DAY SEVEN on the High Sierra Trail –We decided to get up at 4:30 a.m. and begin hiking between 5:30 and 6 a.m. at sunrise. We had no interest in hiking in the dark and trying for the summit at sunrise – for our first time up, we wanted to see everything. We hit the trail at 5:40 a.m. We had heard the boy scouts leaving in groups earlier, and had seen many headlamps going up from midnight until we got up.
Time: 9 hours
Elevation gain: 2,842 ft
When to go: July-Sept
The first mile out of the tarn is actually quite steep and you gain a ton of altitude getting to the actual switchbacks that lead to Trail Crest. Once up that steep section, the Hitchcock Lakes come into clear view.
There are essentially seven long switchbacks that take you up the face of the Sierra to Trail Crest–and from the tarn at 11,600 to Trail Crest at 13,500 is just those long rocky switchbacks. All of it–like the rest of the High Sierra Trail–is incredibly well engineered – in fact, we would often stop and look down and around and just think wow–how did they build this? Again, time to watch that documentary video again.
As we climbed, we passed two of the three groups of boy scouts who were taking their time and resting quite a bit. How good did that make our old bones feel? We were killing it!
When we arrived at Trail Crest, there were already 20 or so backpacks lined up from those who had gone for sunrise or early ascents. We dropped our packs and pulled out a day pack and loaded it up with lunch, jackets and water.
Then it was time to take on the ridge – 1.9 miles that would test my fear of heights even more than the Hamilton Gorge did. We took it slow and steady, and I didn’t spend too much time hanging out in the “windows” – those spots on the trail between jagged peaks where you can see straight down on both sides! My wife had no pack, I had the day pack – boy did we feel like Supermen!
As the hut at the top of Whitney came into view, we encountered a snow field. The trail had been mostly plowed down but it was slippery and we used caution – and had to climb over some boulders in a few spots to avoid ice. After the snowfield, we followed the trail east to the summit.
We made the summit in 3 hours 20 minutes from the tarn at Guitar Lake, which I was very satisfied with for our first time. The wind was calm, the weather warm, and we never had more than a long sleeve shirt on the entire time at the summit. The rest day at 11,600 feet had empowered us and the ascent was really pretty easy – no problem at all. Great views, great photos, signed the book – mission accomplished.
After about 25 mins on the top, we headed back down. I thought the ridge going down might impact my heights fears more, but in fact it was quite easy and we got back to Trail Crest quickly.
We strapped back into our heavy loads and did the quick climb up to the other side for our first trip down the infamous 99 switchbacks. Like the Kern River descent a few days earlier, going down is just not our favorite gig – and this one with heavy packs is a long slog.
We thought we might stay at Trail Camp, but the things we had read about it were sort of correct. The water source looked sketchy and there were a lot of people and it was sort of loud and not especially pretty. We opted to keep going down a few more miles to Outpost Camp.
That last two or three miles from Trail Camp to Outpost Camp was hard on the legs – I won’t lie. My wife was getting pretty miserable – and the sight of Outpost Camp was a welcome one. It’s a really nice spot and the waterfall was going full tilt. We found a spot, pitched our tent – and just sat and relaxed with a dose of ibuprofen and a cold drink!
This would be our last night in the forest with just a short walk out to Whitney Portal the next day.