Mount Whitney - Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California
Saturday - September 8, 2001
After a smooth flight from Dallas, we arrived at LAX and noticed the cool L.A. weather from the Pacific ocean breeze. We picked up our Cool Mini-vans (ever heard of an oxymoron?) and began a long trip to Lone Pine via Palmdale, CA. We stopped to eat dinner at Wendy's and got serenaded by some dude with his acoustic guitar playing Pink Floyd...welcome to California. Arriving at Lone Pine, we got our first glimpse of Mt. Whitney from main street. I picked up a little Seagram's anti-freeze at the local Lone Pine grocery store and we all shopped around on main street. We drove a short distance through the rocky, Alabama Hills to our first campsite, Whitney Portal (8360 ft.), our 1st step to acclimatization. After we ate, we watched the stars, satellites, and Milky Way that night: very nice. It was great weather for camping; you'll hear me repeat that for every night of our trip, but, we had awesome weather for camping the entire week. Also, the nice sound of water falls in the background was present at each campsite.
Sunday - September 9, 2001
Lee and others drove back down to Lone Pine this morning to secure our permits. After a leisurely breakfast, we all rented our bear canisters, put on our backpacks, and started from the trailhead. Again, thanks to Lee's nice planning, we were never hurried throughout the entire trip. Starting out, the weather was too hot, but it cooled down as we got higher, and the sun went lower. The first views were awesome; Some highlights were the waterfalls and Lone Pine Lake and the paradise-looking valley before Outpost Camp. Outpost Camp (10,365 ft.) was our first destination; we completed the 2000 ft climb in 3.5 miles this afternoon. At the camp, we met a couple who told us to take our time and stay at Outpost Camp overnight. They attempted to go all the way to Trail Camp their first day and the lady got very sick and had to come back to Outpost Camp. We decided to stay at Outpost (as if we were going to move any further anyway). We found our first solar toilet where a person is not supposed to pee in, only #2. "All must urinate outside," we were told on the way up from ranger Calder (a girl) and her dog Langley, named after Mt. Langley and not me (although I'm sure some of my X's have called me a dog or vice versa). But I digress.
Monday - September 10, 2001
After starting the day with a rousing edition of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" at around 6:30am from the singing-scoutmaster-science-guy Brain, and eating breakfast, we then started our trip up to Trail Camp (12,000 ft.). Again the scenery was great: shear rock mountains, lakes, blue skies, etc. At some point on this day we left the tree line behind. After 2.5 miles and another 1625 feet elevation gain, we all made it to Trail Camp. The marmots, birds, and chipmunks came out in full force at Trail Camp to raid our packs. Matt said his pack had a hole eaten through. Since it was still fairly early, most of the group headed toward the Mount Whitney summit that afternoon. Matt, Lee, and I made it to the Whitney summit (14,945 ft) that day; this was an impressive 11.9 mile, 4,130 ft. elevation gain hiking day for the trio. Its hard to put into words the exertion required to make the summit. Matt mentioned that he could feel his heart pounding inside his head in the upper reaches of Whitney. The lack of oxygen at this elevation only exasperates the problem. I had to stop for a break numerous times and learned a lot about how to pace myself that day on the mountain. At trail crest, I could see the incredible valleys and the mountains to the west. I finally made it to the summit and found it not too crowded, just a few people. The clear weather gave incredible views in all directions, mountains in every direction, valleys, clear bright green lakes, shear 2000 foot drop-offs, and just knowing I was on top of the lower 48 states was a great high, literally, figuratively, and emotionally. At one point I was the only one on the summit; this was very enjoyable. Lee said he had the same experience later. Matt and I headed down together while Lee stayed behind. Matt and I came across a father and son who were coming down and doing very badly. They were totally unprepared and running out of water; Matt gave them what he had left. They were lucky that they were able to stay in Trail Camp with some others who had extra room for them since they didn't have tents or sleeping bags. They thought they would get all the way back down: very dangerous, poor planning. At Trail Camp we all watched the last climbers descend from Whitney: Lee being the last climber down.
Tuesday - September 11, 2001
We were awakened again around 6:30am by singer-scoutmaster Brian; I hate to admit it, but the song was starting to grow on us. I'm glad to say everyone in our group made it to the summit this day. Matt and I summitted two days in a row. Lee stayed at Trail Camp this day and guarded our gear from all the varmints. From Trail Camp, the summit of Mount Whitney is a 9.4 mile roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of 2,495 ft. The only girl in our group, Matt's girlfriend Rosanna Rosanna Dana, broke the group gender gap by summitting today. Rosanna was a trooper; she had to be to put up with this group of guys this week. Again we had good weather even though there were some snow flurries to briefly blow through; we were never rained on during the whole week. The sad news came to me on the summit from a park Ranger who got a call about the hijackings. Later, while still on the summit, a man called his wife in San Francisco from his cell phone and got a detailed news report. The horrific news hit me hard when he started to cry. I can't describe the hollow feeling of being on the summit and getting the terrible details from him. Obviously this is something that will stay with me forever. On the way down, Eric, Ray, and I would stop and listen to the surreal and sublime quietness since there was no air traffic. At Trail Camp, Lee and I listened on Eric's radio - the only one in camp - to the news and the president's first report. We all were beginning to wonder when and how we would get back to our homes.
Wednesday - September 12, 2001
Singer-science-guy Brian strikes again in the early AM, but it's expected now. We skipped breakfast this morning and headed back to the trail head and some real food. At the Whitney Portal Trail Head, the sun once again shone brightly; shorts & T-shirt weather. I heard some express how the hike seemed longer going down than it did going up and I have to agree 100%. I know this seems backwards but it did seem longer. Some of us got breakfast there at Portal. Attempting to eat at the Portal was next to impossible due to so many bees swarming around your food. The bees wouldn't sting, but were so thick around the plate that it was hard not to bite one. I had some of Steve's leftover pancake; one pancake was bigger than a large plate, no kidding. We drove back down to Lone Pine and saw our first TV images of the devastation at the Ranger's office. We all decided to stay at a hotel that night on the way to Sequoia National Park. The "long and winding road" on the way was an experience in itself. The group stayed in Tulare and Visalia, Motel 6 and Super 8 respectively.
Thursday - September 13, 2001
No singer guy in the morning at our hotel: nice. We left for Sequoia after eating breakfast at IHOP. Along the way, we stopped in the middle of the CA citrus groves at a fruit stand and bought some fresh oranges, grapes, and plums: nice. We met up with the other group at the Sequoia campsite at Lodgetree and set up camp next to a great waterfall. Later that day we saw some bathers at the top of the waterfall...very brave...or just crazy. We all went to and hiked to the top Moro rock, very nice. Matt walked to the edge, over the barriers, and out of our sight...very brave...or just crazy. I hiked to see my first Sequoia up close, The Roosevelt Tree: just awesome! After Moro Rock, we drove to Auto Log and then to The General Sherman tree - the largest living thing on earth! That night we had the best campfires and cooked steaks; they came out great. I had some Crown anti-freeze that I bought at the park visitor center grocery store; out in CA you can buy anti-freeze anywhere (can't do that in TX). I can't remember when I've laughed that much. We met our campsite neighbor who Lee said reminded him of Ted Kazinski, the Unabomber. After I talked to him, his disposition was more like John Muir, the famous naturalist. He gave us the recommendation of a great breakfast buffet that we went to on our last day in the park.
Friday - September 14, 2001
Singer-scoutmaster-guy Brian strikes again, well expected. It was road trip day. Our van went to the General Grant Sequoia area to see the Nation's Christmas Tree (General Grant Tree) and then took the long road to King's Canyon National Park and the "End of the Road." Very worth the trip to see this incredible canyon. We stopped briefly by Grizzly Falls. At the "End of the Road" (that's what it's called), we started to skip rocks across the river. Lee eventually turned this activity into a shot-put contest; of course, all of the rest of us kids had to keep up. I believe the granite walls stood 3500 ft above where we were in this valley: almost straight up. We stopped on the way back to camp and had pizza at a Lodge that was getting ready to close for the season. Some road sections in Sequoia/Kings Canyon are closed for the winter. At night we had another great campfire where we completed another pizza pyre sacrifice; Ray and I have now been a part of this ceremony on both the east and west coast mountain ranges...brave...or just crazy. Science-guy Brain turned a couple of beer bottles into a couple glass puddles in our pizza pyre...brave...or just crazy. Just FYI, painted Corona labels will last through anything.
Saturday - September 15, 2001
"Oh, What a Beautiful Day" again, musically and literally. Well, it came time to head out of the mountains and back to the big city of L.A. On the way down we passed a very long caravan of beautiful antique cars, Packard, Cadillac, Rolls Royce, etc. After we checked in to the hotel, singing-scoutmaster-science-guy Brain had a great idea to eat dinner out at Venice Beach. A group of us went and arrived just in time for a fantastic sunset over the Pacific. We watched the sun sink into the ocean with the Hollywood Mountains right to the north. Venice Beach turned out to be a great Saturday night destination for dinner and just walking around enjoying all the sights, people, beach homes, vendors, and eccentrics.
Sunday - September 16, 2001
Since we knew our flight was delayed by four hours, some of us went back to Venice Beach to enjoy the morning before we had to go to the airport. Singer Brian got in a nice long rollerblading trek. I got a cup of good coffee from The Cow's End (picture behind the window of this place was the back end of a dairy cow, no kidding), and then the rest of us walked out on the pier and watched the people fishing and the surfers down below. We again enjoyed the weather and a nice long walk down Venice Beach. It was a great way to end the trip. Thanks for suggesting it Brain: no matter how many times you woke us up the other mornings. Besides the four hour delay, the check in and flight was uneventful, thankfully.
Monday - September 17, 2001
I got Ray to the airport and off to Nashville on Monday morning. Ray, as always, it was great to spend some
time with you. You always know how to enjoy a good laugh. You'll have to plan a group trip to Vermont sometime!
Besides the terrible tragedy of the week, this was a truly incredible trip, fun and adventurous.
A few of my memories:
Oh, What A Beautiful Morning