Saturday, July 12, 2008

Friday, July 4th: Whitney Portal to Lone Pine Lake

Whitney Portal to Lone Pine Lake (Point 1 to Point 2)
~8300' to ~10,000'
2.8 mi (~1700 elevation gain)
Began Trail ~1322 hr
Arrived at LPL ~1653 hr

Backpacking Notes: A very leisurely hike through Mid- to High-Montane elevational zones to snap wildflower pictures, gain altitude, and be ready to start into the Whitney Zone on the 5th.

The view toward Lone Pine from increasing elevations on the Main Mt. Whitney Trail.
(Click on any photograph to enlarge.)

We woke up in the morning (always a good thing when that happens) and talked to the Campground Host and a Ranger who were working on the site next to us. They asked if we'd had any bears in camp during the night, but we hadn't. They told us a mama bear with two cubs had been at the upper campground, looking for food. [We later heard there are currently 6 bears active in the campgrounds, so it is really imperative visitors to the area use bear storage lockers (and bear cans on the trail).]

We got enough information from the Host to start figuring out how we were going to camp that night. With all the sites there reserved for the 4th, our only option in the Portal itself was to sleep overnight in the Hiker's Parking (one-night camping) area, which our permits allow us to do. DH also suggested we go sleep in a motel in Lone Pine, or go back to the Lone Pine Campgrounds, but I wanted to stay at the higher altitudes to continue acclimatizing. Since we actually had a couple of plans for the night, we didn't worry; we just had a leisurely morning, packing up slowly and ensuring our bodies were adjusting to the 8300' elevation. We enjoyed breakfast (grain bars and Zipfizz, etc.) and the view. I felt my normal nausea that I've had throughout this cancer journey, but no headache or anything to indicate problems with the altitude.

The Host told us we didn't have to be out of the campsite until 1 pm, but we were loaded up lo-o-ong before then. We drove over to the Hiker's Parking—already full except for a handicapped spot or two. DH convinced me that where I normally don't like to use my placard and take a spot from others who need it more than me, here it would be more appropriate to use a handicapped spot and NOT take a regular spot from others! I looked around; he was right. There were no cars parked in handicapped spots. I saw nobody in wheelchairs or with walkers or canes. I guess not too many handicapped people go hiking at Whitney Portal. (You don't see people smoking, either. Hikers tend to be healthy people.) So we parked Big Blue in a handicapped spot and found room in some of the bear storage lockers to stash the food and smelly stuffs not going on the trail with us. Other people's stuff was in all of them, so we parceled ours out amongst all of them. DH noted some of the bear lockers weren't properly closed!!! We don't think it will take the bears long to figure THAT out! So he made doubly sure our stuff was stashed in lockers that were able to properly close.

I looked at the maps and convinced DH that we should start up the trail and sleep just outside the Zone at Lone Pine Lake rather than sleep at the Portal. Having just stashed our non-trail stuff in the bear lockers, it was rather easy to convince him. So we packed up our backpacks and headed up the hill to the WPS and trailhead. I hit the outhouse for one last stop (long time before I'd see even an outhouse again) and made a last-minute purchase of Dramamine and a mosquito net hat at the WPS before we set out. DH's phone showed we were officially at the trail head at ~1 pm on the 4th of July.

Mt. Whitney Trail. Today is Point 1 to Point 2.

The Mt. Whitney Zone. Lone Pine Lake is just outside the Zone.

Last minute needs are available at the Whitney Portal Store.

Mt. Whitney Trail head.

We took advantage of the scale at the trail head to weigh our packs (and ensure I was within the agreed-upon limit). My pack came in at 13 pounds, which means it was ~10 pounds before I added water (and would be trending down toward 10 pounds as I walked and drank). Anyway, that's my rationalization; coupled with the fact that I KNEW I had carried 18 lb in May. DH's pack, which had some of my stuff as well as all the mutual items, came in right at 50 pounds when I put my little pillow on top of it. [I can sleep on the ground, even with my old bones, but I need a pillow!] The bear can was without a doubt the heaviest thing we were carrying, but we sure weren't going without it!

Proof for my doctors of my pack weight (I was at 10 lb before I added the water; it's 13 with)...

...which means that DH had to pick up my slack: 50 lb!

We set off on the trail, and the grade is noticeable right from the start. It's not a strenuous hike, though, at that lower elevation. As a matter of fact, it's a darn nice walk in the woods through mid- to high-montane elevational zones with tons of lovely wildflowers. How come I never knew that?!? I'd always been familiar with that moonscape [from Trail camp to summit] and not how lovely the rest of the hike is! Water frequently crossed the trail on this leg, and I would wet my bandanna and put it on my head under my visor to help with the afternoon heat. It was a warm day, but not overly hot; and we decided to just enjoy the nice walk while taking tons of pictures (mostly of wildflowers).

The trail from the Portal to Lone Pine Lake passes through mid- to high-montane elevational zones...translation? The wildflowers are still out in July! How come you never read about how beautiful this part of the trail is?

The trail has a grade to it right from the start. Count on an average of a 10-percent grade. I saw some switchbacks with better-than-a-45-deg-angle to them!

View toward Lone Pine from start of trail.

Scarlet penstemon (or else it's scarlet gilia).

Applegate's paintbrush.

A beavertail cactus in bloom shows the transition from the desert environment of the Lone Pine area to the montane one of the Sierra's higher elevations.

Probably a bush monkeyflower.

John Muir Wilderness. You still need a permit to camp at Lone Pine Lake for that reason.

We enjoyed a picnic lunch at ~2716 m elevation, about the halfway mark for today's hike. Neither of us were experiencing any problems whatsoever with the altitude, and the leisurely pace and glut of water ensured we didn't get dehydrated at all. The view and the wildflowers kept us entertained the entire way. The waterfall at the Portal was visible from varying elevations until we had nearly reached Lone Pine Lake. But the day was so sunny and bright, my camera never did "read" the waterfall right to show you what the view really was like. Cameras just don't do reality justice, in so many ways. That's why I recommend you get out there and see it for yourselves!

Hard to tell in this bright light, but there's a waterfall in the middle of this picture!

The last look back at the Portal/Lone Pine before Lone Pine Lake.

When you reach this grove of trees, you're almost at the Lone Pine Lake turn.

We finally started hitting some switchbacks; we'd really only had 3 true ones so far. But now we were getting some elevation, and true switchbacks were coming faster now. Some had outrageous angles! After something like 22 true switchbacks, we finally reached the turnoff for Lone Pine Lake. A very brief walk through the trees, and we were there.

Lone Pine Lake was a beautiful sight to behold! I plopped myself down and took off my boots; even the cold sand of the beach felt good on my feet. The lake water was, of course, melted snow and therefore frigid--no way could you swim in it. But it sure helped take some of the swelling out of my feet. DH scouted about and located us a fairly flat, fairly sandy area an appropriate (>100 ft) distance from the lake with a large boulder for a "headboard."

Lone Pine Lake.

I soaked my feet in the lovely water at this beach.

Check out this Infinity Edge!

Our campsite at LPL.

The view of the lake from our campsite.

A ranger was throwing boulders below us, and DH went to help out. He was breaking up illegal fire rings. The ranger was planning to camp at Outpost Camp for the night, which is inside the Whitney Zone and about a mile further up the trail from where we were. So after the ranger and the last dayhikers left, we had the entire lake area to ourselves (except one lone tent in the distance).

We went down to a point on the lake, and ate our dinner of homemade jerky and trailmix with M&Ms while watching the sunset from there. It was heavenly. DH used our water filter to replenish our supplies with water from the lake. A golden squirrel came out to see if we would offer any food, but stayed to eat his own food when we didn't offer any.

Sunset starts across the lake.

Half in shadow; half in light.

The setting sun lights up the distant peak.

A golden squirrel joined us on the point, but had to find his own food.

Snowfield remains attest to the cool temperatures.

The temperature noticeably and rapidly cooled once we were in the shadows of the sunset, so I made a pitstop behind a large boulder and headed for my mummy bag. The skeeters came out in full force at sundown, so we slathered up with herbal repellent as well as our trustworthy Cutter's. I put my last-minute-purchase mosquito-net hat on for good measure and peace of mind, and settled down to watch the stars come out...and fall asleep. Which I did rather quickly!

The view from my mummy bag as the sun sets over the lake.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your comment about most hikers not smoking remined me of the backpack my brother and I took back in 1970 to Evolution Lake. That is on the John Muir Trail from Whitney but on the west side of the mountains.

We were camped at 10,990' next to the lake. On a day trip we hiked higher up the trail toward Whitney to the next lake (can't recall the name just this minute).

But anyway, we met two or three young hikers coming down the trail from the Whitney side. They stopped and talked for a few minutes.

One was smoking a cigarette which kept going out and he re-lit it several times (we were a few hundred feet over 11,000' here).

After they went on their way my brother commented about we were so high that guys cigarette kept going out. I answered, "Yeah, it can be hard to keep those marijuana joints going!"

My brother asked, "Was that marijuana?" And I responded, "Yeah but at this altitude I don't know why he needs it. I'm high enough from lack of oxygen."