Matt’s alarm went off at midnight, and shortly thereafter it wished him a “happy birthday”. Once it was done singing to him, I did the same. Matt was getting ready to attempt to summit Mt. Whitney, while I was planning to hike as far as Trail Camp. This opportunity for me was fairly last minute, so I had not had the chance to do any training for a hike of the magnitude of the summit. I let Matt focus on getting ready, as I was not scheduled to sync up with David until around 1:30 am. Matt finished up and set off for Whitney Portal. David arrived on schedule and we tossed our gear and began our drive up.
Driving in, we could see headlamps dancing along the trail. When we parked at the portal, the car’s thermometer read 43°F. We grabbed our gear and clicked on our headlamps and set off. There was some comfort having hiked this about 12 hours earlier as we climbed in the darkness. My legs, and more importantly lungs, were feeling good as the trail climbed ever upward. I knew not to compare my pace, as night hiking is always slower. As we made our way up, David was having trouble following my pace. He said to go on and he would meet me at the Lone Pine Lake junction. I continued hiking at a nice pace, being mindful of bears that might be out. All was going well until the long log crossing near the junction. While it had not been an issue in the daylight, this night crossing was nerve-wracking. It was more of a shuffle than actually walking. I reached the junction and waited for David. I found a spot to sit and turned off my headlamp to save my batteries. The stars were majestic as there was no moon to hide their brilliance. In addition, a meteor shower was just concluding, and I spotted one very bright one streaking across the sky. As I waited, several more vaporized into our atmosphere. It had been some time sitting here and I was starting to shiver. I got up and paced a bit to warm back up. I am fairly sure it was below freezing here. Several hikers passed by, but no David. I decided to continue on, knowing David would either turn back and relax back at the portal, or I would meet up with him on my descent.
Just past the Lone Pine Lake junction is the entrance to the Whitney Zone. I stopped for a photo and continued on. To the east, the predawn glow was starting to appear. I kept climbing toward Outpost Camp, the next milestone for me on this hike. The mountains were slowly being bathed in light. The trail eases some as it makes its way through Bighorn Park, the creek flowing next to the trail. As I neared Outpost Camp, I could see the tents scattered about and continued on, trying to be quiet for anyone who might still be asleep.
From there I would have another set of switchbacks to climb until I reached Mirror Lake. My plan was to reach it by sunrise, then enjoy a second breakfast and coffee before pushing on. Waiting for David put me behind schedule, so I watched the sunrise while I was on the switchbacks.
As I reached the junction for Mirror Lake, I could start to feel the altitude and was glad to be taking a break. I found a nice flat patch of granite near the south shore and pulled out my water filter, but for some reason, I could not get it to work. It might have been clogged from the last time I used it or for some other reason. I had enough clean fluids to get down, so that was not an issue, but I did not have enough to continue on nor make my breakfast. I snapped some photos of the peaks reflecting down onto the water. Several groups of hikers passed by as they made their way forward. While I was bummed about not reaching my goal, this hike had been a spectacular one. I hung out here for about 30 minutes, soaking it all in.
As I made my way back, I would mention to ascending hikers to be on the lookout for a fellow in a green and white Celtic jersey and to make sure to wish him a happy birthday! One set of hikers asked if I was Chris and relayed a message from David that he would meet me at Outpost Camp.
There, as promised, was David. He said it just wasn’t his day on the mountains, and with that, we began heading down toward the trailhead. Along the way, we spotted some deer and some pikas. More hikers continued on, some with full backpacks ready to make camp, probably at Trail Camp. In fact, one of those folks turned out to be a friend of a friend who recognized me. We made it back down to Whitney Portal just before 9 am. I hiked a total of 8.6 miles in 6:26. My final altitude was 10,655 feet, meaning I climbed 2,386 feet. After driving back down to Lone Pine, David hopped into his car to race back to his hotel in Ridgecrest to grab a shower. I gathered my gear from the hotel and set off. As I drove away, I looked off to the west, hoping that Matt would be successful and one day I might stand atop that summit. Later that evening, I got a message from Matt that he made it and 15+ people wished him a happy birthday!
I am an avid peak bagger, sometimes backpacker, and former sea kayaker living in San Diego. In 2019, I became the third person to complete the San Diego 100 Peak Challenge. Not stopping with that accomplishment, I set my sights on the harder San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list, which I completed in 2021. In addition, I have conquered several Six-Pack of Peaks challenges (SoCal, San Diego, and Arizona-Winter). Beyond attempting the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list a second time, I am looking forward to exploring new summits and new adventures across the southwest.