There’s a race that has been on my radar called the HardRock 100. I don’t know what it is about me, giant rocks, pine trees and mountains, but that seems to be what pulls me outside when I have a free weekend. And HardRock is a combination of running, climbing four peaks over 14,000′ and covering 100 miles, all this while trying to run. It is a race I often think about. So when Jody Stange offered me a spot in his group this weekend to climb Mt. Whitney, I jumped at the opportunity to test my legs and lungs at the 14,000′ level. Jody had reserved 8 single day passes to climb Mt. Whitney (the highest mountain in the lower 48 states) after years of trying to get a Saturday or Sunday spot. I had no idea you needed a permit to hike the mountain but you cannot just hit the trail without reserving a spot with the park services.
I stopped working around 2:30 PM on Friday, said goodbye to Nicole and Dylan and drove down to Whitney Portal via I-80 and then Highway 395 along the Eastern Sierras. The drive from Carson City to Whitney Portal offered some surprisingly great views (Topaz Lake, Mono Lake, Mammoth Mountain and Deadman Creek). I pulled into the Lone Pine Campground and met Jody and the rest of the group around 9 PM. I tried to get some sleep in the back of the Jeep until I heard the others starting to gather around 3 AM. A scale hangs at the trailhead and we each weighed our packs. Mine came in the lightest at 10 lbs while Theo’s tipped the scales at 18 lbs. We were on the trail at 4 AM, hiking with headlamps and flashlights. You start hiking from Whitney Portal at an elevation of 8,365′ and if you make it to the 14,497′ summit, you will have hiked 11 miles up and then 11 miles down for a total of 22 miles. It’s less than a marathon, so I should be able to cover this in about 3 hours, with a little cushion, right? Dream on!
The weather forecast showed a 50% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. We didn’t want to get caught in any storms so our goal was to make the summit by noon. The trail is not difficult but you could start to notice the thinning air around 10,000′. About this time my camera started malfunctioning with the lens motor constantly adjusting so many of my pictures came out blurry. Close to 11,000′, our group of 6 started to separate and Jody and I pressed on ahead near the bottom of the switchbacks. Jody started to develop headaches and they only seemed to worsen as we climbed. At the top of the switchbacks at around 13,600′, the trail reaches the crest and starts to follow the ridge north. The views at this spot are unbelievable and these views continued until we reached the top of Mt. Whitney. Not that the views were not good up to that point, but it was like going from sitting atop one mountain to sitting atop a thousand mountains. It was one of the most amazing mountain views I’ve ever seen in my life.
From the Trail Crest, it’s another 1,000′ feet to the summit but along a ridge and some precarious rocks and trail. The wind started to gently push the clouds in our direction. We were well ahead of a noon summit as it looked as though we could reach the top by 10 AM.
On top of Mt. Whitney, there is a small shelter made of stone that could provide protection during a storm. Thankfully, on this day we were able to enjoy the view, sit outside with the marmots and munch on a CLIF bar for about 20 minutes before heading back down. We wrote our names on the list that marks those who have reached the summit, then we turned around, gave the summit on more look, and made our descent. The skies threatened rain and we felt some drops, but made it back to the car by 3 PM, dry and hungry. Our trip of 22 miles took a total of 11 hours. At that pace it would take me 40+ hours to finish HardRock 100 and that would not do! Next time I would need to hike less and run more.
We drove back to the Lone Pine Campground and I dropped Jody off and then headed back home, stopping at Erick Schat’s Bakery in Bishop to bring some Bread Pudding and Pecan Pullaway bread home to Nicole. Made it home by 11 PM and showed some pictures to Nicole and her parents then my head found the pillow.