Mount Whitney in a Day: 13 August 2008

Our original plan was to secure a backcountry camping permit so that we could hike the approach to the summit of Mount Whitney and spend the night in one of the permitted camping areas. Then we would get an early start in the morning to reach the summit and return early in the afternoon to our campsite. Finally, we would hike back out on the third day.

It did not work out that way. All the camping permits were taken for the dates we had in mind. However, there were day permits available. So we decided we would do it in one day.

A little bit of research suggested that this was entirely reasonable but it would be a long day. We would have to cover about 22 miles round trip and gain around 6000 vertical feet. This was well within our abilities but we knew that we would be very tired at the end of the day.

The best way to do this was to carry minimalist gear and to wear lightweight shoes. Mountaineering or even backpacking boots would be unneccessary and too heavy. We opted for low-cut, lightweight hiking shoes.

We certainly could not carry enough water to last through this long day so a water-filtration pump became a neccessity.

Lightweight wind shells (no rain was expected) and plenty of high-energy food rounded out our gear. These would be light packs, indeed.

And, so, we (Susan, Jan, and David) were set to climb Mount Whitney in a day.

I might add that Susan had summitted Mount Whitney once many years ago and Jan had summitted it numerous times. (And both Susan and Jan have summitted all the Colorado 14'ers. Me? I'm still working on it.) This was my first time on Mount Whitney and I was looking forward to climbing (er, walking up) the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. Compared to some of the mountaineering climbs we have done in the past few years, this would be technically easier but physically as demanding.


We started from Whitney Portal around 5 a.m. It was still quite dark and we were able to see a few meteors that were part of the Perseid meteor shower. We had made pretty good progress by the time morning twilight appeared. (5:38 a.m.)


The morning colors on the mountain were spectacular... (6:14 a.m.)


...and the massive rock walls were impressive. (6:15 a.m.)


Here we are approaching the first camp area: Outpost Camp. (6:21 a.m.)


Morning reflections. (6:24 a.m.)


Walk, walk, walk... (7:38 a.m.)


We reached the main camping area and refilled our water bottles and CamelBacks using our water-filtration pump. There will be no water past this point. (8:38 a.m.)


The switchbacks. There are many. (9:17 a.m.)


Looking back at the camping area from high up the switchbacks. (10:35 a.m.)


We've reached the saddle and there is a minor descent as we move to the other side of the mountain. (10:40 a.m.)


Part of the long traverse. (11:07 a.m.)


We've arrived at the summit. It has taken us just over 7 hours to get here. Not really fast, but a fair pace. (12:08 p.m.)


The required group summit photograph. (12:18 p.m.)


View of the shelter from the summit. (12:19 p.m.)


An amazing rock pile viewed on the way back. (2:17 p.m)


Back at the campground and lake, we pull off our boots and socks and cool our feet in the water. This is also a good time to eat and refill our water bottles. (3:48 p.m.)


We didn't really notice this sign on the way in because it was dark. (7:07 p.m.)

We returned to our starting point at Whitney Portal around 8 p.m. It had taken us about 15 hours to make the round trip walk to the summit.

We carried hiking poles for this walk but found little use for them on the way up. On the other hand, these came in handy on the way down to reduce the stress on our legs and knees (and IT bands!).