With its altitude of 4421 meters¹, Mount Whitney is the hightest point of the contiguous United States. This “virtue” was an attractive incentive for me to climb it, and - in retrospect - the only reason to do so. The Whitney Trail is notoriously drawn-out (21 km long, with an elevation gain of just about 1800 m), and the summit is not really prominent, just the highest section of a rim, part of a pale rocky desert of granite heaps. Only the blue sky with very light clouds (and haze on the Owens Valley) offered a good contrast, at least through the polarizer mounted on my camera lens. Winter time would certainly be more interesting, but of course not as pleasantly warm.
Since we did not know in advance on which day we would arrive (and if the weather would be good), the awkward Wilderness Permit reservation process was not really an option. Moreover, we arrived at the Whitney Portal campground around midnight and started climbing at 4 AM, I did not even have the chance to obtain a “walk-in” permit required for the Whitney Trail. So I planned to take the Mountaineer's Route instead, which is still relatively easy and does not require any permit for day hikes. However, in the dark I missed the trail junction and ended up the main trail, which in the end I think was okay because only 56 of the 100 day hike permits had been taken in the lottery in February.
Having climbed during the six weeks before a number of mountains in the Cascades, in particular Mount Rainier, I was in excellent shape, so I passed many parties (which usually depart earlier in the night or camp on the way). The main trail is terribly lengthy, with relatively flat switchbacks and a long horizontal (partly even dropping) passage behind the summit rim. After slowing down because of the thin air at higher elevation, I discovered a very simple but effective trick: just breathe harder (that is, not faster, but deeper)! This gave a noticeable performance boost. I reached the summit at a quarter to 10 and stayed there for an hour. For the way back I tried taking the Mountaineer's Route again, but it turned out that the first passage of it needs some climbing on an unmarked route and I felt not comfortable venturing down there alone. So I had to take the decadent main trail down again, which took me almost five hours - just an hour less than for the way up. So we were not able to accomplish our plan and get as far as Mono Lake on the same day before sunset :-(
¹ To those folks who still adhere to measuring length in multiples of the boot size of their medieval ancestors, sorry for the inconvenience applying a conversion factor of 10 over 3.
"Pack Out Your Poop"
the summit from south-southwest
note the shelter on top
the infamous "99 switchbacks"
the summit from south-southeast
Big Horn Sheep Park
the road from Owens Valley