On Thursday, we got up at 2am and had a quick cup of coffee and pastry. After a 30 minute drive we were at the Whitney Portal. As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw several bears rummaging around the area. Bear canisters are required and absolutely no food can be left in the car. The bears will break in your car if they see an ice chest or smell food.
At 3:15am, we started our hike. The trail is very easy to follow. The first 2.8 miles to Lone Pine lake is well graded with not a lot of rocks or roots. As you hike, you can see other hikers ahead on the switch backs. They look like fireflies in the dark with their headlamps. After about three miles, the dawn broke and we could pack our headlamps. The time and miles seemed to fly by. At 4 miles (Mirror Lake), the hillsides turned golden as the first days of sun touched the stark white mountainsides.
At 8am, we reached Trail Camp, 12,040Ft 6.3 miles. From this point, we would start the 97 switchbacks up to Trail Crest at 13,660. This is the section that often bests some of the best hikers. Altitude sickness may strike at anytime at this altitude. We took a break, ate a sandwich and energy gel. We also filled up our water since this was the last water source for the next 5 (10 RT) miles. Other than a slight upset stomach, we both felt fine. The four days of acclimating paid off.
Heads down, we headed up. At places you can see other hikers above you. Don't look up! Just focus on the trail. Along the switch backs was a wonderful flower called Sky Pilot; Polemonium Eximium. It had a wonderful scent. It took us 2 hours to climb the 2.2 miles, 1620 elevation gain to Trail Crest. Here you enter Sequoia National Park and can now see views to the west. It also becomes very windy and cold as you pass over to the west side of the crest. There was still another 2.5 miles and 900 ft or so to go. We were feeling good and right on schedule.
Shortly after noon, we made it to the top. What a rush. We had views in all directions. We hung out for about an hour talking to others and admiring the views. Nothing but blue sky.
Finally, we headed down. I have a bad knee and knew it would not be easy. It was not. The trail to Trail Camp is not bad. You walk over a lot of shale and have to step down quite a bit but it is pretty smooth. The knee did not like it anyway but the worse was yet to come. The area between Trail Camp and Outpost Camp is not level and very rocky. It took me a long painful time to make it down through this section. I was pretty grumpy and G convinced me to take a couple of advils and have one more energy gel. It helped some but you really do start to feel the mileage. When will the damn rocks end???
Once past Lone Pine Lake, it is very smooth and "easy" considering you have hiked 19 miles and you have been on the trail for 14 hours. We made it down shortly after 7pm. We drove back to Lone Pine, grabbed some junk food at Carl's and crashed. 9 hours up and 6 hours down; a very respectible time especially for a couple of 50-somethings.