Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mt. Whitney Or Bust! (Part One)

Mt. Whitney, far distant slightly right of center.

Some ideas become reality, springing forth like so many dandelion tufts, exploding with the least provocation in a breeze.  Others form slowly through wondering and contemplation which nudge an idea from concept through reality check to full-on execution.  A recent Mt. Whitney experience on September 11, 2015 for four Troop 259 Boy Scout leaders was clearly the product of the latter process.

Our planning was nothing if not long, slow and deliberate, yet with a certain edge of urgency that comes from aging—I mean maturing—with the passage of time.  Like the Cubs, we wanted to get past “There’s always next year” to “We can check that off our bucket list!”   So, we listened on the edge of our chairs to all the superlatives from other hikers—Amazing! Awesome! Unbelievable vistas!  Unforgettable!  We also acknowledged their cautions—watch the weather, carry plenty of water and train at elevation (if possible including hikes above 12,000 feet) to condition and acclimate.

InterAgency Visitor Center (Photo courtesy of USFS/USDA)

During the February 1 through April 15 Mt. Whitney permit lottery, we failed to be selected for an overnight permit which would allow us to hike to a mid-point, camp overnight and then summit the next day.  Our only hope was to present ourselves before the “drawer of daily lots” (e.g., the Park Ranger) at the Lone Pine Ranger Station ( in hopes of getting a good draw for any available “No Show” permits.  May through August are heavy use months.  So, we opted to wait until September.  Our reasoning was the number of hikers (and overnighters) would begin to drop off. 

 The summer drew on, after family vacations, Scout summer camp and before the press of school prep took over.  In late July and early August, our personal and family schedules seemed to open up a bit.  Would this be the year after all?  Soon two training hikes fell into place.  

Atop Mt. Judah: (l-r)  Ike Krieg, Dennis Kazee, Rob Fong, Bill Kirk

The first was a virtual walk in the park on August 22, up Donner Peak (8,019 feet) and nearby Mt. Judah (8,243 feet).  The second on September 3 was an arduous hike/crawl up Pyramid Peak (9,984 feet), which was more challenging in terms of the number of hours on our feet, the higher elevation and the rock scramble to the top (and back down).  I vaguely remember hearing someone utter, “What were we thinking?”  Oh, wait.  That was me.

Pyramid Peak, looking up from the shoulder.  Time for a scramble.

After those conditional successes, all that was left was to pick a date for the six-hour drive south to Lone Pine—without a firm target date, we knew Whitney wouldn’t happen this year or ever.  A three-to-four day group itinerary quickly took shape.  At the same time, each of us began our individual preparations to make sure we had accounted for all gear contingencies while reducing our pack weight.  Each person has certain rituals during the final week before departure.  That's when things start to get serious as the objective actually feels within reach.  Stay tuned for Part Two.

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