CA-Mount Whitney

Summit Date

8/16/2011 – around 8:20 am

Party

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.

Panorama

Directions from Las Vegas to the Trailhead

DE-Ebright Azimuth

Summit Date

March 5th, 2011; around 1:00pm

Party

Ryan Cragun (+ some random guy who was sitting on a bench and all the people who were driving past at the time)

Trip Report

I drove down to Ebright Azimuth from High Point, NJ, which I had visited earlier that day.  This highpoint is, quite literally, one you drive over.  The highpoint sign is at one edge of a park, with no other indicator of a highpoint.  When I parked nearby and walked toward the sign, there was a guy sitting on a bench right next to the marker with his dog.  I struck up a conversation and asked him if a lot of people stopped by here.  He laughed and said, “Yeah.  A lot of people drive up, snap a picture, then leave.  I have no idea why.”  I explained that they were likely highpointers.  He laughed and made a joke about how there wasn’t much to see here.  He walked his dog to the highpoint almost everyday. I then snapped a picture and left. ;)

here’s a view of the highpoint from across the street; and the guy with his dog
me by the highpoint sign

Panorama

Directions from Philadelphia, PA

NJ-High Point

Summit Date

March 5th, 2011; around 8:00 am

Party

Ryan Cragun

Trip Report

I drove from Hartford, CT to the highpoint.  For some reason I thought highpoints in New England would be accessible and not particularly cold in early March.  I was wrong.  High Point was covered in snow and the entire hill was blanketed in fog when I arrived.  It was also bitterly cold – with the wind whipping past it was probably below zero.  It was the coldest I was during my entire trip.  And, of course, the tower on the summit is closed during the winter, so I could only walk around it.  I did so, quickly, snapped a photo and took a panorama, then left.  Here’s a photo of me in front of the fog covered highpoint tower:

me in front of the high point tower

Panorama

This is a panorama from in front of the entrance to the tower.  It was freezing, the wind was blowing hard, and the fog made it impossible to see anything.  Ergo, not the best panorama ever:

Directions

The directions are from Port Jervis, NY, which is just across the state line:

RI-Jerimoth Hill

Summit Date

March 4th, 2011; around 4:45 pm

 

Party

Ryan Cragun

 

Trip Report

I was doing some work in Hartford, CT, and decided I wanted to see a little bit of the surrounding area.  As I hadn’t done any of the highpoint in the area, I figured I’d give it a whirl and see what I could see.  Despite it being March, there was still a lot of snow (I picked one of the snowiest years), but I was determined to give it a try anyway.  Straight from the airport, I picked up my rental car and drove to the highpoint.  My guidebook said that it was on private property and that it was only open to highpointers a couple of times a year.  It turns out that is no longer true.  I pulled up by the highpoint sign, and while I was shooting a photo by it, I noticed another sign.  Here I am by the highpoint sign:

me by the road sign indicating where the highpoint is

Luckily, I drove in from the west.  There is a similar sign a hundred feet or so down the road coming from the east.  If I had stopped by the sign on the east, I would have missed this second sign that is about 15 feet off the road and marks the trailhead to the highpoint:

map to highpoint; trailhead marker

If you look close, it says that the highpoint is open to the public everyday from 8am to 4pm.  It was 4:45, but I’d flown a thousand miles and driven 60 miles to get here, so I went in anyway.  From the trailhead, it’s maybe a 1/4 mile to the highpoint.  The trail isn’t all that clearly marked, but others had been there before, so I simply followed their tracks.  You walk through some woods, then walk into an open space and there is a sign that indicates that you’re at Jerimoth Hill. Here I am by the sign:

me by the highpoint marker

About 3/4ths of the way to the highpoint, just to the right of the trail, there is a rock with the USGS marker embedded in it.  It took me a few minutes to find it, but it’s there.

There isn’t much of a view at the highpoint as it is a wooded area.  The panorama below shows the view.

Panorama

This is a panorama of the open area by the highpoint indicator:

And here is a panorama from the USGS marker:

 

Directions
These are directions from Killingly, CT, which is about 4 miles west of the highpoint:

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TX-Guadalupe Peak

Summit Date

August 15th, 2010

Party

Tom Triplett, Mark Woolley, and Ryan Cragun

Trip Report

We didn’t hike a state highpoint in 2009 as traveling to one from where we were all living was a bit too far.  But due a recent move for Mark (to Arizona), driving to Texas to hike Guadalupe Peak made sense.  Tom and I flew in on the 13th, spent the night at Mark’s place, then we drove to the campground at the trailhead on the 14th.  Here’s a photo of Guadalupe Peak Mark took on the drive in.  This is about 20 to 30 minutes west of the trailhead:

Tom in front of Guadalupe Peak, which is the peak furthest to the right; El Capitan juts out to the right of the peak (email Tom to ask him what he was doing out there)

We spent the night at Pine Spring Campground, which is right by the trailhead.  We had cell reception there, and I was even able to get internet access on my phone (which allowed me to download a Risk-like game for us to occupy our time in the evening – no fires allowed). The night was somewhat uneventful, but had a little commotion.  We only had a 2-person tent, and Mark volunteered to sleep out under the stars.  Temperature and weather wise, that probably would have been fine (and the lack of light pollution meant the stars were awesome).  But bugs-wise, it was a bad move.  Mark was getting eaten alive and it was too hot to slide all the way into his sleeping bag, so he ended up moving to the car in the middle of the night and spent the night in the car.

Mark woke Tom and I up fairly early, just as the first indications of light were peaking over the horizon (probably around 4:30 local time).  We grabbed everything and threw it into the car, geared up, and hit the trail.  Here we are at the trailhead:

Tom, Mark, and Ryan at the trailhead; it was still pretty dark when we started our hike

The hike starts out fairly level, then runs into some switchbacks as you gain elevation.  We were headed up the switchbacks when the sun broke over the horizon, necessitating us taking a few pictures:

panorama of the sun rising from the eastern slope of Guadalupe (click to enlarge)
Mark in front of the rising sun on the switchbacks

We made decent time and the hike was not particularly challenging.  Apparently the trail is horse-friendly, but there are parts that I would not want to take a horse on, as the trail is literally cut into a cliff face with rather steep drops, like this one:

Ryan and Tom on a cliff face in the morning sun

We stopped a couple times to catch our breath, but the hike was actually moderate enough that we were able to hold a pretty good conversation up the mountain.  We contemplated hiking out to El Capitan from the summit, but the trails diverge near the campground, so we opted not to. However, we had good views of El Capitan from Guadalupe Peak:

El Capitan from just below the summit of Guadalupe Peak

We actually summited in just over 2 hours.  I tried to use my phone’s GPS to track our route, and it worked on the way up, but died just after we left the summit on the way done.  According to my GPS map, our total moving time was about 2 hours and 10 minutes (which probably includes about 10 minutes of the descent).  We spent over an hour on the summit.  Here are some summit photos:

Ryan pointing out the mini-watermelon Tom carried to the top; unfortunately it wasn't very good

While we were on the summit, some clouds rolled in from the southeast. They didn’t look very menacing, and it was cool to be above the clouds, but they did prompt us to leave a little sooner than we would have otherwise so as not to get caught in a storm.  Here’s a photo showing us above the clouds:

The three of us at the summit, above the clouds
the summit marker, with one of our shirts airing out on it
panorama from the summit looking west (click to enlarge)
panorama from the summit looking east (click to enlarge)

We took a few more photos on the way down, but I really liked this one of Mark as he was on a promontory and it looked very cool:

Mark looking out over the valley to the east of the peak

We were off the mountain by about 10 am.  We saw just three other people on the trail on the way up, and they had hiked up to a primitive campground the evening before (we saw them heading out when we arrived at the campground).  On the way down we probably passed 20 or 30 people who were on their way up.  It was getting fairly hot at around 10 am, so I think we made the right decision to hike it very early, as we had great weather and the trail to ourselves.

Here’s the GPS map of the trail from my phone application:


View Guadalupe Peak in a larger map

I typically include a map to the trailhead, but the above GPS map shows where the trailhead is exactly, so you can use that.