Mount Whitney • Highpoint: Coterminous "Lower 48" United States
• Highpoint: State of California
• Highpoint: Inyo & Tulare Counties
• Highpoint: Sequoia National Park
• Range Highpoint: Sierra Nevada
• Most Prominent Mountain in California

Jacco, Ernie and me resting

Lugging my pack
to high camp, day 1

On the innumerable switch-
backs up to the summit

The victorious summit team:
Jen, Ernie, Kelly, Jacco, Ed, me

California PageMain Page


Summit Panoramas

Computer generated pan- oramas from the summit, as created by Jonathan de Ferranti, a map-wizard based in Scotland. His highly-detailed images describe the distant horizons, ranges and peaks, with compass bearings and distances provided. They are remarkable and, in my opinion, beautiful works of artPlease check them out!

Mt. Whitney, North Panorama
Mt. Whitney, South Panorama
Viewfinder Panoramas
(Jonathan de Ferranti's site)

Date: July 17-19, 1992 • Elevation: 14,495 feet • Prominence: 10,075 feet • Distance: 22 miles • Time: 10 hours (summit day) • Gain: 6,500 feet total • Conditions: Sunny and pleasant • Teammates: Ed, Kelly, Ernie, Jennifer, Jacco

Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the coterminous United States. That alone was reason to think about climbing it. At the time, I had hiked exactly one peak of significance, Telescope Peak in the Panamint Mountains, a year ago. I was aware a trail led to the top of Mount Whitney. It looked like an interesting challenge.

My roommate at the time, Vic (with whom I climbed Telescope), and I discussed Mount Whitney, and we mentioned it to some friends, and in time the team was formed, although Vic would drop out at some point. There were six of us: Kelly, Ed, Ernie, Jennifer and Jacco. All of us were students at the University of California, Riverside. I had just graduated the previous June with my Masters Degree, and would move to Arizona in less than a month. This hike was a nice way to cap my time in California.

We convened in Riverside and drove to Lone Pine, arriving late in the evening. All but Ernie and I set up camp in a camping area outside of town. Ernie and I went back into Lone Pine to position ourselves for getting back-country permits the next morning. At the time, unused permits would be handed out each day, first come, first serve. This meant we had to get into line early, like at 1 a.m. We were second or third in line, and we sat there all night and chatted with others. By dawn, the line was pushing 50 people, but we were able to get permits ... but we got no sleep.

We drove back to meet the others, then drove to the Whitney Portal, elevation 8,800 feet. We started hiking at 9 a.m. in clear, pleasant conditions. We followed the trail, which was a delight, passing through pine forests, lakes, meadows, and higher up, rocky moraines and small tarns. There were many hikers here, many, like us, with packs aiming for High Camp at 12,000 feet.

I was really lagging at the end. I was exhausted from no sleep and feeling the effects of altitude. We strung out up here, and I was among the last to arrive. I got the tent built then immediately crawled into my bag for a nap. A couple hours later, we cooked dinner, and I felt a little better, but not much. I had a headache, due to altitude, tiredness, and likely dehydration too. This was my first time ever at 12,000 feet. In spite of my aches, I slept well, mainly out of exhaustion.

The next morning, I felt better. We got our stuff together and started up the switchbacks above camp, our immediate goal the high ridge about a thousand feet higher. This segment contained about 100 switchbacks and portions where the trail was still snowed over. But we plugged along and in time had arrived onto the high ridge. We crossed into Sequoia National Park up here, a small sign telling us so.

We continued northbound along the trail, which stays high on the ridge and skirts some of the pinnacles along the way. We had to drop about 300 feet at one point. Finally, after rounding a bend, the summit was visible, but still over a mile away. Here, we strung out again. I was lagging and hanging back toward the end, but making consistent, if slow, time upward. When I arrived on top, I was elated but also pretty tired. I planned to linger just for a few moments then head down. However, the last of our team was not far behind me, and when she arrived, we all stuck around for about an hour.

The top is broad and rocky, with a stone cabin. The day was clear, bright blue and pleasant. I had never been this high before (and haven't since), and I could really feel the elevation. I felt generally clumsy and tired, catching a full breath difficult. We got some photographs, looked around, had lunch, relaxed, and finally, started our trek down.

The hike down went well. That 300-foot drop needed to be regained, which was unwelcome, but overall, the hike down went without mishap. Ironically, I was in the lead, and I was first back at camp, although not by much. I napped in my bag for an hour or two, then we made dinner and had a relaxed night at camp. We hiked down the next day, and celebrated with a hearty meal at a cafe in Lone Pine.

The hike had gone well and it was especially nice to have "conquered" the highest peak in California and of the United States outside of Alaska. It was a good team and we all did well, helping one another out whenever needed. In three weeks, I would be in my new home in Arizona.

Being so new at this hobby, I was definitely hooked, but I still had a lot to learn, such as...

Pack better-tasting food. I packed bags of gorp, which is peanuts, chocolates and raisins. I was hating it after a half-day. I still hate it, all these years later. Individually, I like the ingredients, just not combined.

Cover up. I wore shorts and a t-shirt for the summit hike, with no cap and no sun-screen. I knew I'd probably get burned, but I had no idea how bad. It was bad. I knew I was cooked when I had returned to camp after summitting. I could feel the heat radiating off my face. In the ensuing couple of weeks, my skin would blister and peel. I had given myself a true stage-2 burn.

Watch what you drink. I think I caught a bug, possibly giardia. I had stomach issues for about a week afterwards. It was not as severe as I have read in other cases, but it was unpleasant. We did filter our water, but probably not good enough.

(c) 1992, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.