The plan for today was to hike Mount Whitney, and then to hike a few more miles. We wanted to be close to Forester Pass, which we want to hike early tomorrow morning.
Oliver, Lucky Hat, and I started hiking at 12:15 am and the first thing we did was walk through a stream, getting our shoes and socks very wet and very cold. From where we camped, it was 7.5 miles to the top of Whitney. The first section of the trail followed a river. As we were hiking, we met a guy who had gotten turned around and was walking away from the mountain. We were at first worried that we were going the wrong away, but after checking our guide books, it turned out he was the one going the wrong direction.
When we hit the second section of the trail, which was a large snow covered area, it was difficult to keep on the trail with only our headlights. We used our micro spikes to give us traction on the snow. We often found ourselves off the trail, until we got closer to the base of the Mountain, when we came across ski tracks that we followed up to where the third section of the trail began. As we continued, the scariest portion was a 30 foot steep climb up to the beginning of the switchbacks. We went carefully with ice axes to help us.
The third section of the trail was a bunch of switchbacks that led to a traverse. They were not bad, but fairly often, most of the switchback was covered in ice, and we had to carefully cross it. We took a break at the top of the switchbacks and looked back at the valley where we could see the headlights of those far below hiking through the ice. The elevation was effecting Oliver and I more than Lucky Hat, who hiked faster than us on the traverse, and soon all we could see of him was his light far above in the distance.
The last section on the climb was the final push up to the top, which was completely covered in snow. It was incredible on top! Lucky Hat was the first on the summit today. Oliver and I climbed to the top at 4:30 am and we sat down and enjoyed the view all to ourselves. We could see the horizon turn yellow from the sun that was about to come up. The peak was more than 14,500 feet tall, which makes it the tallest point in the lower 48 states. Around 5:00 am, another hiker made it to the top and it became noisier. It was a cold morning, and I put on all my layers. The only thing that I couldn’t keep warm were my feet, which were still wet. So, I took off my shoes and socks and put my feet into my backpack to keep them out of the wind - surprisingly enough it worked. Oliver thought ahead and brought his sleeping bag from camp, and put it on to stay warm.
The sun rose at 5:30 and it was awe inspiring. It was the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. When the sun came up, we could now see the other Mountains around us and it was just incredible. Soon after the sun had risen, we began our descent. It took us about half the time to get back down. And as we went, could see the proper path and where we went off of it. The steep 30 foot climb could have been avoided, if we could have seen the switchbacks a little further to the east.
We got back to camp where we had started at 9 am. A Ranger came over and we talked. He asked us about the conditions of the trail up Whitney and gave us a good idea of what the next few river crossings were going to be like. We had lunch and napped until 12 when we set out again, this time with full packs. Our goal was to go about 8 miles to a stream near Forester Pass.
We had to ford 3 streams and a couple mile stretch of slushy snow before we made camp. Shortly after the first stream, we ran into a couple that had not been able to cross the second creek and were going to bail out of the Sierras by hiking back and taking a side trail out. This worried us as got closer. Near the stream, we met a guy named Justin, who was waiting for someone to cross with, which was a smart move. After some searching, we all found a place to cross that was not too bad. As we continued, Justin joined us. We hit a large snow field and it was hard work to keep from slipping all over the place.
The last stream crossing was by far and away the scariest. I got nervous for the first time today. It was waist deep with a very strong flow. We all made it safely, although a bit cold and very wet. We arrived at camp at 5 pm. We set up tents, cooked and ate as fast as we could, so that we could go to bed. It was a long day.