Mt. Whitney: Esther’s Gold Medal

At 3:00 am, under the sturgeon full moon, Esther and I set off together on the Mt. Whitney Trail. After an hour, it was clear that I would be unable to continue, due to the nausea and low-grade fever of a gastrointestinal virus. Over the next 14 hours, while I alternated between sleeping in the car and running to the pit toilet, Esther completed one of the greatest day hikes in the United States.

Summit Whitney Es Small_tonemapped

On the roof of the Lower 48!

Hiking 22 miles (35 km), she gained over 6,000 feet (1,830 m) of elevation to set foot on the 14,508-foot (4,422 m) summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States. Afterward, on the two hour drive back to our rented condo in Mammoth Lakes, Es recounted her feat, describing the various portions of this long punishing trail.

Switchbacks with fencing Small_tonemapped

Icy section of the 99 Switchbacks

After the first 6.2 miles (10 km) of steady uphill hiking, she crossed the tree line at Trail Camp, where dozens of overnight backpack hikers were breaking camp. From here, putting one foot in front of the other, she began the monotonous ascent of the trail’s dreaded 99 switchbacks. Zig-zagging repetitively upslope for about 2.3 miles (3.7 km), the trail finally uncoils onto the precipitous Trail Crest.

Trail Crest Small_tonemapped

View to the west on the Trail Crest

Along the resistant angular crest, she found her first expansive view to the west across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. On the hazy horizon beyond the rugged range, she could see a huge mushroom cloud of smoke from the massive San Bernardino County fire inflating into the stratosphere.

Mt Whitney Wall Small_tonemapped

Rocky trail to the summit

Once she had traversed the narrow knife-edged crest, the most challenging section of the trail was the final ascent to the summit over a rocky talus terrain. As if the summit would never come, she slowly scaled one irregular rock step at a time, until the mountain ran out of obstacles.

Whitney Summit San Bernardino Fire Small

Like massive roofing shingles, the summit was surfaced with enormous flat slabs of spalled granite. As she rested on the rooftop of the Lower 48, she found a stone summit shelter and brass survey monument, and had a photo taken with her homemade cardboard sign. At that climactic moment, she came to the surreal revelation that she was currently taller than anyone else in the entire continental United States.

Whitney crest ledge Small_tonemapped

Don’t misstep on descent

Es hiked solo to the summit, passing several other hikers of many other nationalities. On the way back; however, she surprisingly met a fellow travel blogger, Deb of Rolling Recess, and the two descended the mountain together. Hiking back, Es and Deb agreed that the long protracted return to the trailhead was an arduous journey that they thought might never end.

Whitney Trail Sign Small

Happy to see this sign again

Elated and exhausted upon finally reaching the end of the trail, Esther deserves an Olympic gold medal for achieving this monumental endeavor. Standing on the podium, with the American flag rising and the national anthem playing, she will always remember with well-earned pride her accomplishment of hiking in one long day to the highest point in the continental United States.

Liz begging_tonemapped

Will dance for food at Granny’s

10 thoughts on “Mt. Whitney: Esther’s Gold Medal

  1. That is quite an accomplishment! I had no idea that the trail was that rocky and barren (I guess if I had really thought about it, I wouldn’t have been surprised). I’m so sorry that you weren’t able to make it – I bet that was a great disappointment… will you try again before you leave at the end of the month? What gorgeous photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Janis. On the east side of the Sierra, the granite really shoots out of the earth. The trail is miraculously cut through this massive protrusion of rock. I am disappointed that I could not share in Esther’s accomplishment, but I am very proud of her for completing it on her own. Our daughters are coming to visit us here for the next few days, so I don’t expect to try again this month. Maybe some other day? The mountain isn’t going anywhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dang, sorry to hear about the intestinal interference. (Why can’t our bodies behave like they’re supposed to, damn them? So annoying.) But it’s great that Esther was able to soldier forth, and since I’m assuming that she was the one responsible for these photos, she’s pretty handy with a camera. You better watch out, Joe, she might snatch away your Blog King title whilst you are groaning in the facilities. (Just kidding…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Brian. These stomach bugs are a real nuisance. I probably forgot the hand sanitizer after pushing the elevator button, or something. Esther deserves all the credit you give her for her determination and eye with the camera. Yes, now that she has a gold medal around her neck, she will be coming after me and my lofty blogging awards. Oh no! I better be running to the restroom now…

      Liked by 1 person

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