We awake to a quickly warming sun and the sounds of a babbling Creek nearby. We spent our first night at the Lone Pine Campground (6000 ft) (campsites best by reserved via http://www.Recreation.gov). This campground is just outside of town, past the Alabama Hills rocks, just off the Whitney Portal road. For the adventurous (overachievers) one can start their summit of Mt. Whitney from this campground via the National Recreation Trail to Whitney Portal and the Whitney Trail. We are far from being overachievers and plan on driving up to Whitney Portal for further acclimatization. They are currently doing road repair/construction on the road often resulting in significant delays, both going up and coming down. We packed up and all piled into our car with our day packs, water and a few snacks. When we reached the flagman at the “bottom”, he said we were in “luck” as our wait would only be about 10 minutes. Sometimes there are delays of up to two hours. As we waited I had three “minders” telling me to drink more water, as we were unsure how the “quick” elevation gain was going to affect me.
In no time we were trailing the pilot car as we meandered up the “hill” to Whitney Portal. I could feel my ears “pop” and a slight headache, but nothing like I’ve experienced before when I’ve had altitude problems. I guess the medication is working. When we reach the parking lot at Whitney Portal (8365 ft.) We watched in awe as JMT’rs (John Muir Trail) and would be Whitney summiteers unload their packs from their Subaru wagons. Ice axes, beefy crampon and helmet’s hung from their over-laden packs (at least they appeared to be over-laden to us). We help take pictures of those just heading up at the Mt. Whitney trail sign. One young man from San Diego (Kyle) is all smiles as his mom drops him off for his solo trek of the JMT. He weighs his pack and excitedly exclaims, “70.7 pounds!” OMG we whisper, that’s two of our packs together. He tells us he’s carrying 10 days worth of food. Okay, that accounts for 20 lbs plus 3 liters of water, that’s another 6, so that’s nearly 30 lbs of the 70 accounted for. Good thing he is young and strong! Off he climbs as we talk a bit with his mom, who is happy and excited he is doing this trip. Our plan is to hike about 3 miles up the trail…or as far as my head will let me climb. It is painfully obvious we are NOT at sea level anymore. Our lungs scream “slow down” as we at a snail’s pace begin our ascent to Lone Pine Lake. Ever so often my head feels like it has been shoved into a vice and my teeth begin to hurt. We stop. I drink more water. The pain subsides and we continue on. So far so good. Our pace is painfully slow. Jody, Jan and Paul (cause he has to be) are good sports and wait patiently as I acclimate. We cross a few flowing creeks and practice avoiding soakers (when you slip and get our feet fully wet anyways). We mostly succeed. As we (I) rest periodically, we spot Kyle above us on the trail and wonder if we’ll catch up to him. We chat with several hikers on their way down from Whitney and ask about the conditions. Some made it, but most did not either because of the conditions or altitude issues. One woman is in tears. My concerns of whether I will make it to Trail Pass at 13,400 feet rears its ugly head. Eventually we light upon Lone Pine Lake.
It is tucked away amoungst tall pines and is rung by a sandy crushed granite beach.
Kyle is there (taking a break and soaking in the peaceful beauty) and so are fish a plenty. I curse myself for not bringing a rod and reel as a 10 inch lunker launches himself out of the icy water giving us his best “fish porn” shot with full exposure to the light of day. The lake sits at a little over 10,000 feet, which is good as we will be heading to Horseshoe Meadows this afternoon, and I am feeling good. This may work out after all! We head back down at a considerably quicker pace and reach our car. From here we will head into town and finally pick up our permit. We wonder aloud if “Tim” will be issuing our permit and whether his demeanor will be better. We joke that maybe we should bring him a Snickers… just in case. We are lucky, we get Julie, she’s a peach and super helpful. Best of all she is not annoyed in the least by the fact that I don’t have my permit or reservation number for her to look up our permit. She was actually glad it was a challenge to locate our permit,, saying “Ya learn something new everyday. This is cool. Now I know”. We grab our permit and “wag bags” (bags to poop in while at Whitney proper). We noticed how of all things no instruction was given on the use of the wag bags with the exception of Julie telling us they could be used “up to three times”. While we realise they should be self explanatory, we look on the packaging …no instructions, not even a picture. The ‘up to three times’ part got is thinking. Who decided “three” was the magic number for going #2? What would happen if you needed it a fourth time? Was it a matter of volume or weight? “Shit if I know”, laughed Paul. I guess we’ll find out soon enough, and when the time comes, it should be nothing less than interesting. After a quick stop in town to pick up Jan’s car, grab some supplies at the market and refuel our cars, up we head to Horseshoe Meadows for our next night of acclimatization, this time at 10,000 ft.