[HIKINGMAN] Defeated by Mother Nature

Joachim Feise (jfeise@ICS.uci.edu)
Wed, 09 Sep 1998 19:38:23 -0700

So Labor Day weekend was coming up, and I had to decide what I wanted to
do during these 3 days. What's better than a hike up Mt. Whitney? (Ok,
maybe Burning Man, next year...)
After all, Mt. Whitney is the highest mountain in the 48 contiguous
states (14,497 ft). Some mountains in Canada and Alaska are higher (much
higher: Mt. McKinley in Alaska is over 20,000 ft:
Hiking buffs may point out that other mountains, like Mt. Rainier in
Washington State, although lower (not by much) are harder to hike. True,
but Mt. Whitney is a convenient 4-hour drive from Irvine. Besides, I
already hiked up there last year, the view is just breathtaking, and the
mountain kept calling me..., so I decided to experience sunrise on
the summit.
Preparation is key. These are the books I used:
Mount Whitney Guide for Hikers and Climbers
and Mountain Lore from the Whitney Store
The National Park Service provides an overview map at
http://www.nps.gov/seki/whit_zon.htm and general information at

I arrived at the trailhead, Whitney Portal (8,360ft), on Friday night.
No place for my tent, all motels are full, so I slept in the car.
Saturday morning: Got to the Ranger Station to get a permit for one
overnight stay from Sunday to Monday. I didn't expect to get a permit for
Saturday night, but, as luck would have it, I got the last one they had.
Hike Day 1: Started the hike at 10.30, expecting to be at the Trailcamp at
12,000 ft about 5 hours later. 1 hour into the hike, it started to rain
heavily. Tropical Storm Iris, they called it on the Weather Channel, I
think. Soon the rain turned to hail. After a futile try to wait out the
storm, I continued on and arrived at 5pm at my destination, pretty much
Day 2: The hardest part of the trail, the 100 or so switchbacks up to
Trail Crest at 13,777 ft. Took about 2.5 hours, not too bad, considering
the shape I'm in. The weather was detoriating fast. It is fascinating to
see the clouds come in so fast, like a movie on fast-forward. On Trail
Crest, it was zero visibility, with snowfall and thunderstorms. Pressing
on would have been hazardous to my health; I don't like to be in a
thunderstorm when I am the tallest object around... One of the biggest
problem of mountaineering is people continuing unprepared into
deteriorating weather. The highly recommended 'Into Thin Air'
shows what can happen. Anyway, I didn't want to become the focus of a
search-and-rescue mission. So back down to Trail Camp, through
the snow (and further down, rain). It stopped raining later that night.
Day 3: Accepting defeat, I returned to the trailhead, not one minute too
early: about 1/2 hour after my return, it started to rain again.
Conclusion: This time, Mother Nature was stronger. No sunrise on the
summit for me. But I'm sure I'm going to try again, in a couple
of weeks or next year.