Mt. Whitney and Mt. Muir
August 17-19, 2003
by Michael Shackleford, Photos by Steve Aho
On Sunday afternoon, August 17, five people drove to Lone Pine to summit
Mt. Whitney via the heavily traveled Mt. Whitney trail. This was a non-LVMC
trip featuring Joel Brewster, Steve Aho of California, my brother Ian,
sister-in-law Ramona, and myself.
The hardest part about summiting Mt. Whitney by the main trail is getting
a permit. Back in February I entered the lottery for a spot. I hear
every year 10,000 applications are submitted and only 500 are granted.
In an effort to improve my odds I asked for only mid-week dates. To
my surprise I was one of the lucky ones. If only my luck were like this
in the casinos all the time.
an effort to acclimatize and get an early start we camped at Whitney
Portal Campgrounds Sunday night. We were visited by a small bear that
evening, which investigated Steve’s car and Ian’s tent but
caused no damage. It was rumored the next morning the window of a car
elsewhere in the campground was broken. After parking closer to the
trailhead we passed a vehicle that obviously had a bear break-in as
evidenced by broken glass and a badly bent door. Not only should one
keep vehicles free of food but anything a bear might associate with
food, like water bottles or shopping bags.
It was our goal the first day to make it to Trail Camp, the higher of
the two camping areas along the trail. We made the 6.3 mile trip in
about 4 hours. It was a very scenic trail passing lots of streams, waterfalls,
lakes, and meadows. After well-deserved naps, Joel and I passed the
time gambling, playing cribbage, gin, and liar’s poker.
The next morning the gambling continued as Joel offered some bets on
the summit bid. The first bet was on the exact number of switchbacks
in the “99 switchbacks” between trail camp and the ridge.
Joel set the over/under line at 98. Figuring that 99 was probably an
exaggeration I took the under, and barely won with a count of 97. The
second was on the head count at the summit at our moment of arrival,
not including our party. Joel set the over bet at 15.5 -120 (meaning
one must risk $120 to win $100 or any proportion therein).
After the 97 switchbacks, the trail joined with the John Muir Trail
and it looked like I was in good shape to win the summit head count
bet. There were lots of people going to and fro. As we neared the top
a large Japanese party was just leaving, which was good news for Joel.
Finally after a long gradual uphill trek along the ridgeline, we made
it to the summit. Total distance from trailhead 11 miles, elevation
14,495 feet, head count 11 (making Joel the winner of our bet).
Although it was the first time on the main trail for all five of us,
we all made it without problem. We took lots of summit pictures and
Steve pointed all the other 14’ers in the vicinity. Shortly after
our arrival many other hikers appeared, pushing the head count to about
30. Clearly I had the better side of the head count bet, but just had
Per the advice of Alan Nakashima, we took a detour on the way back to
do Mt. Muir, a 14,015 foot peak just off the Mt. Whitney trail. Turning
left off the trail we scampered up loose rock for about 15 minutes.
Then just a few tricky third-class moves and we were at the top. The
summit register had lots of familiar names that had recently made it,
including Alan Nakashima, Luba, Raoul, Jim Egan, and Ali. The entire
detour, up and down, took only about 45 minutes and the solitude was
a refreshing change from the well-traveled trail.
Back at Trail Camp, we loaded our packs with all the gear we didn’t
need for the summit bid and headed back down. The hike down was pretty
quiet and uneventful as we all thought about a big pizza dinner in Lone
Having previously done most of the mountaineers’ route, (I made
it as far as the technical move at the top of the notch) I would recommend
that route over the main trail. However, the main trail is worth doing
at least once. At the very least it is good exercise and does pass through
some very nice scenery.