Mt Whitney – Part 5

Saturday, 26 August 2017

On the road to Lone Pine, CA.

I have a lot of catching up to do; I have been out of touch for seven days and a lot has happened. I met my hiking partner in Lone Pine on Saturday, 26 August 2017. We ate, purchased a few groceries and drove up to the Whitney Portal. The road to the campground is steep and curvy—nerve shattering. Richthofen (the Jeep) and Snoopy (the Casita) performed well—I was a nervous wreck. I did note that near the top of the climb, just over 8000 feet, Richthofen started gasping for air.

Our plan was to do a warm up hike on Sunday, rest on Monday and then begin our hike up the mountain on Tuesday. Just remember, all good plans go awry.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

The practice hike was done with light packs from the Portal to Lone Pine Lake. It’s roughly 3.5 miles when you include the distance to the lake itself. The trail is steep and requires some high steps that drain energy in places. Normally I do one mile in 15 to 20 minutes on city streets. On hiking trails, it takes a little longer. On this hike, it took 5 hours to get to the lake and I was exhausted. It took a couple more hours to get down. The elevation gain was about 1650 feet (according to one reference) and the elevation is almost 10,000 feet.

I will say that this hike gave me pause for thought. This was going to be a tough climb and I had some doubts we would make it but I can be very determined and I was determined I was going to try.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Picked up bear canisters. Nothing to report …

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

The plan today was to hike to Trail Camp and spend the night and then try for the Summit on Wednesday and descend on Thursday from Trail Camp. Our packs were too heavy. Mine was forty pounds and Charles’ was thirty-six. I didn’t take photos on the way to Lone Pine Lake—did that on Sunday.

The next milepost was Outpost Camp. Outpost Camp is one mile beyond Lone Pine and had a great campground. The elevation at Outpost Camp is 10,400 feet. As we started up the trail toward Outpost camp, it started to rain. We took refuge under a rock ledge and used the time to rest. We waited for the storm to pass. The weather was taking a nasty turn.

To have hiked to Trail Camp, would have taken several hours that we did not have before dark. Though I saw hikers using headlights and hiking throughout the night, Charles and I discussed it and concluded that it was too dangerous. We decided to make camp at Outpost Camp and continue the climb the next day.

While there we discussed our plans with some other hikers. They suggested that we take a more rational approach: continue to Trail Camp the next day, spend the night there and extend the trip by another day on the mountain. All the time we were on the mountain and around the Portal I never saw a NPS employee. We decided that this was a reasonable approach. Since we only had permits for 3 days, we decided that by overstaying by a day might result in a fine or they might ask us to leave which we were planning to do anyway. Rules are funny like that.

We setup camp at Outpost Camp: tents, sleeping bags, cooking stuff. We did the normal camp things: purified some water, and checked gear. By dark we were in our tents.  About 4am, I woke up to the sound of something hitting my tent. I had to pee anyway so I put on clothes and got out of the tent. It was sleeting. Oh joy. Hikers were going by on the trail with headlights; all were going down, none were going up. I finished and got back in my sleeping bag where it was warm.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

About 6:30am, Charles came to ask if I was awake. I was but I didn’t want to get out of the sleeping bag. We followed our modified plan and broke camp. We took our meds, ate and packed up. The packs felt heavier than ever and my legs were exhausted. We stopped after a short distance on the trail and discussed our chances of making the Summit. The chances looked very slim. The hike to Trail Camp was going to take us all day. The hike to the Summit and back to Trail Camp was going to be over ten miles and another day. By mutual decision, we decided to turn around and abandon this effort.

But the day was not over. As we walked off the mountain, thunder clouds started rolling in. The sky got dark. We made it back to the boulder overhangs we hid under on the way up the trail. We put the backpacks a safe distance away and got under the overhangs as the thunder and lightning started. And then wouldn’t you know it, it started to hail. The bad weather reaffirmed that our decision to go down was a good one. After the storm passed, we continued the trek back to the Casita. But hold on faithful readers, the weather is not through with us yet.

Do I consider this climb a failure? Not at all. I learned so many things. I need to get the pack weight down to twenty to twenty-five pounds; and I need to be better trained. Although I hiked on the road to Whitney, the Ancient Bristle Cone Forest in the Inyo National Forest at over 12,000 feet being the most notable, I was not ready for Whitney. For equipment, I need to invest in the ultra light things that will help get that pack weight down. I also need to do a better job acclimating to the elevation. Several nights in a spa getting massages from Asian ladies in Boulder might do it.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Bill, our camp host.

So now we had a day to make lemonade. Charles brought his fishing gear and I brought my trusty Nikon with which I intended to shoot them. Bill, the camp host, told Charles about some pools in the creek running beside our site where he said he had caught 10 inch trout. He had pictures of himself holding the fish to prove it! (By the way, I can’t say enough nice things about Bill. He provided us with a lot of information and was fun to talk to. I filled out the guest card when we left and I hope he gets a big raise.)

Okay. After breakfast, we walked off down this bluff to the creek bed and started walking down the mountain along the creek bed. There were some indications there had once been a path here. I don’t know how far we walked but the path, such as it was, was obliterated by huge fallen trees and other debris. I didn’t bring my machete but we created a path that was only going to be used one-way because higher up, much higher up, was the road running up the mountain.

We found a couple of pools and Charles commenced to cast. I readied the camera to get the Sportsman Magazine shot of the fish jumping out of the water in a fight for his/her life. I never got my prize winning shot but Charles did catch a tree and I got some shots of him in prize winning form.

So the trout weren’t running that day and we still had to get back to Snoopy. The only option appeared to be up the side of the mountain. Since I had tried the trail along the creek bed, this option appeared doable—from the bottom. The incline was pretty steep; Charles estimated it at between 45 and 55 degrees. That doesn’t sound too bad but also consider that the side was very loose gravel just above the consistency of dry crusher run. It was mixed with some stones but many of them were loose. When you put your foot down, the surface would give and you would slide back down to where you were. I’m estimating that we were about to try to climb several hundred yards.

Charles is ex-army and is much more of an outdoorsman than I am. He kept telling me: “Carter, hands, knees and toes. Don’t stop.” I tried and followed as he blazed the trail up the side of the mountain. I tended to try the hands-knees-toes approach until I ran out of gas and then lay on my belly to catch my breath and hang on for dear life. After hours of digging, we were making our way to the top when we encountered a large rock on top of another rock. The second rock was pitched at a down angle and stuck out a little beyond the top rock. Charles suggested that I just stand on the second rock and just leap over the overhanging rock. Now, I knew this wasn’t going to happen. My ass is way too big to be suspending it over a rock slanted down toward the next stop hundreds of feet below. This doesn’t even consider how my acrophobia was beginning to play hell with my common sense. Bottom line: I started making a new path by destroying some park property (dead bushes) that was directly above me between the aforementioned first stone and another boulder to my left. This was pooh-poohed and I was offered a third choice: go to my extreme left around all boulders. I chose this route.

Since I’m writing this, everything turned out okay and I have the scratches to prove it. On the Whitney Trail we met a serious technical climber. Charles noted that he was a pussy since he used ropes to get up the mountain. We did it the old fashioned way, clawing our way up on hands-knees-toes.

Friday, 1 September 2017

I promised you a weather update. For our last night at Whitney, there was another storm. This was not a little storm; it washed anything loose on the mountain over the roads. Since the mountain has a lot of loose stones and fine gravel, this means a lot of debris. There were bobcats and huge trucks similar to snow removal trucks with blades trying to make the road more passable. Bill warned me to be careful of sharp rocks because they would cut tires.

But luck was on our side. Charles had a dead battery that morning and so we had to seek out jumper cables and get him started. This meant going door-to-door until we found someone who had jumper cables. You meet the nicest people in a campground. The guy who loaned us some cables was going to be in Nashville for an Army unit reunion in a few weeks and we are hoping to meet up with him for dinner.

 

Death Valley sounds like a wonderful place doesn’t it. After Charles and I said our good-byes and doing a little shopping, I dropping off the bear canisters at the visitor center, and took highways 136 and 190 through the middle of Death Valley. I expected something different but there wasn’t that much difference in the landscape here and the area I was leaving. You are on a crooked road that goes up and down. Then you run along a flat, flat valley between the mountains that start up immediately on your left and right. I meant to stop at Scotty’s Castle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotty%27s_Castle) but it was closed due to flood damage. Imagine that in a desert. I’m glad I didn’t know it was closed before I left. It caused me to change highways and it was a much more interesting road. I stopped several times for photos including Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek. As I climbed the mountains through Death Valley, I noticed the signs suggesting that you turn off your air conditioning to keep your car from overheating; I didn’t do that and didn’t have any issues. That’s one of the benefits of have good, new equipment. I kept watching the outside temperature reading on the vehicle screen and the highest I saw was 112 degrees.

On the way to Death Valley …

Death Valley …

I got to Las Vegas after 7pm. I wanted to be on the east side of town to facilitate the next leg of the trip to the Grand Canyon. I was going south on Highway 95 and from the map thought it would intersect I15. I saw several signs that suggested as much but somehow I missed it. So I pulled off whatever interstate I was on and started looking for a campground. I used an app on my phone (http://rvparky.com) for the search. I found Duck Creek RV Park about 4 miles away and that sounded quaint enough for me.

Duck Creek was great. When I pulled in to register, the lady behind the counter said “oh you have a Casita!” I never thought of the Casita as a chick magnet until now. The people are friendly and the park has exactly the amenities I want and need. I hadn’t had a real shower in a week and that sure felt good. And even better, hot water was free. When in Las Vegas, this campground has the Carter Harris seal of approval.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Last night I met a fellow traveler. He was from Finland and we never exchanged names but we talked for quite awhile. His time on the road was coming to an end and he was going to turn in his rented travel trailer today and catch a flight in New York for home. We shared some common ideas about work, play and how there wasn’t enough of the latter. Later in the evening, someone pounded on my window and I went to the door; Finland was standing there. He had an armful of groceries: water, tomatoes, soft drinks and can goods. He said he couldn’t take them on the plane and wondered if I wanted them. I took them and thanked him profusely. This morning I was dead asleep and thought I might have heard a knock on the door but it wasn’t loud enough to wake me. When I went out later, there was more water, soft drinks, and five Belgium style ales. Throughout this odyssey I have met people like this: friendly, generous, helpful, and very caring. I hope I am seen like that too.

Even more reaffirming about this campground: This morning I went to the office for quarters to do a wash and the clerk called me by name when I walked in.

Las Vegas is hot but I didn’t break a sweat until noon. Today is going to be a rest day. Work on this blog and maybe later I’ll go have a nice dinner. I deserve it.

4 Responses to “Mt Whitney – Part 5”

  1. CRS says:

    What a great adventure! Glad you are safely back from your mountaineering. Thanks for keeping us in the loop….but always looking for your next post. Stay safe!

  2. Edard says:

    Proud of you Herman. The mountain always has the last say on your intended conquest. Mother Nature is merely the enforcer of it’s decision. The mountain will always be there, and now you will be too. Y’all made the right call. Glad you are safe.
    Now, for the rest of your trip:
    “Let Nature’s peace flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. Let the winds blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, let your cares drop off like autumn leaves.”

  3. Gail DuBois says:

    Carter, what interesting stories. I’m just now catching up because I forgot how to get to you. I’m just wishing I could do what you’re doing and seeing that beauty. Love you, honey—Gail

  4. Kelly Gupton says:

    Dude….you rock!!!!! You’re living it brother….just like you said you were going to when you came by the office and “mic dropped” that day. Proud of you man!
    Glass always half full…..stay safe!

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