Archive for category Highest Peaks
Twin Lakes, CO (Elevation: 9700’)
We would have liked to stay in Salida longer, but the summer temps, even at 7,000’, were starting to climb into the 90’s. So we moved on the Twin Lakes Colorado at 9,700’.
If you are familiar with the notorious Leadville 100 trail run or the Leadville 100 MTB race, then Twin Lakes will be familiar as one of the stops/aid stations runners and bikers resupply before heading over Hope Pass at 12,600’.
We initial boondocked at Lake Creek Dispersed camping area on the west side of Twin Lakes. This was a lovely pull out area with room for 10-12 RV’s with terrible connectivity. What we gave up in connectivity we gained back in proximity to the Willis Gulch trailhead, just 3/10ths of a mile away.
Willis Gulch offered access to the Colorado trail, the Continental Divide trail, Hope Pass and a 9-mile round trip hike to the restored 1880’s community of Interlaken.
The Interlaken Hotel complex was started in 1879 as a lakeside resort. It was considered a top destination in Colorado in its time with tavern, pool hall and a unique 6-sided outhouse.
Unfortunately Interlaken lost its attraction when Twin Lakes was dammed for irrigation purposed around the turn of the century. People considered the shallow waters of the lake a breeding ground for malaria and the hotel fell into disrepair until 1979 when the Bureau of Reclamation recorded and stabilized the community.
Today you can access Interlaken by hiking trails or boat.
After three days at Lake Creek camping area we jumped in the truck to look for some connectivity and found the most amazing campsite of our 4-½ years on the road.
Twin Lakes View dispersed area is on top of a mountain on the north side of Twin Lakes. There are several areas to camp on this mountain and it’s VERY popular in the summer. Sites are plentiful…if you are small and nimble or tent camping. But larger rigs will find it challenging to find a level, accessible site that isn’t occupied.
The day we were doing recon we took our camping chairs to hold a site in case we found one that would work for our big girl. As luck would have it a camper was packing up in an amazing site. So we left our chairs and raced back to relocate the RV.
WHAT. A. SPOT.
Not only did we have screaming fast Wi-Fi and stunning views, we were at the south trailhead for Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado.
Mt. Elbert (the second highest peak in the continental US) was on our list of peaks to bag at 14,440’. This strenuous 11-mile round-trip hike starts at 9,800’ and climbs 4,600’ to the summit.
There is parking at the trailhead, but if you have a high clearance 4X4 vehicle you can knock off 2 miles by driving to the “Upper” trailhead.
Getting to the upper trailhead was nerve racking, even in our GMC 2500 diesel 4X4 truck. Especially when we accidentally passed the trailhead taking ourselves about a mile too far down a sloppy, narrow, shear drop-off forestry road. Yikes!
Hiking to Mt Elbert was much more enjoyable that Shavano. The trail was more gradual and less rocky, except for the last mile. Sections were so steep we used our hands in some areas to climb. We crossed snowfields and noticed that new trails are being cut in to make this climb a bit easier.
While camped at Twin Lakes we were situated just across the street from Mt Elbert Forebay. There is a lovely level 3-mile trail around the entire reservoir with an eagle’s nest on the southwest shoreline.
We loved everything about this location and can’t wait to get back there next summer!
Leadville, CO (Elevation 10,152’)
As the highest incorporated city in the US, Leadville has a rich past in gold, silver, lead, zinc and molybdenum.
And if mining wasn’t enough it had its share of western characters as well.
Dock Holliday spent his lasts days served as a lawman in Leadville. Buffalo Bill died here of pneumonia. The Unsinkable Molly Brown moved to Leadville at the age of 18 and later survived the sinking of the Titanic. Poker Alice learned to play poker in Leadville and was a sought after dealer that liked smoking cigars while wearing pretty dresses.
Un-like a lot of mining towns out west that experienced boom and bust in the 1,800’s, Leadville actually managed to hang on to mining up until 1983, when the Climax Mine was finally closed.
In an attempt to save the town, the Leadville 100 trail run was started in 1983 to boost tourism.
The LT100 or “Race Across the Sky” has a cult following with thousands of irrational runners applying for 1600-ish slots to run a course with 15,600 feet of elevation change, at elevations ranging from 9,200-12,620 feet.
In most years, fewer than half who start the race actually complete it within the 30-hour time limit.
A LT100 MTB mountain bike race was added in 1994.
We showed up a week before the LT100 with the hopes of pacing our friend and “Leadville Legend”, Marge Hickman. Marge holds the woman’s record for number of Leadville finishes of fourteen.
Since being in Colorado this summer Jeff ran the entire Leadville 100 course in sections to train for his responsibilities as a pacer. But after Marge published a book about the start of this iconic race that differed from the current race director’s recollection, Marge was dismissed from the race.
Not to be deterred, Jeff jumped into the final 25 miles of the race to pace some random strangers and got a small taste of this iconic race.
We absolutely loved the little town of Leadville and it’s sporty vibe. It’s another place we would like to return to in the future.
Lake Tahoe (Elevation: 6,225’)
After Leadville we allowed ourselves 6 weeks to meander to Southern California for our camp host position at Doheny State Beach at Dana Point, CA.
We raced across western Colorado into Utah in the heat of summer, so we opted to stay at RV parks in order to run the air conditioner.
We made a quick stop in Reno to pick up some new Battle Born lithium batteries on our way to northern California to camp for 2 weeks at Jeff’s sisters house. Our plan was to accomplish two things. Install the new batteries and have the fifth wheels axels aligned at All Wheel in Redding CA.
It’s always a joy to stay at Jeff’s sisters, especially since they have plentiful tools, 50amp service, fresh eggs, blueberries and two Airedales.
Once we had our projects done we headed to the South end of Lake Tahoe for the Tahoe 100k.
Last year Jeff competed in this race and missed a cut off, giving him a DNF for the race. He redeemed himself this year completing this race in 17hours.
Mt Whitney (14,505’)
Two years ago I had a failed attempted of summiting Mt Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 and the highest peak in California.
It was a painful lesson in preparation, especially when I had to turn around within 1 ½ mile of the summit.
Since we were passing through the Alabama hills on our way to SoCal I decided to give this beast another shot…pending my ability to snag a permit.
We had left Tahoe early the next morning after Jeff’s race and put in a long day of driving to Lone Pine, CA. Planning a 4-day stay, I had hoped for a couple days rest in preparation to attempt to summit.
I had borrowed a tent from a friend and planned to hike the 22-mile round trip with 6,100’ of elevation gain in two days. The first day start a leisure morning and hike 6-miles to Trail Camp, relax, eat and sleep, then head for the summit early the next morning, turn around and hike all the way back down.
Painful lesson #2 in preparation to summit Mt. Whitney…check your equipment well in advance of said hike!
The awesome lightweight tent I had borrowed only included the rain flap… but no tent. YEP! No tent.
Forget the tent and camp out and leave on the hike at 3am to summit in one day. Once I got my brain wrapped around a 13-14hr hike I was all in.
But after checking on-line for a permit our first day in Lone Pine there was only one permit available…as long as I could start my hike by midnight…that night.
Drive up to Whitney Portal after dinner, sleep in the truck for a few hours then start my hike at 11:59pm and summit in one day.
Next post…Mt. Whitney. Why do you hate me so?
We’ve been bouncing around above 6000’ since May. The warmer the temps the higher we go.
That’s the beauty of living mobile. Too warm, move north or to a higher elevation. Too cold, time to head south and back to sea level.
Las Vegas, NV (Elevation: 2,001’)
We started our spring in Las Vegas for the Mt Charleston Marathon and Half Marathon. Our running group from NW Arkansas was bringing around 100 folks to the event. Since we needed to be in Vegas for the National Hardware Show about that time it only made sense to join in on the fun!
We arrived in Vegas about a week before the event and made a trip out to Red Rock Canyon for a training run. We’ve never been fans of Las Vegas, but the Red Rock Canyon could certainly change our minds. Spectacular red canyon views, safe roads for cycling and tons of trails to hike or run. It is certainly a special place!
The Mt Charleston race was a fun but very hot race. What made this event enjoyable was the route was completely downhill.
Busses transported us up to Mt Charleston in the wee hours of the morning. Temps were cold when we started. But by the time we crossed the finish line people were dropping like flies from the heat. So many people needed medical help that the race has now been moved a week or two earlier to try to avoid another disaster.
Williams, AZ (Elevation: 6,700’)
As the temperatures were already getting into the 90’s in Vegas we moved to Williams, AZ. We had a week until we needed to be in Flagstaff for Overland West Expo, so we picked a new BLM site to kill some time.
Big open meadows to camp and plenty of trails for running, all within a few miles of the quaint little town of Williams.
Williams is on Historic Route 66 and is considered the Gateway to The Grand Canyon and houses the southernmost terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway. Williams was considered the last holdout for Hwy 40 to bypass Route 66.
We made a quick trip to the Grand Canyon for Easter Sunday sunrise service and stuck around for breakfast at the Bright Angel Lodge. The Grand Canyon is always special no matter how many times we have been there.
Farmington, NM (Elevation: 5,393’)
After Williams and Flagstaff, we decided to move on to New Mexico. We haven’t spent time here, except to get from Arkansas to Arizona. We kept hearing about a BLM campground in Farmington, NM that just opened.
We thought we were beyond frigid temperatures, but the closer we got to Farmington the more unsettled the weather. Rain turned to sleet and snow and when we turned onto the dirt road for our final 3 miles to the campground, we were not sure we could make it. Thank goodness for 4-wheel drive, because without it we never would have made it to the muddy dirt road to Brown Springs OHV Recreation Area.
As we pulled in we were greeted by 4 of our fellow Xscapers RV Club members. Not knowing they were there, it was a nice surprise to see them! One thing we have learned after 4 years of full-timing, we usually run into someone we know.
We had a cold and rainy start to our stay, but the clouds moved out and the temperature rose over our 14-day stay.
This first come first serve campground is completely free with 11 designated campsites and pit toilet, but no hookups or dump station. Each site was beautifully landscaped with fire pit and covered picnic tables. The grand opening of the campground was the week before and only filled up over the weekends.
There are OHV trails all over this place and we enjoyed trail running to our heart’s content. One downside was the OHV activity, especially over the weekends, which brought in a ton of loud folks who didn’t feel it necessary to pick up their trash. Every trail run we went on we picked up as much trash as we could carry. Mostly alcohol bottles and cans littered the trails. Occasionally responsible adults threw out the kid’s juice bottles too. You want to start them young, right?
If you make it to Farmington be sure to plan a trip to Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area 50 miles south, also known as the Bisti Badlands.
The unique landscape looks alien in nature, and is like nothing we have ever seen. We saw fossils, hoodoos, petrified wood, dried lake beds and the famous “cracked eggs”. It’s definitely worth a day trip to explore this expansive area accessible only on foot!
Taos, NM (Elevation: 6,969’)
After Farmington, we moved on to Taos, NM. Taos is a charming little town with a rich history of conquests, revolts, raids, treaties, and wars. Finally becoming a US territory in 1850 and a state in 1912 it is now home to a booming art community.
We took a trip to the Rio Grand River Gorge that carves an amazing canyon into its flat landscape just west of town. Little specks of rafters could be seen from the top.
Crossing over the Gorge we also toured the eco/self-sustaining community called The Earthship Biotecture. They specialize in solar, water catchment and recycling and walls made of dirt-filled tires and glass bottles. Water was first captured from rain and snowmelt to be used from showers and washing dishes. This wastewater was then used to flush toilets then filtered to provide water for drip irrigation systems in greenhouses to water plants and vegetables.
It was an impressive, completely sustainable community.
While in Taos we planned on hiking the highest peak in NM, Wheeler Peak at 13,159’. But inquiring at the local Outdoor store, we learned the Wheeler Peak was still covered in late season snow. Instead, we opted for the more elevation friendly Devisadero Loop Tail just on the edge of town. It was an easy 5.7-mile loop and had beautiful views of Taos.
While in Taos we stayed at the quaint Hotel Luna Mystica. Hotel Luna is actually a vintage RV rental “hotel” with a dirt parking lot in back for dry RV and tent camping. There is room for a good 100+ RV’s so they do not take reservations. Reservations are required for vintage RV rentals.
Be sure to check out the brewery next-door at the “mothership” where they serve up great food!
Mosca, CO (Elevation: 7,559’)
Mosca contains the highest sand dunes in North America, The Great Sand Dunes. The Great Sand Dunes became a National Park in 2004.
The dune is a fascinating ecosystem of recycled sand that gets kicked up by high southwesterly winds that push sand up east against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. During storms, the wind shifts in the opposite direction pushing the sand back west. This back and forth forces the sand upward, creating the dunes. It’s suggested that there really isn’t any “new” sand, just the same old sand being pushed around by the wind.
Medano Creek runs at the base of the dunes and is used as a “beach” by the locals. While there, we saw hundreds of families set up beach toys and pop-up tents to spend the day at the creek. It’s very shallow but can run strong and cold. You can rent sandboards and sleds at the visitor center for sand surfing and sledding.
Another worthwhile side hike is to Zapata Falls. This 30′ waterfall flows into a narrow crevasse south of Great Sand Dunes National Park. Depending on where you park it’s either a short .4-mile up to 4-mile hike to the falls with the last 400′ through freezing cold water. Take a hiking pole for stability in the water and prepare for the biggest brain freeze you’ve ever experienced!
The falls are not completely visible from…well anywhere. Even after hiking through the creeks to the base of the falls we could only see the small bottom portion. A bit disappointing but still glad we did it.
Buena Vista, CO (Elevation: 7,965’)
We made a stopover in Buena Vista CO on our way to Denver for the Outdoor Retail Show. From the moment we rolled into “BV” (as the locals say) we were in L.O.V.E. Getting its start from rich agriculture and mining, BV is a flourishing summer tourist destination on the Arkansas River Headwaters.
Many of the downtown buildings date back to the 1880-1890s, giving this town an amazing sense of history and resilience. Right from downtown, you have miles of mountain biking and hiking trails along the Arkansas River. And the river offers kayaking, white water rafting, and paddleboarding.
After running the Midland Trail, the old Midland Railroad line, we had an amazing lunch at the Simple Café downtown.
After studying the very expensive house market we decided that we might plan to spend 3 months here next summer at one of the local RV parks. Monthly RV Park rates average about $500-700/month, much cheaper than rent or mortgage payment in this pricey little mountain town.
Salida, CO (Elevation: 7,083’)
After a week’s stay at Bear Creek County Park in Denver, we headed back through BV on our way to Salida. We were attending the Xscapers 4thof July Convergence. Salida is another neat little Colorado mountain town with all the charm that comes with the wild west of the 1880s.
After the convergence at the Chaffee Fairgrounds, we moved 5 miles down the road to the Shavano BLM area. Once relocated we used this location to bag our first two Colorado 14’ers…Mt. Shavano (14,231’) and Tabeguache Peak (14,162’).
This was a brutal Class 2, 12-mile round trip with 5,600 feet elevation gain that took us 9 hours to complete. Tabeguache Peak is only accessible via Mt. Shavano, so if you are going to do one you might as well do both.
The trail to these two peaks is a relentless steep uphill battle that gets no reprieve what so ever. No flat strolls through pretty little meadows. No rollers for a bit of recovery. No switchbacks to easy the steep grade. Just straight uphill…for 5 long hours. The final approach to both mountains are scrambling over bolder fields with no definitive trail and patches of snow.
But as tough as the uphill slog was, the downhill was just as painful, slow and rocky. It was a long day and I’m glad to be in enough shape to decide on any given day to hike a 14’er!
Next up, Mt Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado.
August 21-September 21, 2016
After climbing to new heights at Mt. Whitney Jeff and I had about a week before needing to be in steamy Phoenix for business travel. We wanted to camp where we could get a break from the heat just a little longer, so we headed straight for Flagstaff, Arizona.
We’ve been camping in Flag off and on for the past year, one of our favorite locations. There is an abundance of free forestry land to camp in with endless trails to run, hike or mountain bike just outside your door. This and being close to town makes us feel like we live in the community. Flag is definitely familiar to us now and there is no need for GPS to get around town any more.
Not only was the 70 degree temps sublime, but Jeff has been training for the Stagecoach 100. Stagecoach is a 100 mile ultra trail run that starts in Flag and ends at the IMAX theater at the Grand Canyon. Jeff is running a relay with a buddy. 55 miles for Jeff and his friend Jason running 45. Since the race was just 4 weeks away some high altitude trail training was in order.
We camped at a new boondocking site on FR6051 near Snow Bowl on the North side of town. The road was a bit rough, but we were able to wedge our modest 32’ into a nice spot for maximum solar gain. There are endless forestry roads here with several short spurs that connect directly to the Arizona Trail. So getting in our trail runs was a piece of single track cake!
Oh Arizona Trail, how I love thee!
One of the first things we usually do when getting to a new location is to see if there are any running events happening during our stay. We have done this in Moab, Chico and Whistler among others, and it keeps us motivated to get out and exercise on a consistent basis. Without the motivation I would struggle with the RV-15 (think freshman-15) and bedsores!
One of the things we learned about is the Flagstaff Fearsome Four Challenge. Four peaks, 34 miles, 10,307 of elevation over 2 days. Sure…why not! As part of Jeff’s ultra training this challenge was right up his ally.
Here is how the challenge works. Hike or run Humphreys Peak, Kendrick Peak, Mount Elden and O’Leary Peak in any order. If you accomplish this challenge under 15 hours (not including driving time) in a 24hr period you are honored with the status of “Ultra” runner. Well then. Lets get to it!
Jeff started at 1am at Kendrick Peak. Besides being scared by some sort of large animal in the woods, this was pretty uneventful. Humphreys Peak, the highest peak in Arizona and most challenging of the four, was next. Jeff ran into a couple of trail runners that run Humphrey’s 9 miles in under 3hrs, twice as fast as I hiked this beast! It had snowed on this peak the day before, so some of the trail was still covered.
After a brief refueling of bacon and a nap at the RV it was on to Elden and O’Leary’s peak. Sam and I joined Jeff for the final two hikes. Though Elden is a short 4-5 miles round-trip, it is very rocky, technical and steep. We were glad to be hiking this one in the daylight!
Heading further north we finished with O’Leary’s. This trail was a well-groomed forestry road all the way to O’Leary’s lookout, where we took in sunset views before racing back down the mountain to finished after dark.
Jeff did an amazing job coming in under 15 hours for the Fearsome Four and we celebrated with some late night BBQ!
The next day we packed up and headed for Phoenix where we jumped on a plane and flew to Dallas. The Dometic show vehicle needed to be transported to Elkhart, Indiana for the RV industries open house.
A stop over in Bentonville, Arkansas was in order and we stayed for two weeks. This gave us a chance to check on family and our beloved Beaver Lake cabin.
I tell ya, when I sit on that porch swing overlooking the Lake, it’s hard to think of ever leaving! I love the smell of fresh lake water, hearing fish flopping in the early morning hours, swimming in water so clear you can scuba dive. I love that I can lace up my shoes and go for a run on lake roads that only a few locals travel. I ended up with 5 of the neighborhood dogs on one of my runs, which helped with missing Sam on our trip.
Arkansas is a beautiful place to call home for sure and I always shed a tear when we leave. But the road calls, and we must go and off to Elkhart we went.
We arrived over the weekend so that we could visit with some wonderful friends. The open house went well and we headed south with the RV to Louisville before flying back to Phoenix. It was a hard pressed 3 week trip and we were glad to get back to our dog and our RV.
With only 3 days before the Stagecoach 100, we were rushing again to get back to Flag for the race. So after landing at 6:45am, we picked up our dog and were on the road with the RV by 9am, and parked in the woods by that afternoon.
Holly moly…that was a tiring trip!
After leaving Seattle we had three weeks to make our way to Phoenix. Our working travel schedule gave us a deadline and unfortunately we were headed into the belly of the hot molten volcano in the middle of summer. 106 degrees here we come!
We made quick stops in Eugene and Ashland, Oregon, Redding, CA and Reno, Nevada on our way to Mono Lake, CA.
I had read about some great boondocking at Mono Lake on the eastern side of Yosemite. This really would be our last stop at any elevation (6,378’) in order to avoid the southwest heat. Also, when we were in Yosemite in May, we never made it to Tioga Pass. So stopping at Mono Lake would give us that opportunity.
Well, that was the plan anyway…
Last year about this time, Jeff asked me a question about doing something epic, challenging or scary and I blurted out that I would like to hike the highest peaks in each state. A week later I had bagged my first…Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff, AZ. at 12,633ft.
Ever since then I have been researching the highest peak of each state that we traveled in 2016. Unfortunately, we have been traveling the states with the highest peaks overall that have been snow covered and required ice axes, crampons, repelling equipment, permits, guides, tents, backpacks, etc. MUCH more equipment than what we have.
So when I read about hiking California’s massive Mt. Whitney at 14,505ft, the highest peak in the contiguous US and it’s accessibility in late summer, I knew California was an attainable peak.
And look. It just happens to be down the road from Mono Lake! Change of plans…we are hiking Mt. Whitney!
The Mt. Whitney Trail Head starts at Whitney Portal at 8,360ft via the small town of Lone Pine, CA. A permit is required for this hike and the online permit system said that there were no permits available. Learning from our experience at Yosemite we stopped in at the Forest Service center just south of Lone Pine and easily picked up a permit and mandatory “WAG Bag” (Waste Alleviation and Gelling-Bag) for the next day.
Everything I read about this hike said that this VERY STRENUOUS hike could be bagged in one very long day (12-18 hours), although most people take two. Its 22 miles round trip with 6,100ft of elevation gain, topping out at 14,505ft.
Since Jeff and I had spent the better part of the past month at Sea Level, we knew that this was going to be quite a challenge in elevation and distance. One I was not completely confident in completing. But I knew that what goes up must come down and I could turn around at any point in the hike if it got to be too much for this land lubber.
The morning of our hike we got off to a late start, leaving the Whitney Portal TH at 6:30AM instead of our planned 5AM. Apparently we didn’t do enough research because most hikers leave around 1-3AM for this hike. For me, this was mistake #1!
Jeff tends to futz with his equipment, shoes, GPS and phone A LOT longer than I have patience for (sigh) and I headed off on the trail to get a jump. Jeff hikes much faster than I and I knew it wouldn’t take long before he would catch up with me.
What is really hilarious now is that Jeff had read that some folks were getting Verizon Cell coverage on the top of Mt Whitney, so his plan was to get to the top by 10AM for a conference call.
GEEZ! WHAT ON EARTH WERE WE THINKING?!?
I started at the TH and quickly passed the 6-10 informational boards that described the tenacity needed for such a hike. No need to read those of course…we have a conference call to make!
Immediately the trail started with a moderate incline. The sun was up just enough that no headlamp was needed and I made mistake #2 by leaving it in the truck. After an hour on the trail there was a beautiful sunrise that was enhanced by the smoke from the San Bernardino fires that were burning out of control at the time.
After about 3 miles I reached Lone Pine Lake. At this point Jeff still had not caught up with me and I grew a bit concerned. Come to find out he took a wrong turn at the beginning of the trail and got on the rugged Mountaineer’s route to Mt. Whitney. He noticed his mistake after about a ½ mile and turned around. That does tend to happen when you hike and post selfies on facebook at the same time!
Jeff finally caught up with me and it was clear that it was going to be a challenge to get to the top before the 10AM conference call. So I sent him ahead to try and make it without me holding him back…with our water filter. Mistake #3 (at least for me).
After Lone Pine Lake the nice smooth trail quickly changed over to a rockier surface. Footing became a bit more of a challenge as trees thinned out. I passed Outpost Camp with its gorgeous waterfall at a little over 10,000ft. There were a lot of backpackers here stopping to acclimatize on their 2-3 day summit push.
“Gee…Maybe I aught to look into some overnight equipment, scratching my head!
I hit a long patch of switchbacks after Outpost Camp.
In my quick glance lengthy research of this hike I remembered reading about a section of the trail called “the 99 switchbacks” that came after a campground.
I got pretty excited because I new that the 99 were around mile 7. “Wow, I’m making great time”! I asked a fellow hiker coming down if I was on the infamous 99. Imagine my surprise when she told me, “ Oh no. You have quite a way to go before you get to the 99”.
About this time I saw a trail marker that said Mile 4! I. WAS. CRUSHED!
By now my heart had been pounding in my ears for almost 3 hours. The elevation had reduced my hiking to 45min miles. THIS WAS GOING TO BE A LOOOONG DAY.
The trail switched from dirt and rocks to granite stair steps. I rose high above pretty Mirror Lake and Meadow. After another 1 ½-2 hours I finally reached Trail Camp at 12,039’.
Trail Camp is located on the shore of Consultation Lake. It could have been on the moon as far as I was concerned due to its barren landscape and granite spires. The camp was full of backpackers as well and by now I’m thinking these people are geniuses for breaking this hike up into several days!
I stopped here for a snack and contemplated the 99 switchbacks that were now staring me in the face. That’s 2.2 miles of switchbacks climbing 1,738’ to Trail Crest. I’m not going to lie…I thought long and hard about stopping here and just calling it a day. But after eating some food and catching my breath I decided to give the 99 a shot.
Surprisingly, the switchbacks were set at a low grade, which was much appreciated at this altitude. After what seemed like 999 switchbacks I finally rounded a corner and was hit with an amazing view to the west. Granite rising up, alpine forests and lakes below. My eyes had trouble taking it all in. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it now.
I made it to Trail Crest at 13, 800’!
The Mt. Whitney summit is 2.5 miles from here and a mere 845’ of elevation. But these are the most difficult and most draining 2.5 miles of your life…so I’ve heard.
Once I reached Trail Crest I was for sure going to turn around. But after I sat for about 20 minutes and ate some food and got inspired by the beautiful views I started wondering what was just around the corner.
The trail from here took a dip and I really thought hard about having to make up the elevation I had already climbed. But the trail drew me in and I pressed on, “just a little further”.
The trail from Trail Crest is brutal. BRU.TAL!!!
I scrambled for the next mile over unstable rocks, angular slabs, shear drops and technical boulders. After an hour I sat down for a break and saw the Smithsonian hut on the summit off in the distance. By now I was exhausted. The narrow single track trail was closing in. I was having moments of panic as my mind flashed back to my broken wrist less than a year ago.
I asked another hiker how much longer until the summit. When they responded, “about 2 hours” I was finished!
By now it was 12:30pm. I had been hiking 6 hours with 2 more hours to go. I did the math and figured it would take me 4 hours just to get back to this point on the trail. My heart sank realizing I was going to run out of water and day-light, without a filter that was with Jeff and headlamp that was securely back in the truck.
It killed me to be this close and have to call the hike. Just 1.5 miles left to the summit. For me, it had to be over!
About this time I met Esther. She was making her way back down the mountain after summiting. Wisely, she had left with her husband at 3am.
They had started this hike a few days before, but her husband Joe wasn’t feeling well and they turned around. This morning they started off at 3am again and again Joe didn’t feel well. He encouraged his wife to carry on so that one of them would make it. And that she did!
We started hiking together from here, retracing the technical trail back to Trail Crest. We both moaned at the section where we had to climb in elevation to get there, commenting about our pounding heads.
Down the 99 we went, past camps, meadow, lakes and waterfalls. All the while talking about our lives of adventure and travel. I learned about her amazing two daughters and could hear the affection she had for her husband of many years.
Our knees and quads were wearing down, but our time together made the trip so much better. I learned she and Joe take off their real estate business months at a time to travel. Check out their very well written blog here.
We arrived at the TH not a step too soon at 5:30pm, as the sun was going down. I got to meet Joe and instantly noticed they have a relationship like Jeff and I. Those rare relationships when a husband and wife actually like each other, have the same life pursuits and miss each other when we are not together. I can appreciate a happy couple!
I had gotten a text from Jeff that said that he had summited around 2pm, four hours after his missed conference call.
Joe and Esther were kind enough to give me a ride back to my RV Park in Lone Pine, knowing that Jeff would not be down for another 3 hours. I left the keys hidden in the truck so he could drive himself home.
Even though I missed reaching the summit I couldn’t be more proud for reaching 13,000+ feet and hiking 20 miles.
Thanks Esther for getting me down that mountain!
Mt. Whitney, I will be back! But next time I will leave earlier and not plan on making any calls!
Jeff, Sam and I left Humphreys Peak TH from the Arizona Snow Bowl following a smooth trail that took us through a field of glowing aspens. But the smooth trail was short lived as we quickly entered a hole in the tree line and the trail quickly turned rugged and rocky. It was an ankle turner almost the entire way and Jeff rolled his and launched himself over the side of the trail, only to be stopped by a small tree. That. Was. Close!