Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mount Whitney (CA, USA) - 14,505ft (4,421m)

Mount Whitney is the highest mountain in the United States (apart from Alaska). It is at the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada in the state of California. On 4th September 2013, we started our two-day trip up this amazing mountain. The three days before we hiked up Mount Langley (2-day hike) and White Mountain Peak (1-day hike), both above 4,000m as well. We were therefore acclimatized for the high altitude these mountains have in common. It should be mentioned that in order to ascent Mount Whitney, a permit has to be obtained in advance and can be done here. A permit is required for 1-day hikes as well as overnight hikes. We were lucky enough to get a permit three weeks before our trip. Make sure you pack enough water with you as you need it for this high-altitude hike. We have a Katadyn water filter so that we were able to filter water from the lakes that you pass on the way up. Make sure that you only go up if the weather permits. The weather can change rapidly and you do not want to be exposed on the mountain during a storm. In general, it is always better to start your hike early during the day, as the weather usually worsens during the day. 

The 2-day trip is a total of 35km (22miles) long with an elevation gain of 1,872m (6,141ft). On the first day, we started our hike at the Mount Whitney portal at 2,550m (8,360ft) with roughly 15kg of stuff in our backpack (tent, stove, water filter system, warm layers, backpack, instant food and a lot of energy bars hidden in a bear-proof container). We hiked up to to our basecamp at an altitude of 2,549m in about 6hrs. We set-up our tent at the lake just before the 99 switchbacks, shown on the map below. 

Our alarm rang at 4:30am the next day. A rather strong wind was blowing the whole night and made it more difficult to get up (sleeping bags are just too cozy). Nevertheless, today was the day we would stand on top of the highest mountain in the US (again except Alaska,...) and also would hike all the way back to our car. So we packed our daypack with water and food, turned on our headlamps and started our way up the famous 99 switchbacks. Halfway through the switchbacks, the sun was rising and we stopped for a couple of minutes. This view was just incredible and breathtaking. After about 4hrs, we reached the top of Mt Whitney at 4,421m and enjoyed the view. Some tears of joy were escaping my eye. 

After a 45min break at the top, we started our 1,872m (6,141ft) descent. Roughly 3hrs later we were back at our camp and cooked some warm terriyaki rice. A hot meal and a hot coffee is just what you need at that time. We packed our stuff back into our big backpacks and headed back to the car. The last 2hrs of the hike were just brutal, my knees were hurting a lot, but my motivation kept me going.

(This trip was also featured in the german online outdoor magazine: Freisportler)

The start of the trail. 
View just above Lone Pine lake into the valley. Mount Whitney is behind us.
Our tent and our camp. Just before going to bed. 
5am in the morning, we are ready to hike to the top. 
The sunrise halfway through the switchback
View down to our camp.
The morning sun
The top of Mount Marcy with Mount Langley in the back. We were there two days earlier.
Picture of the top to the valley.
To US Coast & Geological Survey point
On the way back down.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mount Langley (CA, USA) - 14,032 ft (4,277 m)

In September 2013, we hiked up three mountains that are all higher than 4,000m in five days. All of these were in the Sierra Nevada in California. The first mountain hiked was White Mountain Peak which is 14,252ft (4,344m). This was done in a one day hike. The next day, we did a two-day backpacking trip to Mount Langley. For this mountain you need to obtain a wilderness permit if you intend to stay overnight (here). The permits can be booked online, but must be picked-up in person at the Eastern Sierra Interagency in Lone Pine. The whole trip is 19.7 miles (31.7km) long with a height difference of 4,000 feet (1,219m). Be aware that this is a high altitude mountain. This requires you to drink at least 1gallon of water per person per day. Also, try to sleep in higher altitude the day before, so that you can already adapt to it. Additionally, this is an active bear area requiring you to carry a bear proof canister to store all your food and other scented products.

The first day we started hiking up at 12pm towards the Cottonwood lakes where we set up our tent for the night. We reached the lakes at 3:30pm, as most of the first day is very flat. Camping there is very beautiful and deers were around in the morning. The second day is more strenuous, as you're hiking up to the summit and reach higher altitudes. However, you can leave your heavy equipment in your tent at the Cottonwood lakes and carry a day pack up. On the second day we started our hike at 7am and went up the Old Army pass (as shown in the map below). The first section is very steep, but it looks much more dangerous from below than it actually is. So do not worry about the trail. Once you passed the first steep section, you're walking along the ridge. The trail is not marked but there are some cairn leading the way. The summit was reached at 10:30am and it was really cold and windy. But, the view is amazing and unbelievable. We saw Mt. Whitney (the highest peak in the lower 48 states of the US) from the top that we were going the hike up next.

Once back at the camp, we enjoyed warm cooked food, packed our bags and went all the way down to the car. We made it safely back at about 5:30pm.

Getting close to the Cottonwood Lakes. In the back you can see Mt. Langley.  
One of the Cottonwood Lakes. On the second day we hike up the at the end of the lake. On the top left,
you can see a small ridge where you walk up. 
This is the lake were we set up our camp and could refill our water. 

Deers telling us 'good morning'.  
The summit of Mt. Langley. 
Summit of Mt. Langley. Windy, tired and hungry ;-) But still enjoyed the view and the accomplishment. 
On the way back to the camp. This is the steeper part at the end of the lake. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

White Mountain Peak (CA, USA) - 14,252 ft (4,344m)

In September 2013, we did a trip to San Diego and the Sierra Nevada to hike three mountains over 4,000m in 5 consecutive days. The first stop was White Mountain Peak which is 14,252ft (4,344m) high and quite an easy hike if you don't take the high altitude in account. We drove towards Lone Pine and then into the Inyo National forest. To adapt a little bit for the high altitude we camped at the Grandview Campground at 8,500ft (2,590m). The campground has great night sky views! The spots are usually first-come first-serve. If you don't find a spot, ask someone if they want to share there spot, as the campsites are quite big. The campground costs $5 per site.

The next morning, we got into our car at around 7am. You need to drive another hour to go to the trailhead, a 4-wheel drive is preferable, but we saw people with normal cars as well. From the trailhead to the summit the hike is 7miles (11.3km) long with an elevation gain of only 2,600ft (800m). Camping is also allowed on the trailhead if you want to go up early in the morning. The first part of the trip is a 2mile (3.2km) hike up the dirt road to the White Moutain Research Station operated by the University of Southern California. A gate looks this road. However, twice a year (first Sunday in August and Sunday of Labor Day weekend), the gates are open and you can park at the Research station making the trip even easier. We happen to be there exactly on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend ;-) Before beginning your hike, you can use the dump toilets at the gate or the Research Station.

We started our hiking day at around 8:45am on Sept. 1st. The hike is very straightforward, the trail can be seen way in advance. The elevation gain on this hike is not much, the first part was more flat. At the half point, you hike down again before starting a steeper switchback section towards the summit. It flattens a bit when being closer to the summit. We slowed down at the last part of the trail because of the high altitude but finally reached the summit at 12:30pm. Unfortunately, the view was blocked by a lot of clouds, but we still enjoyed standing on top of a >4,000m mountain (or second one, the first being Mauna Loa in Hawaii, USA).

After some food, picture taking and resting, we went back down. The weather got a bit worse in the afternoon. In general, mountain weather usually changes in the afternoon, that's why an early morning hike is preferable. We got back to our car at around 4pm. The next day, we went on a 2-day hike to Mount Langley, followed by another 2-day hike to Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the US (outside of Alaska).

Grandview Campground. We shared our spot with one other tent. 
On the way to the trailhead by car. 
After about 30min into. The weather was perfect. 
White Mountain Peak hidden in the clouds in the back. 
Last section of the hike. 
On top of White Mountain Peak!
This was on the way back. You can see the house on top. 
About 45min into walking down. 
Last section of the trail on the way down.