Sunday, June 5, 2011
With a successful summit of Mt. Whitney at noon yesterday, who would have known what an adventure was left in store. The 30% chance of snow turned to 100% about 11 am, and while two hikers down climbed saying they neared the summit but turned back due to weather I don't think we thought twice about pushing on to our goal. From Trail Crest at nearly 13,000 ft. we could still see far into the distance down the John Muir Trail where we would have been facing a treacherous ascent of Forrester Pass if our plans hadn't been modified due to weather.
Exhilaration was in the air as we changed in and out of crampons on the rocky and occasionally icy trail to the peak. Surprised that the altitude hadn't slowed us down more, we reached the summit in high spirits. We then posed for the requisite victory photos, signed the register, and called home on our sat phone. But our own down climb found us off trail 5 minutes after leaving the summit hut in near white-out conditions. It didn't help that the 40 plus mph winds filled in our own tracks within minutes or that we couldn't make out any landmarks. After several false attempts to pick up the trail that ended on the edges of precipices, we headed back to the summit hut to regain our bearings. Knowing the weather forecast for today and yesterday called for more snow and high winds, we feared spending 2-3 nights holed up in the 8x8 stone hut atop 14,496 ft Mt. Whitney. Thankfully after using our satellite phone lifeline to a friend at the base of the mountain, we got in touch with the head of Mt. Whitney's search and rescue who verbally walked us through an expeditious descent that found us eating pizza and drinking beer six hours later in Lone Pine.
I'm sure in the days to come we'll download many lessons from our past four days hiking over mountain passes in the High Sierras and share some feedback about the gear we used. For now I'm thankful to be pool side in Las Vegas staying out of the snow and wind recouping from some badly dried out and burned lips. For now I'm off to scope out a backpacking trip to Zion National Park to fill the time we've got remaining with our time out West.