Thursday 23 April 2020

Memorable Mountains 1: Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney & Timberline Lake, October 2016

During the lockdown many people are sharing favourite views, trips, campsites, mountains and more. I've joined in with reminiscences of my Arizona Trail hike. Today I'm starting a new occasional series about memorable mountains I've climbed. I find thinking about these trips and looking at my photographs a reassuring thing to do at this time.

The first mountain is far away in the High Sierra in California. It's one I've climbed twice, far apart in time and conditions. The first was in 1982 during my Pacific Crest Trail hike. The second was in 2016 during a walk from Yosemite Valley to Death Valley. Both trips are highlights of my outdoors life and Mount Whitney was the high point on both of them.

Mount Whitney is the highest mountain in the 48 contiguous States and the terminus of the John Muir and High Sierra Trails. As with all highest summits from Snowdon to Everest it is very popular and permits are required to climb it in order to control the numbers.

On the ascent, May 1982

Hiking the PCT in 1982 my permit for the trail included Whitney, not that there were any rangers on the mountain to check it. The High Sierra was still snowbound, the trail buried. I went through with three other hikers, feeling it was safer in a group. We took a day off to climb Whitney. Ice axe and crampins were needed throughout and in places the ascent was quite scary as we edged along narrow strips of snow with big drops to the side.

On the summit, May 1982

My second ascent was completely different. It was in October after a long dry summer. The mountain was barely recognisable from thirty-four years earlier. Instead of snow there was rock in vast quantities. My route was the same but this time there was a trail and other people, many other people.

The trail up Mount Whitney, October 2016

What didn't change were the vast views, the sense of wildness, the beauty of the landscape. Mount Whitney is a wonderful mountain in a wonderful place and remembering my two ascents always lifts my spirits.

On the summit, October 2016


  1. Your 1982 ascend looks quite scary. I remember it's a very steep slope. You definately don't want to slip there! Fortunately I had only little snow in 2018 and it was slushy rather than icy. Still slightly tricky in parts. I was quite surprised to encounter birds on the summit: Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches!

  2. It was scary, especially the long traverse from Trail Crest. We didn't fancy going back that way so we glissaded down a gully leading from below the summit dome. That was scary too, especially when one of my companions lost his ice axe, which I climbed down and retrieved.