Day 4 – Tuesday, 6/7/16 (continued)
I’ve been up since 3am. I’ve hiked to the highest point in the lower 48 at 14,508′. I’m elated. I’m exhausted. I’m ready to get horizontal.
But first things first . . .
2:40 pm – After descending the 1.9 miles from Whitney summit, we arrived safely back to our packs at Trail Crest (13,519′). The group eats, drinks, and celebrates before donning our packs for the descent. There are a few in the group who were itching for pizza and beer in Lone Pine but for that to happen we’d need to descend another 8 miles and 5,000′.
3:40 pm – It’s go time. OR. NOT!!!!
In preparation for this trip, a friend taught me the basics of self arrest and glissading with an ice axe. The practice slope angle and snow conditions were perfect for this CHICK-en!Unlike my practice slope, there was nothing perfect about this reality slope. This was my OH SHIT moment! I don’t like out of control speed. I’ve never liked roller coasters or amusement park rides. Snow conditions were crappy. Glissading would be FAST and trying to walk down was asking for a broken leg. Neither option was even close to optimal. As I sat on the ledge watching wipe out after wipe out, I tried desperately to manage my anxiety. I wanted to cry and throw a temper tantrum. This was quickly turning into what I call Type III fun, a rarity in my world.
I waited until the last of our group had started down before taking my turn. I tried a variety of methods. First removing my microspikes and stowing my poles in hopes of a controlled glissade. I was wearing my Frogg Toggs rain pants with snow gaiters, vapor barrier bags over my socks, and gloves to protect my hands. With ice axe in hand, I sat down and could feel gravity wanting to take me down. I used my feet as brakes, planting one then the other. I was not committed to the glissade and did not have my ice axe secure in both hands as I was taught. Instead I planted the ice axe with my right hand as I took a sitting step with left foot, right foot, left hand. I was able to repeat this method a few times before . . . the slip sliding began . . . and before I knew it, I’d flipped to my stomach, the ice axe long gone and I was fruitlessly digging into the snow with my hands and feet trying to slow and stop my flying descent. Eventually somehow miraculously I stopped. Slowly I regained the sitting position. SHIT not only had I lost the ice axe well above me on the hill but I still had a LONG way to go before I’d be off this friggin’ snowfield. I donned my microspikes and using my hiking poles I attempted a walking descent. Progress was painfully slow. Our group was spread all over the hill. Some had figured out the glissade. Others were floundering like me.
6:00 pm, I’m off the slope and subsequent snow traverse. Hallelujah!! I’m ALIVE and uninjured, sore, tired but unscathed. WHEW, I’m sure I left one of my nine lives on that slope, plus a brand new ice axe for hopefully someone in need . . . as they say, the trail provides.
Needless to say, night #4 would be spent at the first available camping area, Trail Camp, where we’d stare at the snow chute and rid ourselves of those nightmares. There is no way I could have eked out another 6 miles to make it to the Portal. I’d been up for over 16 hours, and I’d pushed my body beyond what is even close to reasonably normal. There was no adrenaline left in this engine. It was time to eat, drink and get horizontal.
If you think my experience was an anomaly, think again. My friend, Rockin’ of Lady on a Rock, a much much more experienced mountaineer than me, had an even scarier experience in April 2015. Read about it here.
Day 5 – Wednesday, 6/8/16
As we descended, we encountered many backpackers ascending, each filled with anxiety and questions. “Are the switchbacks open?” “How are the switchbacks?” We’d answer, “there are no switchbacks, only a snowfield.” Their look was one of disbelief, as if we’d misunderstood their questions. Surely, the switchbacks are open. Sometimes you just have to experience it yourself to understand.
Since there is no overnight parking at the Portal for those with a Portal entry permit, we all had to hitch to Lone Pine or call a shuttle service. It was noon and with our restaurant of choice closing at 2:00 pm, we didn’t have much time. First vehicle was able to take 3 of us. YIPPEE! It was a nice family from Fresno, mom and three sons out for a mini-vacation. We shared great conversation while waiting our turn to follow the pilot car through the construction zone before finally making it to Lone Pine where my car was parked. From there, we quickly drove toward Horseshoe Meadows Campground to retrieve the other two vehicles . . . but with stomachs growling and impatience growing, we were delayed once again.
Meanwhile our comrades successfully caught rides to Lone Pine and grabbed showers at the hostel. And just in the nick of time, my group arrived back in Lone Pine at 1:45 pm to join everyone for a celebratory meal at Alabama Hills Cafe.
Link to 2 More Miles Related Posts:
- Essential Gear: Kahtoola MICROspikes
- Favorite Luxury Item: Digital Temperature Gauge
- Highly Recommended: High SPF sunscreen and lip balm, bug repellent, nasal moisturizer, extra dark sunglasses (my prescription glasses weren’t sufficiently dark),
- Latest Discovery (thanks Jasmine): Vapor barrier bags for use with trail runners in cold wet conditions
- Showers are available for $5 at the Whitney Hostel in Lone Pine
- Parking is available in Lone Pine at the Dow Villa Motel overflow lot for $25/week with a motel reservation.
- Transportation and parking options (overnight parking at the Whitney Portal is not an option unless you have an entry or exit permit). Our group of 7 was able to successfully hitch from the Portal to Lone Pine.
- Kurt Power is a good private shuttle option to/from Horseshoe Meadow Campground.
- Map – Tom Harrison Mount Whitney High Country
- Map – Halfmile (Section G, pages 14-16, and Section H, pages 1A-1B)
- Map – Printing by Yogi
- Book – Mount Whitney the Complete Trailhead-to-Summit Guide, by Paul Richins, Jr.
- Smartphone Apps – Halfmile, Trimble Outdoor Navigator, Guthook’s PCT Guide
- Emergency Communicator – InReach SE
- Lone Pine Campground
- Horseshoe Meadow Campground
- Mt Whitney Weather Forecast
- Mt Whitney Trail Conditions Forum
- Basic Trip Itinerary