VT-Mount Mansfield

Summit Date
June 12, 2013; around 11:00 am

Ryan Cragun

Trip Report

Had the weather been cooperating, Debi and Toren would have done this hike with me.  But with the entire mountain shrouded in clouds and wind gusts making it hard to keep your feet, I opted to go it alone.  I’m sure, on a nice day, the views from the top would be amazing, but this was not a nice day.  And since my wife and son were waiting for me, I didn’t make this a big hike.  We paid the fee to drive to the top of the mountain and parked.  I then followed the Long Trail from the parking area to the summit.  I met one other person on the trail, a highpointer as well.  The trail is well-marked with blazes on rocks.  It was quite pleasant, despite the weather.  I was completely covered in rain gear, so I wasn’t wet, and the cooler temperature kept me from sweating.  It took me about 1 hour and 15 minutes to make it to the summit and back, moving fast, without a pack or water.

Right as I reached the summit, I reached into my coat for my phone and my phone slipped out of the pocket, dropped onto the summit, and into a pool of water.  It was the only camera I had and it was completely submerged!!!  I grabbed it quickly and dried it off, then hoped it wasn’t ruined.  I hit the on switch and it turned on.  I managed to snap a couple pictures of me surrounded by clouds and being pummeled by the wind, then turned off the phone, figuring I should dry it out before I used it anymore.

After that, I cruised back to the parking area and got in my car.  I’d like to do this one again, on a nice day.

Me on the summit in the blustery wind and light, misty rain.
Me on the summit in the blustery wind and light, misty rain.

Various websites indicate there are a variety of ways up the summit.  The Long Trail was the ideal one given the weather, but would be pretty easy on a nice day.

Directions from Stowe, VT

View Larger Map

My hike from the parking area

MA-Mount Greylock

Summit Date

June 11, 2013; around 5:00 pm


Ryan & Toren Cragun

Trip Report

We hiked Connecticut’s highpoint earlier in the day and drove to this one in the early evening, arriving just before the gates closed.  There really isn’t much to say about this one – we drove up the very nice road and it was raining at the top.  Debi wasn’t really interested in the 2-minute walk to the tower at the top in the rain, so I grabbed Toren and we jogged to the top.  We took a couple of pictures, then headed down.  It was rainy and cloudy, so we didn’t bother to take a panorama.  It was a highpoint, but not a very scenic one.


Toren and I on the summit of Mount Greylock
Toren and I on the summit of Mount Greylock

Panorama (not mine)

Directions from Pittsfield, MA

CT-Mount Frissell (south slope)

Summit Date

June 11, 2013; around 12:00 pm


Ryan, Debi, & Toren Cragun

Trip Report

I originally attempted to climb to the highest point in Connecticut – Mount Frissell (south slope) – in March a few years back and the summit was snowed in.  I should have known better, but learned my lesson.  This was my first chance to attempt the summit again.  Debi was willing to give it a try and Toren would be riding on my back.  My guide book says that it is just a mile or so each way from the trailhead, which is pretty close to accurate, but this is not a particularly easy hike.  That was even more the case since I was carrying my son on my back and the trail was basically a stream since it had been raining pretty much non-stop for the previous week.

We drove in from Poughkeepsie, through Salisbury, CT (see below) and had no problems on the road in our Prius.  We arrived at the MA/CT state marker then backtracked to the spot where you can park (by a gate with a sign in a tree).

Here is where you park. The trailhead is 100-200 feet north.
Here is where you park. The trailhead is 100-200 feet north.

We geared up and then headed to the trailhead to see this:

the lower 1/5 of the trail was a stream, ankle deep in parts
the lower 1/5 of the trail was a stream, ankle deep in parts

I had nice hiking boots that are waterproof up to the laces so I was fine, but Debi’s feet were soaked almost immediately.  Even so, we pressed on, until we got to a really rocky section.  The red blazes in the trees were easy to follow until we got to the top of the rocky section when we lost them.  We searched for about 10 minutes for blazes but couldn’t see any.  For the first time in my hiking career, I got so turned around that I actually mistook one of the blazes we had already passed for the one we were supposed to follow and we ended up going back down the steep, rocky section thinking that was where we were supposed to go.  Eventually, I checked my GPS and realized we were backtracking, so we turned back around, re-ascended the rocks, then found the red blaze.  From there it was another 30 minutes or so from the highpoint.  By the time we finally made it, we were pretty tired since it was wet, muddy, and we’d hiked the worst part twice already!

Here we are at the top:

The three of us at the highest point
The three of us at the highest point

For those hiking this, make sure you know that there are blazes on rocks as well as trees (that’s what we missed).  We didn’t stay long as a storm was blowing in.  We hiked back out pretty quickly and made it back just in time for the storm to hit.

Here’s a record of our GPS on the trip (including our backtracking):


Here’s what you can see from the highpoint:

CT highpoint - 2013-06-11T12:51:41
(click for larger file)

And a video of the trailhead:

MT-Granite Peak

Summit Date

August 19th, 2012; around 4:00 pm

Summit Party

Ryan Cragun and Tom Triplett

Trip Report

Granite Peak isn’t the tallest highpoint (McKinley in Alaska is; Granite is number 10) nor the most remote (Gannett Peak in Wyoming is more remote), but many people have claimed that it is the most difficult highpoint to climb next to McKinley. Having climbed to the top of 39 other highpoints, including the tallest in the lower 48 (Whitney), I’m inclined to agree.

Prior to our trip, we did a fair amount of research on the hike and what we should expect. We knew that the final ascent of the summit was pretty intense and ropes and harnesses were recommended. We also read up on the routes up to the summit. However, this is where we found some contradictory and unhelpful information. The standard route up Granite Peak starts at the Mystic Lake trailhead, hikes up to the Phantom Creek trail, follows that up the switchbacks to Froze-to-Death Plateau, then continues to the top of Froze-to-Death Plateau (which ends in Tempest Mountain). At that point, the trail drops off the edge of the plateau so you can hike to the saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak. Summit attempts start at the saddle. This is the standard route and is estimated at about 22 miles, round trip.

There are two alternate routes. One starts at the East Rosebud trailhead and comes up the valley next to the valley in which Mystic Lake lies. This route is substantially longer than the standard route, but the elevation gain is much more gradual. This route meets up with the standard route on Froze-to-Death Plateau. This is often referred to as the Rosebud or East Rosebud Route.

The final route splits from the standard route at the switchbacks.  It is largely off-trail from where it starts at the far end of Mystic Lake. At the end of Mystic Lake you cross a stream then turn off the trail and head towards the lake that feeds that drainage. That lake is called Huckleberry Lake and this route gets it name from that lake as it is called the Huckleberry Route. From Huckleberry Lake you work your way up to Princess Lake, then Cold Lake, and finally Avalanche Lake, which lies in a valley below the saddle and summit of Granite Peak. From Avalanche Lake you have to climb a boulder and scree field up to the saddle, from where you can approach the summit.

I’m detailing all of these routes at the beginning of this trip report because the reports we read online covered primarily two – Huckleberry and the Standard Route – and some of those reports had very inaccurate information. In particular, this trip report said that the Huckleberry Route was a shortcut and that the entire mountain could be climbed in a distance of just 12 miles, round trip. Remember that number.

One of the people I was hiking with, Mark, found the misleading and inaccurate trip report on the Huckleberry Route and, thinking he would make our trip easier, suggested we try following the Huckleberry route. My other hiking buddy, Tom, and I weren’t very keen since the report stated that it involved a lot of bouldering and that there wasn’t a clear trail. We didn’t make a decision before we started the hike and figured we’d make one when we had too.

With the background on routes out of the way, here’s what we did. I met up with Mark and Tom on August 17th in Utah and we drove north to Bozeman Montana where we stopped so Tom could get a haircut. We were running earlier than we expected, so we also stopped for a movie and dinner, then continued on to Columbus, MT, where we spent the night in the Super 8. We got up early, grabbed a bite to eat, then headed to the Mystic Lake trailhead. Our goal was to get close to the summit the first day then camp. We’d summit early the next morning then hike all the way out by the evening of the second day so we could check in with our significant others to let them know we were safe. However, we all had Monday the 20th off, so we could extend the trip slightly if we needed to.

We geared up and were on the trail by 8:00 am.

At the trail head.

Since our hikes are really more about catching up with each other, we weren’t paying all that close of attention to the routes and the distances we had hiked. It takes almost 3 miles to get to Mystic Lake, one way. Add that to the return distance from Mystic Lake and you’d think that Granite Peak was just another 3 miles away based on the erroneous trip report we had read.

I had a GPS unit and had marked some key features on it as waypoints, including the various lakes, Froze-to-Death Plateau, the saddle, the summit, and the bottom of the switchbacks.

When we reached the spot where the Phantom Creek Trail splits off from Mystic Lake, we had to make a decision. Should we follow the trip report that suggested the whole climb was just 12 miles if you take the Huckleberry Route or should we follow the standard route. Just as we began discussing this, a guy heading toward the trailhead who had spent a few days fishing on the lakes stopped to chat with us. He said the lakes on the Huckleberry Route were beautiful and full of fish and since Mark had a fishing line and lure, we ultimately decided we’d take the Huckleberry Route. This would prove to be a very poor decision!

Following the crappy trip report, we hiked to the end of Mystic Lake (which is almost 6 miles from the trailhead), crossed the stream, then turned uphill to follow it toward Huckleberry Lake (you can see our route in the image below or in Google Earth if you download the KML file I created from my GPS unit). We did find a sketchy trail on occasion, but it wasn’t always clear or easy to follow. Even so, the hike up to Huckleberry Lake wasn’t too bad and we made it fairly easily. However, we lost any sense of a trail at Huckleberry Lake when we worked our way around it and began bouldering the best we could. Between Huckleberry Lake and Princess Lake we climbed through a ravine that was ridiculously steep – probably a 60 to 70-degree grade – but eventually made it to Princess Lake. Both of these lakes were very beautiful and a number of people were camping around Princess Lake.  Here’s a shot of me at Princess Lake:

The stream you see in the distance comes from Snowball Lakes, not Cold Lake.  To the left of that stream is the ridge we didn’t think we could climb to get to Cold Lake.

From the north edge of Princess Lake where we arrived, we could only see a trail headed to the right. We also saw a stream coming down into the lake from the far side of the lake but also to the right. Thinking that was the stream coming from Cold Lake (I didn’t check my GPS), we headed that way. About half way across Princess Lake we saw another stream coming into the lake that was east of the first. It was very pretty, but it didn’t even dawn on us that the second stream we saw may actually be where we were supposed to be hiking. We continued across the lake on a small rock bridge then headed up the hill on the far side. There wasn’t a discernible trail, but there were a number of rock cairns, which we followed all the way to the top of the hill. As we broke over the ridge, we saw another beautiful lake and thought we were at Cold Lake. However, I had marked Cold Lake’s location on my GPS and checked it only to find that we were actually at Snowball Lake. Snowball Lake is to the west of Cold and Avalanche Lakes and is still quite far from the scree field below the saddle. This would not have been much of a problem except there is a ridge that runs between the lakes that is several hundred feet tall with mostly vertical sides (see above photo). In short, it was not a ridge we could easily, safely, or quickly cross to get where we were supposed to be.

It was 4:00 pm when we made our way around Snowball Lake and started to consider our options. I took off my heavy pack and told the others I would scout ahead to see if we could go around the ridge and find the lakes on the other side as it seemed to taper off the closer it got to Granite Peak. I scouted ahead maybe a ¼ mile and it seemed like the ridge declined enough to be relatively easy to cross. With that in mind, I returned to Mark and Tom and suggested we spend the night at Snowball Lake then hike around the ridge the next day, head to the saddle, then summit, and camp on Froze-to-Death Plateau the next night, hiking out on Monday. It was at this point that Mark informed me that he had told his wife, Holly, that we would be off the mountain by the next evening – Sunday. That wasn’t good because we probably would not be. However, we had heard some people have cell phone reception on Froze-to-Death Plateau, so we were hoping that would be the case and we could get a hold of Holly so she didn’t call in Search and Rescue (SAR) to find us if we didn’t call her Sunday evening. Exhausted from close to 8 hours of hiking with heavy packs, much of it off trail and over boulder fields, we set up our tent, treated some water from the lake, then crawled into our tent and laid down until we fell asleep around 10:00.

We woke up early the next morning, around 6:00 am, and broke camp. We started hiking around 7:00 or 7:30. As we had hoped, the ridge was passable at the far end of the valley, so we crossed over and found Avalanche Lake around 8:00 am. Unfortunately, however, we were on the wrong side of the lake. We had to cross to the other side, then walk all the way to the end of the mile long lake over a massive boulder field with very few indicators of a trail. This part was the most miserable of the hike for me as I really do not like bouldering with my bad knee. It was almost 11:00 before we made it to the end of Avalanche Lake. At the end of the lake, we still had about 1,500 feet of elevation to gain through builder fields and scree to reach the saddle. Mark, towards the end of the lake, decided to stay high up on the wall of the valley and make a gradual ascent toward the saddle while Tom and I opted to work our way up the bottom of the valley on boulder fields, then go straight up the scree toward the saddle. Tom and I made better time than Mark, but it was grueling, especially with our heavy packs on.

It was about 1:30 before I made the saddle. Tom followed me into the saddle about 5 minutes later. Both of us were exhausted at that point from the rough terrain, but we were excited to ditch most of the stuff in our backpacks so we could move faster up toward the summit. However, about 10 minutes after Tom made the saddle, Mark limped in with blood running down his left leg. About 20 minutes earlier, unbeknown to us, he had stepped on a rock that was loose but holding up a much larger boulder. He lost his balance on the loose rock and fell, exposing his leg to the path of the boulder, which promptly rolled over his leg, balanced for just a second, then started to drop back down on his leg. He managed to pull his leg out in time, but the damage had been done. As a foot and ankle surgeon, he was in a good position to know the extent of his injury. He stood on it and, while it hurt, there was no shooting pain, indicating the bones were not broken. He could walk, just not very well. He made his way to the saddle and told us this, then told us that he wasn’t going to summit.

We figured that he wasn’t going to summit given his condition. The only question at this point was whether or not he was going to need help off the mountain. We asked him if he did, and he said no. He told us to summit but said he was going to keep moving so his leg didn’t stiffen up on him. We discussed options and decided that he would try to call his wife, Holly, on the plateau. I gave him my solar phone charger to get his phone working so he could make the call. He would head toward the plateau, call Holly, then hike as far as he could, hopefully getting off the mountain and to his car. Tom and I would summit then follow him.

There was another problem, however. We couldn’t see the trail to the plateau. I saw a trail just below the saddle, but it looked like it went to the right or south of the ridge and I thought it might work its way around Tempest Mountain’s face to the plateau. We didn’t see any other trails. So, we told Mark to go to the right and see if he could find a trail. He did, again staying high on the ridge.

Tom and I emptied our big packs and headed up toward the summit. About half way up the first boulder field toward the summit, we stopped for a breather and looked back down to see if we could see Mark. We couldn’t, but we did finally see a trail to the plateau – heading to the left of the ridge or north! It was the exact opposite of what we had told Mark. We were really bothered by this given his injury. We stopped for 10 minutes or so considering our options. We could head back down and try to find him, but if we did that we would probably be abandoning our attempt to summit entirely. I finally just decided to yell out and see if he would respond. I called for him and he did respond, even though we couldn’t see him. My first question was, “Where are you?” He called back, “To the left.” He had found the trail! I then asked if he needed help, “Do you need help?” I didn’t hear a response the first time, but the second time his response came back clearly, “No.”

We could also see some other people on the trail at this point – two hikers near the plateau and a few hikers in the saddle with a dog. Figuring that Mark was doing okay and that there were others around in case things took a turn for the worse, Tom and I continued up the boulder field toward the ridge. We aimed just to the south of the ridge, which was the wrong route and had to backtrack a bit. As I did, I noticed two guys coming up from the saddle. They were close enough at that point that I could yell to them so I told them to stay to their right toward the ridge. They then yelled up and asked if we needed help as they thought they heard us say that we did. I told them that we didn’t; we were yelling to a friend. They dropped one of their packs and continued up to meet us. They were planning on summitting but thought we had asked for help, so they were going to bring up some supplies but left them on the boulder field after we told them we were fine. We then worked together to get to the summit. They were younger, stronger, faster climbers, but had no ropes and their speed made them miss a couple of routes. From the top of the boulder fall, you have to climb down a bit then cross a snow bridge, which had a rope run across it to help. After the snow bridge, you climb two chimneys, both of which have anchors at the top as they are technical climbs. At the top of that ridge, you drop down one more time, then climb several more chimneys, including a couple of really difficult, exposed areas, but that gets you to the top. Working together, all four of us summitted around 4:00 pm without using ropes and harnesses.

Me on the summit.

We had brought a rope and harnesses and were planning on using them on the way down. The other two guys, Adam and Nathan, didn’t have ropes and decided they could hike down without them. We only stayed about 20 minutes on the summit as we knew we needed to get off to find Mark. Adam and Nathan left before us. Tom and I didn’t use a rope on the first chimney, but we did on the second and third. We then crossed to the last two and used a rope on those as well. This slowed us down a bit, but we felt pretty safe. For those planning on rapelling at the summit, the anchors that are in place are pretty robust and didn’t look particularly worn.

We made it back to the saddle around 6:00. We put our heavy packs back on and started up the trail toward the plateau. We reached the plateau around 7:00 pm and around 7:30 ran into the only other people we saw on the plateau – three individuals in two tents. We stopped to chat with them and they gave us some pretty poor directions to navigate the plateau and find the switchbacks. They also mentioned that they had seen Mark around 4:00pm and that he had told them he was headed to the car. Since the plateau is largely level, though there is no clearly discernible trail – just cairns marking waypoints – we made good time. We hiked until it got dark following cairns, then put on our headlamps – around 8:30 – and continued hiking. Since I had marked the bottom of the switchbacks on my GPS, we were able to target that location and hiked until about 10:00 pm. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that you actually have to stay more southeast than we did or you run into some cliffs that block the route to the switchbacks. At 10:00 pm we hit the cliffs that blocked our route. We literally saw cliffs on three sides of us – we had hiked out onto a cliff and, without day light, really couldn’t go any further. We hiked back up a couple hundred feet, found a relatively level and grassy spot, threw down the tent, and climbed in for the night. We had a hard time falling asleep, but got a little sleep. We felt bad that we hadn’t made it out all the way out because we figured Mark had and that he would have had to sleep in the car while waiting for us. But it wasn’t safe enough for us to continue.

At first light, around 6:00 am, we woke up, got out of the tent, and got our bearings. We realized that we were on cliffs overlooking the bottom of the switchbacks and we could see them. My GPS was sending us the right direction, we just didn’t realize we had to go around the cliffs in the dark. We packed up and started hiking around 7:00. We made okay time working our way around the cliffs and eventually started seeing cairns again. Around 7:30 we noticed something in the distance on a low ridge along our route. It looked kind of like a person waving a flag, but it wasn’t moving so we weren’t sure what it was. As we got closer, we began to realize that it was a person, and when we were within about 50 feet we realized it was Mark!

He asked us for water, then filled us in on what had happened. He initially made okay time crossing to the plateau and arrived there around 4:00 when he saw the other people on the plateau and got directions. He also got a cell phone signal and called Holly, telling her everything was alright. However, he hadn’t told us he was low on water and he didn’t have any iodine pills to treat water. By 4:00 pm he was so low he ended up stealing some water from a Nalgene bottle he found on the side of the trail. He continued for 2 more hours, but kicked a rock with his bad leg, causing him shooting pains, so he stopped. He was almost entirely out of water at this point and wasn’t sure how much further he could go or which direction since the cairns on Froze-to-Death Plateau aren’t very clear. So he stopped, then called Holly and told her his situation: he was semi-lost on Froze-to-Death Plateau, out of water, didn’t know where Tom and I were, and a boulder had crushed his leg. He needed help. She helped him get in touch with Search and Rescue and they made plans to send people and horses in to find him and bring him off the mountain.  However, given the time, they couldn’t send anyone until the next morning.  So, Mark had to sleep on the mountain in just his sleeping bag.  He was dehydrated, but he didn’t, despite the name of the plateau, freeze to death.

After we met up with him, we all started hiking and, despite his injured leg, we made okay time.  With Tom scouting ahead and me walking with Mark, we found the switchbacks and headed down.  We made it about half way down the switchbacks when we met up with two people from Search and Rescue.  They explained that the horses had gone up the Rosebud route and were on the plateau.  They had also sent two people up the Huckleberry route to find Tom and I.  They got on the radio and told everyone they had found us, then arranged to have the horses come get Mark.  Once Mark was safely with the Search and Rescue people, Tom and I took off, since we figured the horses would catch us.  We made good time and met up with the SAR people who had gone up the Huckleberry route and ended up hiking out from Mystic Lake with them.  They were very nice and told us some fun stories.  We made it to the car at 1:30; Mark arrived a half hour later on a horse.

So, what did we learn on this hike?  First, the Huckleberry route is NOT A SHORTCUT!  It is more scenic, but it is very rough terrain and is much more difficult than the standard route.  It’s also the same distance – roughly 12 miles ONE WAY; 24 miles round trip.  If you’re planning on taking several days to do Granite Peak, want a scenic route, and don’t mind hiking off trail over very rough terrain for hours and hours, try the Huckleberry route.  If you want the fastest, easiest route to the top, take the standard route up the switchbacks and across Froze-to-Death.

The summit can be done without ropes and harnesses.  Going up, ropes don’t actually make a whole lot of sense unless you have a lot of time and a good lead climber followed by amateur climbers.  The lead climber could carry the rope to the anchors and everyone else could be belayed up to the anchor spots.  Really, ropes make a lot of sense coming down.

Finally, Granite Peak, even with the short route, is a very challenging mountain.  We got lucky.

Panorama (not available)

But I have a few other videos.

Our Route (don’t follow it)

CA-Mount Whitney

Summit Date

8/16/2011 – around 8:20 am


Tom Triplett and Ryan Cragun

Trip Report

Due to a rather last minute work issue, Mark was unable to hike Mount Whitney with Tom and I.  With his blessing, Tom and I decided to still hike Mount Whitney.

We had decided on Mount Whitney as we had climbed most of the readily accessible mountains in the Intermountain West and the only ones we had left aside from Whitney were all rather technical.  As we don’t yet have much training on technical climbing (either over snow or using ropes), we decided we’d give Whitney a try.  We had tried to get a permit for the last three years to hike Whitney (they use a lottery system to allot permits – 60 day and 60 overnight permits per day), but had not won a permit.  However, we decided we’d try anyway hoping there would be at least 3 cancellations on the days we wanted to hike (Mark was still planning on going when we reasoned this out).  We had been tracking the permits using the Inyo National Forest’s website where they report how many permits were available on given days after the fact and, over the course of the summer, it seemed like there were at least a few every day.  So, it seemed like we had good odds.  Also, I ended up having a conference I was attending in Las Vegas the week after we had planned to hike, so the timing seemed right.  If we didn’t get a permit, we’d just choose a different hike in the area and try again a different time.

I called the permit office on the 13th just to make sure we knew where to go when we got there on the 14th to try to get a permit, but the woman I spoke with informed me that we could reserve a permit over the phone.  I asked her if there were any available for our target days (8/14-8/17) and she said there were 5 overnight permits available.  I jumped at the opportunity (thank you Ann!) and arranged a permit for Tom and me for 2 nights – 8/15-8/17.

Tom flew into Vegas a day early with his wife to have a little mini-vacation.  He rented the car we were going to use and picked me up on the 14th at the airport around 11:00.  We had to address some rental car issues before we could head to Lone Pine, CA (closest city to the trail head), and that set us back a little more than we had hoped, but we finally got on the road around 12:30.  About an hour into the drive Tom also got pulled over and was given a ticket. :(

The trip wasn’t starting all that well, but then our luck began to change.  Shortly after the ticket, we drove into Death Valley, which was pretty cool.  We stopped and got pictures by the Sea Level sign and saw another sign we decided we would stop by on our way back (see pic below).

We also saw one of the coolest things either of us had ever seen.  We were driving past Father Crowley Point in Death Valley when a fighter jet flew right over our car (maybe 400 or 500 feet is all), dropped into the valley that Father Crowley Point overlooks, and flew through the valley, banking two times, before flying out into the desert valley below.  It was like something straight out of a movie.  It was amazing!  It happened so fast we didn’t have time to do anything but watch, but we both saw it and were stunned at what we had just seen.

I arranged an after hours permit pickup with the permit station, which they probably do regularly as the process was quite painless.  We arrived at the office around 5:15, picked up the permit and headed into Lone Pine to stock up on food for our hike.  We then grabbed a bite to eat at a Mexican restaurant in town (pretty good food), then headed up to the Mount Whitney campground, hoping to find a campsite for the night.  As luck would have it, there was one spot left, which we gladly took.  We set up camp by around 7:00.

Around 7:45, with night falling and a day of hiking planned for the next day (plus the fact that I had only gotten 4 hours of sleep the night before), we decided to get ready for bed.  I walked up to the water pump to brush my teeth and then use the restroom.  Just as I came out of the outhouse, Tom ran up and said quietly but urgently, “Bear!”  Sure enough, a mid-sized black bear was walking right down the main road in the campground.  We watched it walk past us (about 30 feet away), down toward our camp, then back up to the camp above ours where a couple was eating dinner by lamplight and had, unfortunately, left the passenger-side door of their truck open.  The bear walked right up to the truck and climbed in like it had done it a million times before.  I then asked Tom if he had closed our bear box, which he then realized he had not.  He ran down to our camp, which was only about 100 feet from the outhouse and closed the bear box, just in time as the bear, foiled by a cooler that had been tied down in the truck, had climbed out and was lumbering straight for our camp.  I followed Tom down and watched as the bear walked around our camp and then headed down the main road toward another camp.  Tom tried to snap a photo, but it was too dark for his camera and all he got was a photo of darkness.  We went to bed shortly after that.

To recap day one, before we even started climbing: we had rental car issues, a ticket, a drive through Death Valley (lowest place in the US), saw a fighter jet fly through a canyon, and an encounter with a black bear in our camp.  Not a bad start!

We got up around 6:30, broke camp, readied our packs, then headed up to the trailhead.  Since we had not picked up our permit from an actual person at the ranger station, we had also not received any “wag bags,” which are bags that are used to carry human waste.  Inside the Whitney zone you are required to store your food in a bear proof canister and you are required to hike your waste back off the mountain.  We stopped at the Portal Store to make sure our permit was in order and they gave us a couple of wag bags, then we headed out.  We left at around 8:00 am, headed toward Trail Camp, which is 6 miles in and at about 12,000 feet in elevation.  The trailhead starts at about 8,000 feet.  We made pretty good time, stopping just a couple of times for photos and to adjust backpacks.

Ryan by a waterfall on the way up to Trail Camp

We arrived at Trail Camp at around 11:30.  Here is a photo at Trail Camp:

Tom at Trail Camp by our tent just after we arrived and set up camp

It took us about 3 1/2 hours to cover the 6 miles and gain 4,000 feet in elevation.  Trail Camp is at about 12,000 feet. We traveled faster than we thought we would and ended up having all afternoon and evening to kill.  Tom and I are busybodies who can’t really stand to not be doing something.  So, having that much free time was, well, awkward.  Luckily I did think to bring up two books I was reading, which kept me occupied for a while, but Tom wasn’t that interested in the books.  We also spent a good deal of time just watching as people arrived and left.  Trail Camp is the main staging area for attempts at the summit and was pretty busy.  There were probably 20 tents in the area around us (you can see a few in the photo above).  We also tried to eat to get our energy reserves up for our big hike the next day; I rarely have an appetite above 10,000 feet, so eating is a chore.  Otherwise, we just kind of sat around.  Oh, and while the weather was perfect (not a cloud in the sky), it was kind of chilly, but really warm in our tent, which made it hard to get comfortable.

We went to bed at 8:00 when the sun went down.  I woke up at 4:00 am (after 8 hours of restless sleep) and laid in my bag until about 5:15 when I heard our neighbors stir.  We didn’t want to get stuck behind anyone climbing to the summit, so I woke Tom up and we got ready then headed out.  We were on the trail around 5:50.  Here are some photos of what we saw as we got out of the tent to start hiking:

the moon above the ridge as we got out of our tent; this was looking West
the sun rising in the east as we got ready to summit Mount Whitney

We made good time heading up to the summit as well.  We stopped a couple of times on the switchbacks (supposedly 99 of them, but it’s impossible to keep track), where I snapped this shot of Tom:

Tom in the early morning light on the switchbacks with the moon in the background

This was also where we caught our first glimpse of Mount Whitney as it isn’t really visible from Trail Camp.  You can barely see the stone hut on Mount Whitney in this low resolution version of the photo, but it’s there:

the stone hut is right near the center of the photo; that is Mount Whitney from the switchbacks

The switchbacks are the hard part as you gain about 2,000 feet in elevation over 2 miles.  We managed to finish the switchbacks and make the ridge in 1 hour and 20 minutes.  It’s then 2 miles on the back of the peaks over fairly level but rocky terrain to the summit.  There was one spot where you have to traverse snow, but as a testament to the traffic on Whitney, there is a well-blazed trail:

the path through the snow just below the summit

We did that in about 1 hour and 10 minutes, reaching the summit at 8:20.  We passed four people heading down from the summit when we arrived and had the summit to ourselves for almost all 40 minutes we were there (unusual for highpoints).  Here are some photos:

Tom and me on the summit
Tom doing a handstand on the summit
brushing our teeth – a tribute to our missing comrade, Mark, who started the tradition
Tom by the stone hut near the summit

We ate some food, rested, took photos, and then headed out.  We left the summit around 9:00 am and headed back to Trail Camp.  Along the way, we probably passed 80 people or so.  Our early start and quick pace meant we didn’t get stuck behind people, which was nice.  We reached Trail Camp at 11:20, spent 40 minutes packing up and breaking camp, then headed down toward the trailhead.  We arrived at the trailhead at 2:20.

I turned my GPS tracking app on at the summit and let it run during our entire descent.  The battery on my phone ran out about a mile from the trailhead, but the resulting GPS map shows the trail from summit to almost the trailhead pretty accurately.  It also shows some of our speed statistics.  Our average moving speed on the way down was 2.9 mph, which is pretty good.  Our total moving time, from summit to trailhead, was 4 hours 40 minutes (just over 5 hours if you include our stop at Trail Camp to pack up).  Our ascent time total would be about 5 hours 50 minutes.  Some people do hike Mount Whitney in a single day, and if you’re in good shape, it does seem like you could do it in somewhere around 8 to 9 hours, round trip.  Here’s the GPS map:

From the trailhead, we headed down to Lone Pine and ate a very hearty late lunch at Carl’s Jr. (probably over 1,000 calories), then headed back toward Vegas.  We stopped in a couple of spots in Death Valley, including at this sign indicating the elevation at Furnace Creek of -190 feet below sea level.

-190 feet below sea level at Furnace Creek

That was around 5:30 or 6:00 pm.  So, we went from the highest point in elevation in the lower 48 states to near the lowest (the lowest is a bit lower than this) in about 9 hours.  From there we drove into Vegas.  Trip complete.


Directions from Las Vegas to the Trailhead