From Wed Aug 13 11:54:22 1997
Date: Wed, 13 Aug 1997 11:51:37 -0700
From: (Bruce Corning)
Subject: Re: Whitney, anyone?
Cc: xmbcmembers

Mt. Whitney trip report:

I went with one other person, Mike McCammon (whose wife, Debby, works at Xerox).

The two of us drove up to Lone Pine on Saturday, August 2, arriving in mid-afternoon. There was not a cloud in the sky, not even over the mountains where there are normally afternoon thundershowers.

We spent a little time in Lone Pine picking up supplies and eating dinner, and Mike looked for souvenirs for his kids. We got the impression that Lone Pine is rather unfriendly toward tourists, based upon prices, the attitude of some merchants, and the fact that many places seem to keep short business hours. Or maybe we had that "L.A. look." Who knows?

Eventually we drove up to Whitney Portal to find a place to camp Saturday night. The trailhead campground was full. Some of the people in the campground obviously had no intention of backpacking, judging by the heavy gear that they brought. This upset us a bit. We ended up pitching our tents illegally just outside the campground boundary. It didn't take long for the campground host to find us, but he was rather sympathetic after he realized that we were leaving early the next morning, and after we promised not to tattle on him to the Forest Service.

Sunday morning we woke up to bright sunny skies, ate our quick breakfast, and packed up for the hike. It was about 9:00 AM when we hit the trail. By this time the first clouds were already forming over the Sierra Crest. The first section of the Whitney trail is the hottest, about 2 miles of switchbacks over sparsely shaded slopes. By the time we were halfway up the sun was obscured by clouds, and we had the impression that we were in for some weather. Normally Sierra thunderstorms don't form so early in the morning. At least the clouds kept the temperature down, so the hike itself was not so bad. Meanwhile, the heat waves roiled up from the sunny Owens Valley far below.

We finally reached the top of the first switchbacks, crossed Lone Pine Creek which was flowing profusely, and passed the Lone Pine Lake turnoff. A short time later we passed the ranger. While checking our permit, he told us about conditions on the mountain itself: Thunder and lightning, hail, and 45 mph winds. By now we were thinking: Maybe it's not such a great idea to try to make it to Trail Camp at 12000 ft. We decided to camp at Outpost camp, only one mile ahead at about 10300 ft. elevation.

So that's what we did: We arrived at Outpost Camp, pitched our tents, and dove inside just as the first rain showers hit. It was about 11:30 AM. We spent most of the afternoon inside our tents riding out brief rain and hail showers and listening to thunderclaps all around us.

Outpost Camp actually is a much more pleasant camping experience than Trail Camp farther up the trail. You are more protected, there are trees and other vegetation, and a stream flows through the area. In contrast, Trail Camp is devoid of vegetation and you are exposed. Mike decided that from now on he will camp at Outpost Camp the first night.

Late that afternoon the storm abated enough for us to prepare dinner. We pumped water from the stream using the club's MSR filter, which worked beautifully. We attempted to use my MSR Whisperlite, but the pump sprang a leak and then broke. So we were forced to use Mike's Coleman stove, the kind with rather squat bluish-white butane cannisters which screw onto the bottom. Then, Mike discovered that his matches got wet and were useless, so we ended up using my flint striker to light the stove.

By sunset, of course, the skies cleared and the stars were visible. We briefly spoke with our neighbors, a family of four which appeared to be from Europe. They had attempted to hang their food according to the time-honored tradition of counterbalancing, but their bag ended up about 6 ft. off the ground, within easy reach. We pointed this out.

Mike had a story about how one bear he encountered had simply sliced the bottom off each of the food bags and let the contents fall out. He also told about how another bear had not only smashed a car window, but ripped out the door frame as well. I recently read about another bear which chewed through the branch until it and the bags hung on it fell to the ground.

I took our food and climbed partway up some nearby outcroppings, eventually hanging the bag on a vertical face about 15 ft. off the ground. Essentially I was challenging both the bear and the ubiquitous ground squirrels to see who was the better rock climber. We believe, however, that there was no bear in the area, despite the ranger's stock warning, and if so it was more likely to be at Whitney Portal.

The next morning (Monday) dawned bright and sunny, as do most Sierra mornings. The family set out just after dawn to climb the peak. We were slower, and after breakfast finally got underway about two hours later. With daypacks only, we headed up toward Mirror Lake.

Mike's recent knee injury was starting to flare up, and our progress toward Trail Camp slowed down. The morning remained sunny longer than yesterday had, but as we neared Trail Camp at noon the clouds were swirling around Whitney again. Upon arriving at Trail Camp and watching the clouds thicken, we decided that the prudent thing to do was head back down toward our tents. We ate a quick lunch, glanced up at Whitney one more time, then started down.

Mike had a little trouble going downhill, so it took us a couple of hours to reach our tents. The rain mostly held off until we reached camp, then started once we got inside. It was much the same as yesterday, with brief periods of heavy rain and hail, and thunder all around us. Again we were tent-bound most of the afternoon.

Late that afternoon we spilled out of our tents to prepare dinner. After one more hail shower dumped into our chocolate mousse, the rain ended and the skies began clearing. We ate mashed potatoes and beef gravy, the chocolate mousse, and drank some white Zinfandel which I brought up.

About dusk the family arrived back from the peak. We didn't speak with them, but they looked whipped. They quickly disappeared into their tent.

After hanging the food bag, I dragged my sleeping bag outside and spread it out. The nights were so warm that we weren't even zipping our bags up all the way. The night was crystal clear, of course, and I woke up a few times during the night to stargaze.

Next morning was bright and sunny again. We prepared breakfast and packed up to leave. The morning was uneventful. We arrived back at Whitney Portal in about 90 minutes, ducked into the bathroom to sponge off and change clothes and headed into Lone Pine for lunch. As we reached town we looked back up at Whitney one last time. The clouds were forming over the mountain yet again.

We briefly discussed driving up to Bishop to visit the hot springs and do some shopping, but decided against it in the interest of time. So we hit the highway for home and arrived back in Orange County about 5:00 PM.

Product reviews:

The Alpine-aire Mashed Potatoes with Beef was a big hit. With a slice of bread to mop up the gravy it was very much like home-cooked.

I was quite impressed with the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight CD tent. Mike has a new one, and I rented a new one from REI. It's touted as a 3-season, two-person tent. For two people it's a tight fit, but it works very well as a one-person tent for me. I slept comfortably inside it with my backpack alongside. You can't stand up inside, but you can kneel. It's light, at less than 4 pounds. It's easier to pitch than my current tent. They run $185 at REI.