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Mt. Whitney
July 23-24, 1999
by Jeff Cook

Brought a group of 11 up the Mt. Whitney trail last weekend: Me, Jim Whitfield, Ken Chaney, Wang Yang, Todd Houser, Mike Simonson, Carl D’Acosta, Lynn Yu, Steve Schauer, Alex Cameron, and Pete Peterson.

We spent Thursday night at the Portal campground, then hiked up to Trail Camp Friday morning. Jim and Yang went for the summit that afternoon; Jim made it despite heavy clouds at 13,800 feet. That night it rained like you-know-what from 9pm until 3am, with whipping winds and occasional thunder and lightning.


Next morning, the remaining 9 of us hit the trail for the summit between 6 and 7am despite heavy 12,500-foot cloud ceiling and lack of sleep. Visibility above 12,500 was 20-50 yards. Numerous fresh rockslides on the switchbacks from the night before, some still unstable, but trail was generally good and Sky Pilot lined the trail like a Botanical Gardens. Trail was a raging river over much of the lower half due to runoff.

Ken was way ahead, and turned around at the Windows due to howling winds, but when we reached that point an hour later all was calm, with some views opening up to the West; clouds were piling up on east side due to strong and extremely wet Easterly flow, so West side was just spillover.

Carl and I arrived at summit 9:30 after climbing last 400 vertical feet in fresh but fast-melting snow. Mike and Todd were close behind. Found a group that had camped overnight on top; they described the stormy weather as “interesting to say the least”, with several inches of fresh snow. The other 4 in our party reached the top in the next half hour. Clouds opened up in all directions but to the North for about 10 minutes, enough to get some great pictures. 8 of 9 summited. Lynn had some moderate AMS symptoms due to impossibility of acclimatizing in New York before the trip, but she made it back down without trouble.

Left the summit at 10:30; clouds closed back in on both sides, and we ran into steady moderate rain 2/3 down the switchbacks. Clouds were right down to the ground at Trail Camp, temp 44 degrees. Rain showed no sign of letup, and since we were already soaked from the night before, we packed up and hiked all the way out that afternoon in spite of having one more day on our permits.

Trail below Trail Camp was flooded for a mile, with raging stream crossings and ankle-deep runoff over slick rock. Waterlogged 50+ pound packs after the summit push made things all the more tricky and grueling, but less than 4 hours after leaving Trail Camp we were back at the trailhead enjoying Doug’s famous Hamburgers and Fries. 16 miles in one day, including a summit!

This expedition probably fits right into the “no guts, no glory” philosophy, but what it really came down to was determination and luck. The weather was uncharacteristically vile this weekend, but we took what options the Mountain gave us and made the best of it, and were well rewarded for our efforts.

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updated January 11, 2018