Monday, August 10, 2009

Climbing Mt. Whitney

I am proud to say that I got to check off another of my life-long to do's this past month.  I've been talking about it all year.  I think I've even mention it in a post or two but on July 31st my mom, myself and my two best friends, the Biglers, all hiked the 11 miles to the summit of Mt. Whitney and the 11 miles back down in 1 day.  Crazy I know, especially for my very first climb but I DID IT!  In fact we all made it.  The whole experience is still totally unreal to me. 

Mom and I the afternoon before at the Lone Pine Visitor Center.  Mt. Whitney is behind us although oddly enough it's not the tallest one in the picture.

To give you a more detailed break down on the trip our planning actually started at the very beginning of the year.  My dad and brothers have gone up the past few years as a ward thing and before this year I had never even contemplated going because I was either pregnant or at home with a little one.  But this year with two toddlers I finally figured they were old enough to be away from me for a few days and I just decided to go for it.  Turns out my mom always wanted to go also so me going was a good motivation for her as well.  Our two best buddies who are particularly outgoing asked if they could join in as well and I couldn't have been more ecstatic that they came because they were a huge help.  It turns out we had the perfect little team and I don't think I could have done it without each one of them.  My brother was missed, he had to work, but I'm hoping to get him out there with us next year.  Apparently in previous years he's climbed to the summit and back in 8 hours, which is insane.  

There's a lottery process you have to go through in order to get the permits otherwise you have to just go up and hope there's an opening.  So I sent our paperwork in the beginning of February and managed to get my first pick of days which just happened to be July 31st.  Our date turned out pretty much perfect, the weather was beautiful with just the slightest hint of flurries at the summit which was actually pretty cool.  I did manage to do some training.  I ran almost every day for several months and switched to the P90X workout program the last few months.  In hind sight I probably should have trained a little different, more time on the stair stepper and some practice hikes would have helped a lot.  About a week before the trip we booked reservations for a campsite but that turned out to be kind of a bust.  We didn't know until we got up there but there are actually walk-in only campsites right at the base of the trail so we took one of those instead.  We went up the night before in order to get acclimated which is a definite must for anyone thinking about doing it themselves especially if your like me and your coming from only about 350 ft.

This beautiful waterfall was just outside our campsite.  It made me have to pee all night.

"The folks"- Dad's cleaning up after our delicious foil packet dinners he made and cooked for us.  The pizza ones are his specialty.  That lovely green tent in the background was my home away from home.

Our traveling companions and two of my most favorite people, Stephanie & Nathan.

This picture is from our campsite.  The sheer size of the cliffs around us were amazing.  And to think Whitney is at least 4x the height of the one in the picture.

That night we happened upon a bear which was pretty sweet and completely terrifying at the same time.  My mom and I had just finished brushing our teeth at this faucet just outside the campground when all of a sudden I saw something move about maybe 30 yards away.  I took a closer look and realized it was a 6 or 7 foot black bear.  I quickly pointed it out to my mom as every muscle in my body froze and all my "survival skills" completely left my head.  We watched him walk within feet of this totally oblivious guy on his laptop until the guy noticed and started yelling at the bear.  The bear at that point was in between laptop guy and us so of course when the bear got scared he started running away from him inevitably charging straight at us.  Luckily my dad stepped in and started clapping which made him immediately change direction but yeah.. It was quite an experience.

The morning of the hike we got up around 3:15 and got on the trail by 4:00.  Hiking in the dark was an experience in itself.  We got to wear head lamps and for the first time ever I got to use hiking sticks.

Lone Pine Lake- 2.8 miles from the portal just as the sun is rising.
Elevation: 10,000 ft.

We got to see lots of wildlife.  These deer practically walked right up to us.

"The Team"- Stephanie, Nathan & Tammy (my mom)

The first sign of snow.  On the way back this stream was really flowing because the ice on the mountain was melting.

Taking a rest at Trail Camp- 6 miles in
Elevation: 12,000 ft.

This is one of my favorite pictures of the day.  It's the first real good shot I got of Mt. Whitney.  It's the highest peak in the picture.  It's taken from about midway up the 99 switchbacks.  You can see how far we still had to go.

Mom tackling the grueling 99 Switchbacks.  This woman is seriously amazing!

This was my favorite view.  It's from the Trail Crest 8.2 miles from the Portal at 13,600 ft.  It's the East side of the mountain looking back.  The smaller lake at the bottom left is the lake we're standing in front of 3 pictures up. 

This picture is also taken from the Trail Crest.  It's the West Side.

This is the trail on the other side.  It was nothing but a cliff and a narrow rocky path.

At one point almost to the summit we got to walk through a patch of snow.  It looked about 2-3 ft. deep and totally packed.

Hallelujah!  This was when I finally knew we were almost there.  That shelter is at the very top and was just about the best thing I had seen that day.

The official sign at the summit

Mom at the Summit

Mom and I at the Mt. Whitney summit- 11 miles from the Portal
Elevation: 14,505 ft.
Mt. Whitney is the tallest point in the contiguous US so for a few minutes I could actually say I was the highest person in the lower 48 states.  One of the coolest things was getting to add my name to the big book at the top.

The view from the summit.  This picture really doesn't do it any justice.  You really have to see it in person.  It took us 10 hours to get to the top and 8 hours back totaling 18 hours.  We got back to camp at 10 PM that same night.

All in all I am SO glad I went and I am really glad I didn't give up.  I'm proud of my whole group.  Everyone did so well!  I seriously couldn't have done it without them.  I also couldn't have done it without a little help at home.  Thanks to the people who watched my children and thanks to my dad who came on the trip with us.  You're all amazing and I owe you big time!  If you've ever contemplated climbing Whitney DO IT! and don't give up.  It was a lot harder than I ever imagined but all that much more rewarding.  And you WILL be sore, I most certainly was, but it does go away after a couple of day.  Next year we're talking about climbing Half Dome so I'm already getting excited for that.


  1. That sounds so amazing. I really want to do that now. Great job. I am very impressed.

  2. Wow! I am very impressed. What an amazing experience. I've always wanted to climb Whitney and now that you've done it and survived, maybe I'll have to actually do it! Good job!

    And, your Mom is AMAZING!!!

  3. I knew you could do it. Never a question in my mind. And your kiddos were great!

  4. You are so awesome Amber (and the Biglers and your mom too of course). I want to do this now but I have a LONGGG way to go before I'm remotely ready.

  5. I finally got around to seeing your Mt. Whitney photos, and I am SOOO impressed! Great job!