Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mt Whitney - Second Attempt

We got back to LA on Monday and to the Bay the following day. Rest was what we needed. I then talked to my coworker about our trip. She told me her husband was going to do Mt Whitney day hike on the weekend with a bunch of friends. They had one extra permit (one person in the group dropped out). Mind you, obtain permits to hike Mt Whitney requires luck. They have the whole lottery system going on. However, permits in Oct are pretty to get.

So I was really tempting to do the hike even while I was not fully recovered. It would be 3 days apart to the next trip to the same mountain! I talked to my work and finally decided to take this opportunity to "redeem" myself. The weather was going to be excellent, even better than the time I was on the mountain. It would be cold but sunny and not windy.

Friday came and 5 guys and I happily hopped on the freeways aiming at the direction to the same mountain I failed to scale a few days ago. These guys are young and motivated as some of them had attempted this feast before (some failed and one succeeded).

We did not get to the campground right outside of the trail head until 6pm. We pitched the huge tent that would fit all of us and organize our summit-packs for the early hike in the morning. We went to bed at 8pm.

At a 2:30 wake up call, we got out and prepare our breakfast to start our hike. By the time we finish eating, drinking hot cocoa, last min preps and be at the trail head, it was 4:30.

It was still very dark at this time. Everyone had their headlamp shooting the powerful rays on the trail, helping us maneuvering over the rocks and other obstacles. This was my first time hike in a the dark. It wasn't bad as the trail was very well marked and it was almost impossible to get lost.

After almost 4 hours and 45 min with a few breaks in between, we reached to the Trail camp where I camped for the night 4 days back. I was happy to see the lake ice free. I refilled half a liter and treat it with iodine table. Needed to have enough fluid for the summit and back. I had 3 liters of water with me. From Trail camp on, there is no other source of water.

The section right after Trail camp has the (in)famous 97 switchbacks. These are known to be the killer. These would lead hikers to ascend very quickly. A lot of people would turn back during or after these switchbacks.

After recharging myself with lots of water and food at the Trail camp, I headed out the to the first of the zigzags. I was surprised that I could take on these guys with ease. I kept on walking up and up and did not stop much. I found myself finished about 80 of them before I really needed a rest.

At the end of the switchbacks is the Trail Crest (13777 feet or 4199m). This is the section where the trail drop 500f and the rest would be up hill battle. Why dropping 500f seems nice to let the muscles recover from the brutal climb, this means on the way back, hikers must climb this much. Not a good idea.

At this point I already had headache, due to altitude. I was not out of breath but breathing heavily. Good thing it did not worsen as I did my breathing technique I learned from Mt Shasta and Rainier climb.

I met this couple who were on the way back from the summit. They told me it would be only about an hour or so away. It was 11:30 and I would beat my own goal to reach the top by 2pm the latest. I was excited. It turned out not true. The trail winds behind the east face of the summit, looking west. It is very rocky and would go up and down. Also the real peak is not visible that means there is a long way to go from there.

It took me 2 hours and 10 mins to reach to the summit at 1:40pm. The stone house is such a small shelter but seeing it from the bottom of the peak was such a relief. I finally reached to the top of the highest mountain in lower 48!

I took a few photos and signed my name in the log book and descending the peak. Reaching the summit is just half way as I have learned.

The way down is uneventful except that the sky turned dark so quickly. Half of the descend was in total darkness. My headlamp now came to rescue. One frustrating thing about going down in the dark my perception of distance deceived me. I saw car light, especially red break light, and would think i was so close to the trail head and gave me hope. I found myself disappointed so many times to learn that I had hours to get down!

I reached to the portal at 9:30pm. A total of 17 hours in this marathon hike. 22 miles round trip with 6100+ feet (1860m) elevation gain. Few days apart of the the first attempt. It was quite a bit of work there. All I think of was a bowl of hot soupy noodles and a nice warm bed.

I expect to be this tired in the South Pole. Everyday.

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