Wallace Creek -> Mt. Whitney -> Whitney Portal
Today is the day!! We are summiting Mt. Whitney! What a surreal feeling it is knowing that this journey is coming to an end.
We woke up in the same tent since Marc has been feeling cold at night and wanted some extra body heat. It was another cold morning, but we both slept alright. We knew that the more popular thing to do the day you summit Whitney is to stay the night at Guitar Lake, wake up early, and summit Whitney for sunrise. We decided against it for a couple reasons: one, we did not expect to make it all the way to Wallace creek last night, in fact we didn’t think we’d summit Whitney for another day. Second, we’ve been feeling very cold at night and in the early morning, and imagining ourselves waking up at 3am to hike at 14,000 ft sounded like it was going to be torturous, let alone how dark it would be walking along the edge of cliffs. So, we were perfectly happy with getting up at our own pace, and summiting when we summit, we only made the realization later that waiting to summit at midday meant there would be a lot of tourists.
The day started off pretty easy with a gradual incline, until we got to Guitar Lake. The the elevation started kicking in. We looked at the map and all the squiggly lines meaning we were about to hit some serious switchbacks. I look up ahead of us to see where we would end up, and way in the distance I could see little moving specks of people all the way at the top. We had a lot to go before reaching the top.
My body was finally catching up with reality, and the soreness and pain were settling in. Until now, I had not felt the pain and soreness that I’d get from a serious gym workout. I expected to be sore and exhausted after the first couple days, and I was but in a different way than I expected. I was full body and mind exhausted, and the only real pain I felt was in my hips at night, my ankle injury and the occasional altitude sickness. It felt as though my body understood what it was in for. My mind had been telling my body not to give up, to keep pushing forward, and to work hard, harder than it ever had before. And miraculously, my body pulled through for me. My ankle pain healed itself rather quickly, I adjusted to the altitude for the most part, and we were hiking twice as fast as we expected to, we didn’t take a single zero day and we were crushing 20 mile days.
The switchbacks up to the summit junction were tortuous. My heart was pounding, my legs were sore, and my body was exhausted, but we powered through, slow and steady. We’ve realized that we don’t necessarily hike fast, but we are consistent and take few breaks so we tend to pass most people.
The junction that breaks off to the summit of Whitney or to the Whitney portal was full of tourists. We dropped our packs near the 20 other packs we saw, prepared our day pack (a bit of trail magic from day 1) with water and snacks, and secured our remaining food from the many marmots lurking around. From there it was a 1.9 mile climb to the top. This part of the hike was not so difficult, but it was scary. You’re walking on the edge of a jagged cliff, over rocks that are slanted and slick. I can only imagine how many careless people have slipped and fallen to their death. There was a small patch of snow before the top, but it was nothing compared to what we saw at Muir and Forester Passes.
On the way up, I was supported by the encouragement of the tourists making their way down. It was funny to me to hear them say “you’re almost there,” “so close,” because they have no idea what I’ve done. I even responded to one tourist who told me, “it’s SO worth it when you get to the top,” with “I sure hope so because I hiked 120 miles for this.” And I was met with a look of confusion and awe as I passed them.
Getting to the top of Mt. Whitney was no easy feat. The day has been a weird mix of emotions, excitement for finishing the trail, frustration for how hard it was, sadness for the end of our beautiful journey, and anticipation to get into town and eat a burrito and to call my family. When the shelter that marks the summit was in sight, my emotions got the best of me and the tears started rolling. I reflected back on my journey and all the times I thought I wasn’t going to make it or wanted to quit, how hard I had worked to get here, and how incredibly proud of myself I was for reaching my goal. I guess I wasn’t so crazy after all. Until now we were only climbing up and over passes, not summiting mountains, so here at the top of Whitney we could see it all. All the mountains around us and the towns in the distance. It was a truly magical moment, there was no pain anymore, just satisfaction and immense pride. Not only have I been completely amazed and in awe of the Sierras and all their beauty and vastness, but also of my body and its abilities to keep moving forward and to accomplish this thing that I wasn’t sure was possible for me.
As I expected, there was cell service at the top so I could call/text my Mom and boyfriend who haven’t heard from me in 9 days and tell them that I’m okay and that I finished the trail. They couldn’t believe that we finished the trail 10 days early and were so happy that we were coming home soon.
After we’ve basked in the glory of our accomplishment, it was time to make our way down the 11 miles to Whitney Portal. When we got to our bags, Marc’s bag and several others had been broken into by hungry marmots. Luckily we were heading to Long Pine and didn’t need the food in our bear canisters any more.
The switchbacks down to the portal were endless, and I’m talking like 4 hours of just straight downhill switchbacks and dodging tourists. On our descent we ran into our first ranger on the trail who stopped us to see our permits. Funny that it wasn’t until the last day that we see a ranger and our permits got checked. Good thing we had them on us. We arrived at the trailhead around 5:30 and had to find a hitch into Lone Pine. The first hitchhiking I’ve ever done.
Surprisingly, it was super easy. The family who came off the trail right ahead of us struck up a conversation and after explaining what we were doing on the trail, they asked us about our car and if we had one parked here. I told them no, but if they had two extra seats in their car of a couple of smelly hikers, we would be so grateful. And it worked! Not only did they give us a ride to Lone Pine, but they gave us a beer and told us their hiking stories. When we got to town, they took us to a motel and waited for us to check if there was vacancy. If there wasn’t, they said they’d drive us down the strip until we found a place to stay. Luckily there was vacancy, so we thanked them and said goodbye.
After settling into our room the three things we wanted most was food, a shower, and laundry. In that order. So that’s what we did.