The Mountaineer's Route — Page 3

The Mount Whitney Trail

III. The Mount Whitney Trail

I heft my pack and make the short hike up the road from the overflow parking lot to the trailhead. After my usual post-ski season break, it's good to be hiking again!

I'm thinking about the route ahead, previous attempts, successes, challenges. Will I be able to find the Ebersbacher Ledges, I wonder? How will the altitude affect me if I camp at Iceberg Lake? What will the North Chute look like? Will I make the summit?

Mount Whitney Trail - Sign

The Trailhead

Mount Whitney Trail - Chipmunk

A friendly farewell

Mount Whitney Trail - Switchbacks

The First Switchback

Mount Whitney Trail - Ferns

Green Ferns

The trailhead offers a battery of signs, stern warnings of the rigors ahead. Also present is a scale enabling hikers to weigh their backpacks.

That's a temptation I can't resist.

Minus my usual winter climbing hardware, I've packed somewhat extravagantly for my Whitney hike: a Themarest pad, a down pillow, a coffee mug, extra food, extra clothing, five pounds of camera gear.

How much does it all weigh?

The answer is a surprisingly-low 32 pounds. Only 32 pounds? Clearly, summer hiking has its advantages.

Through the wooden gateway I go, and at last I'm hiking up the trail, off to whatever awaits me.

A cheerful squirrel sees me off, which I take to be a good omen (note: if a squirrel actually speaks to you, this is a very bad omen indeed—requiring an immediate descent to lower elevations).

The Mountaineer's Route follows the Mount Whitney Trail for the first mile or so, which begins with a long switch-backing section up the north side of the Lone Pine Creek Drainage.

Through this early going, the trail is broad, easy, and well-traveled. Hikers quickly gain altitude, and fine views of Whitney Portal soon abound. The terrain is alternately dry and lush. The Eastern Sierra borders the desert of Owens Valley, and rainfall is scarce most of the year. Consequently the forests have evolved to cope with meager precipitation. Small creeks and springs are common, however, and where these occur, bright green glades sprout in abundance.

All greenery vanishes at higher elevations, of course, which become austere Alpine environments dominated by gray Sierra granite. Mountains such as Whitney sometimes strike me as instruments of time travel. As I am hiking today, I find my thoughts going back to earlier attempts to hike this mountain, past visits with friends and family, solo ventures (some spectacularly misguided) as well.

I am not alone in finding the Whitney zone irresistible. Many hikers choose to return regularly to Whitney, as if using the peak to mark off milestones in their lives. One such hiker was Hulda Crooks, who ascended Mount Whitney on every birthday from 66 to 91. In 1995, Day Needle, a 14,000' peaklet beside Whitney, was renamed 'Crooks Peak' in her honor. But perhaps we should not daydream for too long: the first of the Mountaineer's Route challenges is fast approaching—finding the start.

next: The North Fork



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