High Sierra Trail: Day 7 – Guitar Lake to Mt. Whitney to Whitney Portal
Miles: 16 point to point
Highest Elevation: 14,505 feet
Finishing Elevation: 8,360 feet
When to go: July through end of September
Here we are, the final day of the HST trail. It’s been quite the journey.
I met some of the most badass and incredible people, we shared laughs, stories and tears. We shared in pain as we finished the last 2 miles of the day, and joy when we finally reached camp and the summit. I had blisters and dirt under my fingernails. Things that troubled me at home, no longer mattered. My hair was a mess, I wore the same pants for 7 days and I’m sure I had a nice coat of dirt and sunscreen on my skin. And through the laughter and the tears, I loved it.
Even with my heavy 45lb pack, not making it and turning around was never an option. It was hard mentally and physically, but your mind is strong, and it’s ok to cry and just keep going. Don’t let yourself give up.
As agreed, we got up at 12:30am, packed up, filled up our waters because this is the last water source for around 10 miles until you reach the first campsite on the Eastern side of Mt. Whitney, Trail Camp which sits at 12,000 ft below 97 switchbacks (no joke, they’ve been counted).
Under a well lit moon, we started hiking the 3,105 ft out of Guitar Lake and to the Mt. Whitney Summit. The first 3 miles you go up switchbacks that spit you out at Trail Crest at 13,645 ft. We almost didn’t even need headlamps the moon was so bright.
I took it nice and slow not to get altitude sickness. Finally, around 5am, I reached Trail Crest. Trail Crest is where the trail from the West meets the trail from the East. Then there is a 2 mile out-and-back trail that leads to the Mt. Whitney summit. If you are feeling altitude sickness, don’t continue on to Mt. Whitney, head down the mountain from Trail Crest.
At Trail Crest (how many times can I say that name in this post?), since it leads to an out-and-back trail to the summit, I put all my scented items in my bear canister and took a small day sack with water, tripod, and snacks to the summit. Don’t leave your pack with scented items in pockets. Marmots will chew through your expensive pack to get to your food.
Since I was taking it slow to avoid altitude sickness (which I successfully did avoid), I didn’t make it to the summit for sunrise. But I still had a beautiful view from behind and through the pinnacles next to Mt. Whitney. It was so beautiful.
They say the 2 miles to the summit are the hardest, but I thought they were the easiest. I finally dropped by heavy 45lb (maybe 41lb by now) pack and I was in the home stretch. There are some parts of this sections that get a little hairy. There is some rock scrambling and some parts are narrow with a steep drop. But for me, it was all good, I was almost there.
Finally summited Mt. Whitney around 7am. I spent about an hour at the top, taking photos and congratulating the other HST hikers for making it. My original goal for the HST was to summit Mt. Whitney without altitude sickness, which I did. But it became about the journey, the other places I saw along the way, and the people I shared the experience with. We literally saw some of the most beautiful places in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.
Then from the top, I ran down to get my pack at Trail Crest and descended down the 97 switchbacks. Yes, they suck as much as everyone says they do. My knees were hurting by the time I made it down to 12,000 ft at Trail Camp.
Then I hiked all the way out to Whitney Portal and made it back to my car at 7pm. It was such a joy to see my little red car at the end of the trail waiting for me. I finally took off my pack, put on UGGs and was able to call my family to tell them I made it! I drove to town, got a pizza which I could only eat one slice even though I wanted to eat the whole pizza, split a hotel room with the badass ladies I shared this experience with, showered, and slept for 12 hours.
The next day, I woke up and saw Mt. Whitney and it was an amazing feeling knowing that I hiked down from that. It was hard adjusting back to normal life, I had Google again and didn’t need to stick my hand in ice cold water and filter it every time I wanted something to drink. A week later, I was ready to go back.