On Top of Mount Whitney

View from Mt. Whitney

Just a few pics from my recent hike up Mount Whitney.  I think this may represent my last strenuous hike.  It was a great experience, but it was also an ass-kicker.  Going straight from the Ohio Valley to 14,500 feet can wreak havoc with your brain and lungs.  But, I summited…and survived to tell.

(Next year, I’m limiting it to a couple days in the Scottish highlands.)

Mt. Whitney Portal road

The Whitney Portal Road from Lone Pine, California looked innocent enough.

Sunset at Mt. Whitney Trail Camp2

Base camp (“Trail Camp”) was at 12,000 feet.  Rock everywhere, a narrow crevasse between cliffs that created a howling wind chute.  No rest for the wicked when 50 mph winds whip your tent all night, and your skull feels like it’s being squeezed in a vise.


Trail partner A.J.

On the summit hike, I hooked up with a 39-year-old guy from Daytona Beach named A.J.  Equally fatigued, we doubled over every 300 feet or so to catch our breath, allowing the stronger hikers to pass by.

Climbing toward Whitney

In addition to altitude sickness (acute mountain sickness, or AMS), I suffer from vertigo.  There were several massive drop-offs where I forced myself not to look down, leaning into the mountain, grasping the rock, and praying that my footing was solid.  Many hikers, unbelievably,  follow this trail at night (using headlamps).  Guess there’s a reason why people have died trying to summit.

Mt. Whitney shelter

Mt. Whitney plaque

Mount Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States.  The only signs you’ve arrived at the top are a plaque, an old stone shelter littered with graffiti, and your fellow hikers, celebrating in their own ways.

I stayed a second night at Trail Camp on the way down.  The wind was just as vicious, and my headache was only slightly better.  Blood was now clogging my sinuses.

On the way back to Whitney Portal, and Lone Pine, I hiked with a retired 67-year-old man named Dennis.  He and his wife had driven up from Phoenix (his wife stayed in a B&B at Lone Pine).  Dennis was a veteran backpacker, but was unable to summit due to allergies and lack of sleep due to the wind at Trail Camp.  He, too, admitted he was retiring from strenuous hikes.

After returning to Lone Pine, I rested up in the Dow Villa Motel, which dates to the 1920s, then visited a nearby film museum.  I did not know that this area, with its scenic Alabama Hills, is legendary for providing the setting for hundreds of Hollywood Westerns, both silent films and talkies.  In fact, many of the greats at one time stayed at the Dow Villa: Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, John Wayne, among others.

Lone Pine Film Museum

Not sure if Humphrey Bogart stayed in Lone Pine when he made the movie High Sierra.  When I bumped into him at the museum, he wasn’t talking.

After a modest recovery in the relaxing and historic Dow Villa, I hiked for a few days in Yosemite.  Then hitched/shuttled to Reno, Nevada to catch a plane home.


In summation, I’ve always thought I was immune to altitude sickness.  But I learned otherwise.  If any prospective daredevil mountain climbers are reading this, make sure you become acclimated to higher altitudes before attempting any major climb.  Severe AMS can cause hospitalization, and even death.

Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to the gentler peaks of Scotland’s West Highland Way.

Top 'o the World, Ma

“Top ‘o the world, Ma!”

27 thoughts on “On Top of Mount Whitney

  1. Pretty cool, Peter. The highest I ever got was Pike’s Peak at 14,000+feet in a rental car after picnicking on a bottle of wine and sandwiches. As for vertigo, I have a chronic case, which added to the thrill of reading “Real Men Don’t Need Guardrails” every so often on the way up the mountain. It looks good on you; hope your book sales are rising too!

    • (I wore myself out producing the book, and so my marketing efforts have been abysmal. The movie rights will have to transpire without my input.)

      Re vertigo, I’m ok with slopes, but straight drop-offs turn my insides to jelly. There were a couple spots with drop-offs on both sides, and just a rocky bridge to cross. I just followed the feet in front, and refused to look down.

  2. Glad you had a safe hike other than slight issues with AMS/vertigo. I think hiking in Scotland next year is a good plan as I know your wife is always nervous when you go. Could lead to another book being written about your adventures. As a friend you know I like to hear about it.

  3. Pete – Awesome – Congratulations on your summit! Another fine feat indeed. Hope to hear more about it soon “Whitney Portal looks innocent enough” 🙂

    • I believe you said you climbed Whitney at one time? I kept thinking “I’m amazed that Rock did this.” Man was not meant to be in such places. Camping out in the Dow Villa was more enjoyable!

  4. Holy cow! I thought you were just hiking trails. This isn’t hiking – it’s mountaineering. Man, I’d never do this. I mean, good for you but no way Jose. Hiking on trails I’d probably do but, wow.

    • Ha! Your astonishment is noted and appreciated, Jim. But while the hike is classified as “Strenuous,” it’s not “Technical.” In other words, it doesn’t require pick axes, ropes, belaying pins, etc. Just strong lungs and leg muscles. My mistake was that I underestimated the effect of altitude. And it’s probably the last such hike I’ll do… I prefer Sea Level (including the band) 🙂

  5. Good post. Wow, Mt. Whitney is ginormous. I went motorcycle camping with a biker crew around there back in 1980. We did Scotland 9 years ago. Mostly Isle of Skye and Mull. We went up to Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK in central Scotland. Nice ski resort with chair lifts running to the summit during the summer. Better suited for geezers like us. You should check it out.

    • I read about Ben Nevis, and I’ll bet that was a fun climb. Our daughter now lives in Milngavie (pronounced “Mil-GUY”), which is the southern point of the West Highland Way. The northern point is Fort William, near the foot of Ben Nevis. This old geezer needs more Ben Nevises and fewer Mt. Whitneys!

      • Ft Williams and nearby Ft Augustus are beautiful canal towns with fascinating lock and dam systems. One of my bucket list trips is to take a sailboat down Loch Ness and through these canals. As for Ben Nevis, you can drive up, park and get on the chair lift to the top.

      • That would be sweet: a sailboat trip through Scottish canals. Didn’t know you visited there, Tad…I’ll keep this in mind for next year when I visit (my wife’s there now, for a month).

  6. Thanks Peter that was a fun read. I bet you have met a lot of interesting characters on your hiking travels. More power to you—I would have been at the BnB with your co-hiker’s wife. You should write an essay book on lessons you learned from tackling challenges on your hikes or the people you met along the way.

    • Thanks, WL. I certainly have met some interesting people (one of the nice things about hiking solo). I’m sure they find me interesting…rather,”strange”… as well! Also, I think I’m fast approaching permanent BnB mode. I still love the outdoors, but pushing myself physically is posing a problem!

  7. Fantastic piece!. Inspiring stuff. I was thinking ‘High Sierra” and then you mentioned it. I wonder how many people over estimate their capabilities and get kicked in the ass by old Whitney. The Highlands sounds like a good plan also.

      • Roy “Mad Dog” Earle one of my favorite character names. There are some good location shots if I remember right. Ida Lupino is also in it and good.
        Pete, you know CB’s a Merle Haggard guy. He mentions Mount Whitney in one of my all time favorite songs, ‘Kern River’. A nature guy like you would probably dig it.

      • I think it was Bakersfield. Merle got a bad rap (in my opinion) from the lazy mainstream press. Labeled him with the easiest cliches they could. He was no saint but there wasn’t one false bone in his body. There is a great ‘American Masters’ program on him. Highly recommended for a better insight to the man. Your gal Iris Dement had a place for the old bugger. One of my top 5 vocalists. I think he lived near Mount Shasta at the end of his life. I’m gonna go listen to Kern River right now.

      • I like Haggard, despite not having any of his music. He even looked good. Maybe that Muskogee Okie song turned the press against him. I just listened to a recording of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark together at Great American Music Hall in San Fran. What a pairing!

      • I have a poster of a Van Zandt/ Clark concert I went to. Only problem was they didn’t let Townes across the border so Guy did the show solo with a big shit eating grin on his face. I’ll be doing my intro to Merle (Big City) in a while. I could talk about him for a while. Complex interesting guy. Iris does a good take on the Big City song. Another one for us outdoor guys Pete.

      • Good article. I remember Thom, he’s another deep music guy. And the song “Kern River,” well, I can see why Dave Alvin and Emmylou both cover it. Thanks, CB.

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