This hike was inspired by and followed a route similar to a hike done in
1991 by Christopher Brennen and Douglas Hart. Chris gives a great account
of his trip, the area, and some history: The Far Side of the Sky. I talked
with Chris before heading out. He offered some advice as he tried to
remember back to his adventure. It was interesting talking to him. He's
done a lot of hiking in the Sierras and locally.
So, now it was time to get things together and make this happen. I talked
with some friends and we got a small group together. Then I opened things
up to the Caltech community through the Caltech Alpine Club. This seemed
like a good idea, since hiking with more people is more fun, and it would
allow people who otherwise might not hike this route a chance to do it.
The problem is that it violated the following:
RULE #1: Always know *all* the hikers in your group.
Here's our original plan: Whitney Hike Plan. Of the 10 who started the hike
(listed under "The Adventurers") I knew five personally and had people who
could vouch for three others. The two others I didn't meet until we camped
the first night. To sum up, 7 of us completed the hike (mostly) as
planned, two hiked out the way they came in, and one was airlifted to
safety. Here's a more detailed description of the adventure.
Paul (foreground) and Sabrina at another crossing, as I pump water for the
rest of the day. My pack weighed around 46 pounds without water. About
15 pounds of that was food and the bear cannister. That sounds like a lot
of food (especially with the dehydrated stuff I brought), but a week hiking
at high altitude consumes a lot of energy.
Marc making his way toward me as I continue to pump.
After four stream crossings, we headed up to the left toward the ridge.
This was not easy hiking. It was steep and a bit warm in the sun, and we
had the full weight of our ~50 lb. packs to contend with. Here's Marc as
I look back down where we came from.
Looking up to the ridge we need to cross over.
We eventually found a nice resting spot, about halfway to the top.
We're getting up there! We now see Owens Valley below. Check out that
great pack I've got. A rental from the Caltech Y. I think I was the only
one in these mountains with an external frame pack. It wasn't pretty, but
it did the job.
Marc, on the other hand, had his own pack problems. He just bought his
pack, so it was a fully modern and comfortable internal frame pack. Well,
modern anyway. As he discovered later, the pack wasn't adjusted quite
right, leaving some painful raw spots on his shoulder. Angie, the local
pack expert, later fixed it to fit better.
Owens Valley and the way we hiked in.
Time to head onward. Angie stayed behind to wait for Sara, who was making
her way, slowly and steadily, up the steep incline, while the rest of us
headed out. I didn't see Angie or Sara again that day.
Marc, Paul, and I hiked on together toward the top of the ridge. We
noticed as we ascended that out of hiking, breathing, and drinking, we
could manage at most 2 of these at any one time. It made it difficult to
keep hydrated while maintaining any sort of pace.
Some nice rock formations as we near the ridge.
Looking back, we're getting an even better view now.
Paul and I doing our best to look energetic.
Marc still looks fresh. How does he do it?
At last, we've made it. We look over the ridge to the impressive mountains
beyond. Time for a snack.
I'm not sure which mountain that is. Mt. Williamson, the second tallest in
CA at 14,375', is in that general direction, but I think it's just behind
We thought we had come a long way, but the mountains still loom distant.
After a little hiking, we could look back down the other side of the ridge
to Owens Valley (to the left).
Time to get moving. Shepherd Pass is our "entry point" to the Sierras.
It's the notch up to the right, just above the snow patches.
A better view of the pass.
Looking back toward Owens Valley. It's amazing just how far down it is now
and how the ground just steadily goes down to the valley from where we
We got a bit of a break, as the trail headed downhill toward the water.
It was refreshing to hear the rushing water, but frustrating to be unable
to touch or drink it.
Paul was running low on water. We kept crossing streams but he wanted to
keep moving. Eventually he decided that he'd stop at the next crossing to
fill up. That crossing never came.
Well, eventually it came. Here we are at Anvil camp, around 10,000 ft. We
refilled our water, had a snack, and rested (well, tried...the mosquitoes
made it difficult).
Mike eventually showed up. We heard the news that Yuri had turned back
after detecting some early signs of altitude sickness. 4 OK, 1 abort, and
5 still unaccounted for.
Marc among the trees. It had been brutally hot and dry hiking since the
ridge, but then suddenly we were surrounded by this lushness.
Paul was feeling really good at this point. Look at that friendly face
beckoning us to continue on to Shepherd Pass. Marc and I couldn't
resist, so on the three of us went. We decided to camp at the pass and
wait there for the rest of the group the next morning before heading toward
Following in Paul's footsteps, I cross the stream and venture onward.
What a barren, rocky wasteland. We started to see snow patches along the
Still plenty of mountains ahead.
Paul's getting tired? How could that be?
This was to be our last sighting of lush greenness for quite awhile.
Another shot of the lushness.
OK, last one, and then we head onward.
It seemed like we were getting closer, but we rarely got an actual view of
Winding through the rocks and bushes.
The ridge to the right ends at the pass, so we can't be far, right?
Our first significant snow encounter.
After much slow and painful hiking, we made it to the last ascent to the
top of the pass. Here Marc makes his way over the last patch of snow just
near the top of the pass.
Halfway there. At nearly 12,000 ft. this was a lot more difficult than it
should have been. I was kind of wishing I had a snowboard here, since it
was a really nice steep pitch and the snow was pretty consistent and soft.
Looking back toward Mt. Keith.
Mt. Keith from Shepherd Pass.
We made it! 11 miles and nearly 6000 ft. vertical gain later we were at
It was amazing to take off my backpack and hike around here. Having 50 lb.
removed made me feel like I was going to float away as I walked.
We set up camp near the lake. It was not a great site. The pain of going
to 12,000' in essentially a day or so hit us hard. It was extremely
difficult to do anything, like breathe, eat, walk, stand up without passing
out. We somehow managed to cook some dinner and set up the tents.
I may look OK, but in reality I'm using all my energy just to stand up.
There was a marmot around here that was entertaining us.
There he is. We weren't sure if he was being playful and curious or if he
just wanted our food.
Paul tried some fishing, but I don't recall feasting on fresh fish that night.
Mt. Tyndall (14,018') looms in the distance as Paul casts.
It was a gray, gray landscape with deep, dark blue skies.
That snow overhang looked like it would be fun to climb on...until you fell
in the near-freezing water. Around 7:30pm Marc, Paul, and I called it a
night. The sun was still shining outside, but we had no energy to stay up
any more, so we tried to fall asleep. I didn't do a good job. I lay awake
for hours, panting and gasping for breath in the thin air, listening as my
heart pumped at what seemed to be twice the normal resting rate.
I took some pictures that Paul S. took and pieced them together to form
this panoramic shot looking west from inside Shepherd Pass.
Another panoramic shot, zoomed in on the far-away mountains.
We got up the next day fully rested (ha!) and waited for the others. They
were up after a couple hours, ready to do the 4 mile downhill hike to the
next camp site. Sounds like a relaxing day, right? Not for us all...
Marc, Paul, and I decided we'd hike Mt. Tyndal (it was so close, afterall)
and headed off across the rocky debris to its base as the others took the
smooth trail onward.
The trees down beind Paul are near our next camp site.
That ridge to the left is where we're headed now.
Mt. Keith and the trail to Shepherd Pass are behind Marc.
Looking down at Marc, climbing through the boulders along Mt. Tyndall's
ridge. Paul decided the cold, constant wind was too much and headed on.
Nearing the top, we got a nice view over the ridge to the back side of Mt.
It looked like a nice area down there, protected on 3 sides by steep rocks.
On the other side of the ridge, we see Mt. Keith and the lake we camped
near. We also see another nearby lake (on the right). We had heard
about the second lake, but in our exhausted state, we didn't find it the
The hike ahead...We see the peak of Tyndall jutting out above Marc. We
weren't quite sure what the best way to get there from here was, though.
We scrambled along the ridge and reached the summit. Here, we look over at
Mt. Whitney, our eventual destination. I was having trouble breathing, and
felt close to fainting the whole time we were at the summit, but the view
This was one of my favorite views -- looking down Tyndall's steep wall to
the lakes below produced a dizzying effect that can't be captured in
Looking back to our campsite and out over the Sierras. We're finally above
everything. Instead of looking up at the peaks near us, we can survey the
entire area from above. I guess technically there are a few peaks higher
than Tyndall, but it's hard to tell from here.
The ridge we scrambled along to get to the summit. Just above the ridge is
Diamond Mesa, and beyond and a bit to the left of the mesa is Caltech Peak.
Looking down at Marc from the summit.
Looking down the other way at the lakes below.
Sitting at 14,018, with Mt. Williamson (14,250) in the background.
Getting an adrenaline rush, looking down at the lakes.
Crouching on Tyndall with Whitney behind.
Looking to Mt. Williamson from the top of Mt. Tyndal.
The hike back down was not at all relaxing. Marc and I lost our way almost
immediately. Instead of following the flat, top ridge to the second
ridge, we ended up down on the back side of the mountain somehow. I
fought to stay high, near the top of the ridge, and Marc went low. My
route was steeper and slower, but shorter, and I ended up back at camp
first. I was out of water and all alone in a desolate land. I hadn't had
much to eat or drink today and it was taking its toll. I used most of my
energy to walk to the lake and attempt to pump myself some water. The
lake's algae was clogging the filter, though, so there I was completely
dehydrated, with a water pump and a lake of water that I couldn't drink.
I took a nap until Marc returned, and then packed up. Marc wanted to rest
himself, so I went ahead in search of our new campsite and much-needed food
Marc came through the low point to the right, a bit of extra distance from
the way we went up.
The dark area of trees is the destination. It's all downhill, but it's
still 4.2 miles that need to be covered with a heavy pack. I had a
dehydration headache that was only getting worse, and the sun was setting
so I moved as quickly as I could while trying not to sweat, breathe heavy,
or use too much of my scarce energy.
It looks so peaceful now, but at the time all I could think was how I
wanted to be at camp with everyone else.
A shot of Marc's route back from Tyndall.
It's an easy hike from here, but not in the state Marc and I are in.
Looking up again at Tyndall.
Looking back at Tyndall -- the top of the initial ridge is on the left
above the snow.
The view back toward camp (Tyndall on the right) along the trail. I made
it to camp around sunset. Paul waved from across the stream and I was
finally in the safety of camp. Spending last night at 12,000' was painful.
Climbing up to 14,000' earlier in the day was pretty bad, too. But
that evening at 11,000' was the worst yet. I couldn't eat, I couldn't
drink, I could barely sit up, and we were scheduled to climb Caltech Peak
the next day (13,800'+). Marc arrived an hour or so later, in similar
condition. The first day, we were leading the group, but now we could
barely make sense of our surroundings. I crawled into the tent, hoping
the next day would be better.
I awoke the next day fully recovered. Felicia, Paul S., Sabrina, Mike, and
I headed for Caltech Peak, Marc and Paul did some fishing, and Angie and
Sara headed to Guitar Lake, camping at Whitney's back side. The climb to
Caltech Peak was pretty messy. Here I rest among the seemingly endless
rocks on the way to Caltech Peak.
Writing in the Caltech Peak summit log.
It was a long hike, but nothing compared to Tyndall. Mike and I went ahead
and let the others follow. I took in the amazing view from the top while
writing in the summit log. Mike and I had some lunch and spent an hour or
so waiting at the summit. We eventually headed down toward the lake where
we had seen a guy fishing (we later determined it had been Paul) and went
back to camp, arriving around 4pm.
Paul at the lake, with our dinner.
Marc with a nice one.
The way they describe it, the fish were just begging to be caught.
They were small, but plentiful (and quite tasty later that night).
Around the time it got dark, we became concerned. Paul, Sabrina, and
Felicia were nowhere to be found. Felicia eventually showed up, but Paul
and Sabrina were lost in the mountains for all we knew. We hiked down to
see the local ranger, but he couldn't really do much until the next day.
While we were visiting the ranger, they returned, tired but alive.
The next morning, Marc, Paul L., Mike, Felicia, and I headed on to Guitar
Lake. Over at Guitar Lake, Angie and Sara were summitting Whitney, to
return to the lake and meet us. Sabrina was in bad shape, so we left Paul
and Sabrina at camp and agreed to meet at Guitar Lake if they felt
up for it. If not, they had a car and could head back out and head home.
That was the last we saw of them on this trip.
Felicia and Mike, crossing the stream and heading out to Guitar Lake.
Looking back up the stream to Diamond Mesa.
The trail heads off to the left and around the back of the Sierras. It's
about 12 miles of relatively flat travel.
This was the first day of non-desolate hiking. We went through what seemed
like a pretty nice forest.
Looking out of the trees to the rugged, gray peaks beyond.
Rounding the bend. We've headed into the mountains as far as we're going
to go. Now we hike south toward Whitney. This was a nice spot. Grass,
water, mountains, and a bright, sunny day.
Looking back. Our campsite, Caltech Peak, Mt. Tyndall, and Shepherd Pass
are all back around to the right.
Another shot of the nice lake.
Looking ahead to Whitney. It's amazing. Whitney doesn't look like such
an impressive peak, but you can see it from almost anywhere. It's just
always there, off in the distance.
Panning to the right a bit.
Marc and Whitney.
Paul and Whitney.
Hey, why not. All the cool kids are doing it.
Our last view for awhile, as the trail heads down and back around to the
right before coming up to the back side of Whitney.
It was surprising to see so much grass and forest here.
Getting closer. Whitney was getting larger, but never really close.
Time for a water/snack break. Not a long break, though, with the hungry
mosquitoes feasting on our fresh, warm blood. I think this is Wallace
Creek. I later discovered that Paul and Sabrina had pushed on and made it
to here. Sabrina was feeling worse, and couldn't continue. Paul found a
ranger and they hooked her up to oxygen. It helped, but not enough. They
eventually air lifted her out for emergency treatment. If I recall, Paul
had to hike all the way back out, though.
Marc and I pushed on ahead of the rest and discovered some nice areas.
The trees were nice, but they would come and go as we hiked.
This was amazing. We suddenly emerged from the trees to find this
beautiful grassy field with the incredible view of the mountains in the
distance. Another group had picnicked here, but we had places to be, so
we enjoyed the view and then pushed on.
We stopped for lunch near Crabtree Meadows. If you look carefully, you can
see the back side of Whitney and the needles just above and a bit to the
right of Marc.
The needles, in case you weren't sure.
The hike up to Whitney's back.
Our last chance to see lush greenery in awhile.
As we ascend out of the greenness, we have a nice view back over the way
Our campsite! Note how Guitar Lake actually does resemble a guitar in its
It was nice to get into camp around 4pm. We had time to relax, set up the
tents in bright daylight, fill up with water, and wait for the others to
The Hitchcock's, behind Marc.
Paul decided to do some fishing in the lake. It wasn't as good as the
day before, though.
Still pumping. I've had enough dehydration to know better now.
Camping below Whitney.
I'm not sure what this lake was called (the one just above Guitar Lake),
but it was a nice camping spot.
Guitar Lake made for nicer pictures, though.
Awhile after we arrived, Angie came back down from Whitney. Now we were
just waiting for Sara, Mike, Felicia, Paul S. and Sabrina.
Paul taking it all in.
Here comes Sara. Five down, four to go. Of course, 2 of those 4 weren't
going to make it. When Paul and Sabrina didn't show, we assumed they had
turned back from camp. We had no idea of the pain they were going through.
Mike and Felicia made it to camp in decent shape, making 7 of the original
A panoramic shot including Whitney, the lake where we camped, The
Hitchcocks, Guitar Lake, some other mountains, and Whitney again (a full
360 degree pan).
Our last night in the mountains. Trying to keep warm as the sun sets over
The next morning, hiking up the back side of Whitney. Marc and I on the
trail, approaching Angie at the trail junction.
Marc and I at the junction, ready to drop our packs and make the quick trip
to the summit.
Paul makes his way to the junction.
We had a great view from the trail junction.
Looking down on the Hitchcocks -- steep mountains and deep blue lakes.
A nice pan of the area.
The Hitchcocks again, one last view before we head for the summit.
The Whitney "summit marmot".
Getting to the summit the hard way.
Looking out over Owens Valley from around 14,495'.
Panning around from the summit: Owens Valley, Mt. Langley, Mt. Muir, The
Needles, the Sierras to the west, the summit hut, the summit crowd, Mt.
Tyndall, Mt. Keith, Mt. Williamson, White Mountain Peak (way off in the
distance), and back to Owens Valley.
Panning down near the right of the picture above.
The nice ledge near the top of Whitney.
The ledge from a different angle.
One of Mike's pictures.
Our new friend, relaxing at the summit.
Felicia enjoying the view from the summit.
The Keeler and Day Needles, from just below the Whitney summit. They look
like they just have to be climbed, don't they?
Looking at Marc on top of the Day Needle from the top of the Keeler Needle.
Another shot of Marc.
Looking back at Whitney. I could clearly hear the voices of people on the
Looking back down to Mt. Hitchcock, the Hitchcock Lakes, and Guitar Lake.
Looking to the summit from the Whitney Portal trail.
Looking back up at Whitney and the needles.
Coming down was anticlimactic, but still kind of nice.
Felicia among the trees. On the way down, it got warmer, moister, and
generally more livable.
Some more greenery.
I think this was where we considered camping for a night. We eventually
decided to just head out and get home, since it was only a few more miles,
and all downhill.
The waterfall was tempting, though.
It was green, but there was no question that there were some impressive
peaks in the area.
Just a few more miles until actual civilization.
One last view first.
Ok, maybe another. Around dark, we were at the trailhead.
Back to civilization.
Angie and I, happy to be back.