know if I've ever seen more color and the photos really don't do them justice (click for high res versions).

Incidentally we met a couple on the trail who were on mail 1,018 of their hike up the Pacific Crest Trail to Canada. That's a little too hardcore for me - but I wouldn't mind spending more time in the mountains. I've really missed them the last few years - sleeping under the stars and then enjoying the vistas and meadows on a little warm up hike put me in a good mood as we headed back to the car and drove on to Whitney.

We ate lunch in Bishop (very authentic tacos and a killer carrot salsa at Salsa's) and arrived at our Campground at Whitney Portal at about 4:30 or so. Our campsite was deserted and only yards from the river with amenities like its very own bear bin, trash and bathroom access. Very nice! We'd decided to start hiking in the night so we blew up our mattresses again, headed up to the Portal Store to get supper, and came back to relax for 5-6 hours before heading out at midnight.

I'd only taken a few bites of my burger when the first few raindrops fell. Things rapidly escalated from a drizzle to a pounding rainstorm and Cyrus had to go rescue the victory cokes and rum from the Creek where they were chilling, but in danger of being swept away. Before long we'd retreated to the vehicles and glumly speculated about the duration of the storm. It started to thunder and eventually hailed for about 25 minutes.

It was at this point that we broke out the cokes and rum and began discussing whether we should hike at all. I was the voice of reasonpessimism - arguing that the trail would be in an unknown state (last year we had to cross some rivulets and streams) and we would be hiking at night, without the 5 hour nap we'd planned on taking. The factors added in my mind to making hiking a bad idea. Cyrus and Justin were a little further down the "we came all this way to hike" spectrum and eventually at 8pm (the rain hadn't stopped) we decided to go on up to the Portal Store and solicit an expert opionion or two.

Stirring from our parking spot pretty quickly made it clear that we weren't hiking. The road to our campsite had 3-4 inches of gravel and debris in it

And the main road was quite a bit worse - lots of softball sized rocks with the occasional mudslide and boulder thrown in for good measure.

We didn't even get up to the Portal Store - a Search and Rescue truck blocked the road and the guys told us they were evacuating campsites flooded by the rising river and pulling stragglers off the mountain. Yes, they agreed politely, we'd have to be stupid to try climbing that night.

This was the only boulder we wouild summt that day... (Oh and more pics and news about the storm (houses damaged by mudslides, awesome 6ft boulders in the roadway, etc) is available from the Whitney Portal Store forum.)

Things only went downhill from there... We drove north on 395 only to find the road flooded out and CHP informing us that none of the northern passes would be open for at least a day. We turned around and drove the long way - all the way down to Bakersfield and up 99 to arrive home sometime after 3pm Sunday morning.

This was definitely not a good hike - for one thing now I have to try again next year! The morning was fun, however, and I think our plan was solid. I have to confess, however, that if next year I come up with some innovative new way to be miserable on Whitney, I may just give it up. We'll see...

Posted on July 19th 2008, 05:11 PM