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Mt. Whitney

Looking towards Mt. Whitney in the distance! 
We climbed up 1,000 feet in 1 hour - over New Army Pass
Can you tell how much fun we're having?
Cold and wet, trying to dry out!
Dry and happy! 

In July of 2009, I crossed one big item off my bucket list. As I've mentioned, my middle name is Whitney, for Mt. Whitney. And because of this, it has always been a goal of mine to hike Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States at 14,497 feet elevation.

We decided to plan our trip for the summer of 2009. My Dad got a wilderness pass, and we decided to make it a 5 day backpacking trip, rather than a short couple days up Whitney Portal. And instead, we went over New Army Pass. It was so nice, we hardly saw anyone else during our our trip, where as the Whitney Portal trail is very congested.

It will always be one of the greatest memories I share with my parents. It was just the three of us, and we had a great time talking, taking in the scenery, and experiencing it together.

The back country of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is breathtaking, it was so nice being removed from the rest of the world for a few days. I felt so relaxed and like I truly had a vacation. Almost like I escaped my reality for a bit. It was both mentally and physically challenging in the best sense. I remember being so scared of altitude sickness, but my Dad tried to assure me that I was in good shape, and given the route we were taking, I should be pretty well acclimatized by the time we reached the summit of Whitney. And thankfully, I didn't struggle with altitude sickness at all.

There were a couple tough moments on our trip. The first was I believe on our second day of hiking. After a steep start over New Army Pass, we walked through beautiful meadows and forests. But a few miles before we reached our camp, we were hit with a torrential down pour. I mean A LOT of rain. It's never that fun to be out in the rain, but imagine walking uphill, in the pouring rain, with 30 pounds strapped to your back, knowing everything you have would be soaking wet. Therefore, even when the rain stopped, your clothes, sleeping bag, and tent would still be wet! Thankfully, once we got to camp it let up and we were able to hang our things to dry. It was definitely the low point of the trip, but otherwise, we had amazing weather and no setbacks.

The worst part about our experience with the rain was the loss of my Dad's camera. Sadly, shortly after we woke up and started our hike the next morning, it stopped working because of all the moisture from the day before. We were pretty bummed, thinking that after all the anticipation of this trip, we weren't going to be able to document it. But even without a camera, I can still remember the beautiful wildflowers we saw. Especially the Sky Pilots that were abundant on the way down the Whitney Portal switch backs, and the ptarmigans we saw frolicking near a stream (Thanks to Dad's journal we remembered what those were! Apparently it was a very rare sighting). All these memories I'll keep with me, even without pictures. We were however, able to shoot videos for some reason. So we have a classic video of us squished in our tiny tent, and another one on the summit. I should watch those next time I'm home...

The night before we reached the summit was one of my favorite memories. We camped at Guitar Lake. I don't know if it was the anticipation knowing, tomorrow we'd reach the top, or just the beautiful setting, but I really enjoyed that evening. Cooking our dinner of dehydrated Mac and Cheese Chili (it's actually good!) and visiting about what the morning would bring.

The morning we left to summit Whitney was an early one. My Dad had been watching the weather the previous days, and noticed that thunder clouds were coming in late morning. And because of the altitude, we needed to be off the summit by 11:00am in case a storm came in. I can't remember exactly what time we left, maybe 4:30 or 5:00am? But I remember really struggling with my pack that morning. It wasn't sitting right, and felt uncomfortable on the long, steep switch backs. But I was excited none the less.

Once we made it to the top of the ridge, we left our large packs behind, and carried only food and water for lunch, and started on the portion of trail along the ridge towards the summit. It's a beautiful but slightly intimidating part of the hike. There is a great view down to Guitar Lake (when you can finally see where it gets it's name), but there are also steep cliffs and drop offs on either side.

It was such a wonderful sense of accomplishment and excitement once we reached the top! I couldn't believe we made it. I think the first thing I did was sit down and inhale a candy bar. Naturally. As I sat on the summit taking it all in, I was saddened by one thing. As a watched other hikers snap photos, I was bummed we wouldn't have a photo of the three of us on the summit. Until I realized, DUH, let's just take out our memory card and put it in someone else's camera for a minute! Thankfully, we found someone else with a camera that fit our memory card (back when they weren't all the small SD cards)! I am SO happy that we now have a photo to document our day, standing on top of my namesake together!

Summit of Mt. Whitney - July 2009
14,497 Feet Elevation

I will always cherish those days we spent together. I'm so lucky that my parents are so fun and active, and passed that sense of adventure on to me. 

I'm so glad we decided to do a longer hike, and not go up Whitney Portal. It was my least favorite part of the trip. Very steep switchbacks for what seemed like hours down to the lake where we would spend our last night. Only to wake up to more steep switchbacks on the final day of hiking. I don't know if it was 5 days of hiking or the lack of a shower and real food, but I was grumpy that last day! Thank goodness for that burger waiting for us at bottom! 

Now, Andrew want to plan a trip up Whitney together next year!


  1. Wow you are a real hiking girl! How cool is that. Good job!

  2. I LOVE that you did that with your parents! After being in CA and taking a trip with my family and seeing Yellowstone, Sequoia and Redwood National Forests I'm dreaming of coming back and actually taking a vacation to hike. I've never been backpacking, but Russ has out in Colorado and I think it would be such a great and memorable experience. And I'm so glad you all thought of switching out the sim card!
    When we do plan our trip, I'll probably email you and ask you a million prep questions - ok? ;)

  3. This is so awesome Theresa! I think Sam has climbed this before with his dad, but I might be mixing it up with Yosemite. Either way, how fun that you got to do this with your parents. AND you left at 5am to go up to the summit...good job girl! These memories will last a lifetime!

  4. I loved reading this story! It sounded incredible! You parents are amazing for taking that "journey" with you! Love it! Now this would be a vacation I can wrap my head around!

  5. Such an amazing adventure. It looks so beautiful!

  6. These pictures are beautiful!! So jealous, I would love to do this!!!

    Sincerely Miss Ash

  7. super jealous of this! i really need to do more hiking.

  8. this is gorgeous! what a special adventure for you guys. i def see why you like hiking so much!

  9. WOW GIRL! I decided to go through some of your old hiking posts and this one TAKES THE CAKE!! So jealous and I would LOVE to do this. Need to do some research. I'm not a backpacker for sure but love days hikes.
    Your parents rock and how awesome that you were able to experience this with them. I hope you have that last picture framed in your house!!


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