The Mountaineer's Route — Page 2

Whitney Portal

II. Whitney Portal

Towering some ten thousand vertical feet over Owens Valley, the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada range surges upward with jarring abruptness. California's restless geology is to blame.

Not-so-ancient fault action pushed up this section of the Earth's crust, giving the state a two hundred mile long granite spine. The dry, dusty basin of Owens Valley could not form a more perfect contrast with the High Sierra's alpine forests and austere rock.

Whitney Portal Whitney Portal - Waterfall Standing Atop Mt. Whitney's Summit

From the tiny but charming town of Lone Pine, California, elevation 3000 feet, is it but a quick 11 mile drive up the Whitney Portal Road to Whitney Portal.

Once you reach the Portal, you'll notice the cooler—and thinner—air immediately.

You'll also notice an abundance of signs warning you not to store food in your car. Food lockers are conveniently provided at the parking lots and campgrounds to safely store your food and other scented items (lotions, etc.).

The Whitney Portal bears are getting awfully crafty, however.

Hikers may find it best to empty their cars, as bears may judge anything visible inside as potential food until proven otherwise. In any case, do not leave food anywhere in your car, even the trunk.

Once you've secured your perishables and gear, take time to wander around the area.

The Whitney Portal Store lies at the end of the road. The store is a fine place to grab last-minute forgotten supplies, get current trail information, and even enjoy a tasty meal.

Nearby is a quiet fishing pond and the chilly waters of Lone Pine Creek.

In summer, Whitney Portal is likely to be crowded, and the surrounding campgrounds booked for months in advance. Hikers and climbers in various states of readiness sort through piles of gear, some purposefully, others with a notable look of confusion. Mount Whitney attracts all types, from hardened mountaineers to the most clueless neophytes.

Depending on your outlook, this can make your own hiking experience either a rotten stroll through a three-ring circus, or an amusing look at the diversity and enthusiasm of your fellow human beings. Whatever attitude you choose to adopt, you'll see it all on the Whitney Trail—for better and for worse.

My favorite photo of MWT silliness shows a hiker carrying his tent up the mountain—still in the original box. Less amusing, of course, are images of woefully under-equipped hikers marching upward, oblivious to the danger. We could linger for hours about the Portal and take in the sights. But for us today, Whitney Portal is but a way station. It's time to pack up the gear and hit the trail.

next: The Mount Whitney Trail

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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