Five of us headed out to Loon Lake to take our first backpacking trip as an entire family (well, most of the family). Two new frame packs for the younger boys, one borrowed one for Jade, and D and my gear, and we headed out to Rubicon Reservoir.
Our original reservation was for a trip from Emerald Bay west into the Desolation Wilderness, but weather restrictions advised that only very advanced hikers take the trip, so I found a new destination to Rubicon. Our first stop at the parking lot was met with tons of Jeepers ready to take the Rubicon Trail, north of the lakes, but our path followed the south side of Loon Lake, Spider Lake, Buck Island, and Rockbound Lake, 9.5 miles to our reserved camping spot. For three members of our family, this was their first overnight hike. Damon was not excited, Jade was cautiously optimistic, Tripp was ecstatic, and D had been hoping to traverse the PCT or TRT for years. For me, I was looking forward to doing a great family-bonding item.
As would be expected with a whole family, there were tribulations across the 4+ hours of hiking. From the backpack tipping over our smallest member, to a plethora of bugs at the final resting spot, and disappointment in eating just “snacks” for two days, the overall experience was one that wasn’t too great “in the moment,” but as a parent of five kids, I know often that looking back at experiences like these have more fondness than the feelings “in the moment,” so I was hopeful that it would create lasting memories for the kids.
Tripp learned some important items during this hike, hopefully that will last. The first is, you may not know when you’re out of energy, but some food and some calories can reinvigorate you to keep going. Jade learned to persevere in a way different than the other trials she’s been through. Damon, while maybe the least enthusiastic about the hike overall, did come out with a desire to do it again, though maybe in a smaller chunk.
The views were pretty marvelous at times, and the areas we got to were peaceful, for the most part. It was quite interesting, seeing and hearing the Jeeps across the lake, navigating very technical four-wheel courses. But for us, it was lakes, trees, rocks, and trails. Stream crossings, small waterfalls, rock hopping, and tent setup were the key moments of the days. Four hours isn’t a super long time to hike, but for those that don’t do it regularly, especially with a heavy pack on your back, it can be quite the difficult adventure.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! But having done it once as a family, I’m not sure I can convince anyone else to go do it again. Hopefully we will, though.
Robert brought three geocaching friends, Vincent, and myself to Mt Whitney, for his third (I think) attempt at reaching the summit. The prior two were early morning, one-day attempts. This was going to be the first try at a base camp, overnight trip; the goal to have an overnight stop to acclimate to the altitude, and hopefully overcome some of the issues stopping the previous attempts.
Reserving a permit to climb the peak is difficult: you try and book across many days, and hope you get in on the lottery. Obviously, Robert was successful, and so we headed down to start the two day trek.
Planning for a Backpack Trip
Backpacking itself isn’t terribly complicated. Plan your calories, pack your gear, don’t get too heavy. The last backpacking trip I took, it was Death Valley, warm, dry, and so it was sleeping under the stars. Hiking Whitney is a different beast. The weather can turn, someone may not summit, and most importantly, you have to carry out all of your waste. And by that, I mean your poop. 160 people climb Whitney daily, and this is all rock. There’s no way to bury that waste. Some people stuff it in rock crevices, and it just sits, being gross. Part of the permit process is ensuring you have bear canisters for your food, and poop bags.
Each of us brought extra bags. We had our food. We had our tents. Robert, Vincent, and I had already done Beveridge, and this was simpler. Besides packing and planning, the only other item we planned was heading up the day before to acclimate to the beginning elevation, visiting the trail head, and just killing time before the start.
Morning, Day One
4:30am, we started our trek. Making our way from Whitney Portal out to the base of the trail is just a pleasant mountain hike. While not “easy,” there’s nothing about it more difficult than managing the weight of a pack, managing five people all hiking together, and just going. In all, the first day took us just over four hours, so it’s obvious how people can up-and-back in a day. However, our goal wasn’t to race, it was to hike, to camp, and to acclimate as much as we could, hoping that everyone would avoid altitude sickness.
Mt Whitney Trail Camp – High Camp
Arriving late morning, it was now time to hang out for 22 hours. We were not the only ones at camp, but it wasn’t horribly packed. While we spent time refilling water, eating lunch and dinner, setting up tents, and preparing for the next day, we also spent time chatting with others at camp.
One interesting group was a team who were studying the affects and causes of altitude sickness. They were camped and collecting volunteers to hit the clinic in town and look for a micro-hole in the heart, to determine if its a factor in who does and does not suffer (patent ductus arteriosus or atrial septal defect?)
As Vincent had suffered twice from altitude sickness on the previous two attempts, he expressed his willingness to participate in the study after the hike.
Evening – Day 1
As we approached evening, a few things happened. One, the weather began turning south (slightly). Two, we all began to get tired and prepared to sleep. And three, Vincent started feeling ill, headaches, weariness, slight nausea. This wasn’t good news for summiting the next day. As it was, it seemed like Vincent would have to stay back. In the end, it was decided that if we couldn’t make it, Scott, Robert, and Vincent would stay behind. Robert had his heart set on summitting, but staying with his son was more important to him.
So we went to sleep, and prepared for a 6am wakeup to start the summit hike.
It was raining heavily at departure time, so we gave it a half hour to see if it would break. Then another half hour. Then another. When the skies finally cleared, three of us decided to start the trek up to the summit, just half the group.
While Eric was a runner, and the general fitness of the three of us was good, I’m not sure the mental state was. With every opportunity, the other two with me wanted to stop and rest, which is fine, but a one minute break and then getting moving again is different than a ten minute break every ten minutes. It took quite a bit of coaxing to keep the three of us heading up to the summit, and I’m glad I put pressure on our pace because…
Summit and Storms
We made the summit, and just in time. With a few minutes to grab the geocaches at the top, sign the log, and take a few pictures, we had to make a hasty retreat. The weather had turned.
Never in my life have I been inside a storm. At 14,500 feet, you’re not in a storm, you’re IN THE STORM. This had to be one of the scariest moments of my life. We began rushing down the hillside. As we approached one overhang, we joined several other hikers in staying in a slightly safer location while some of the worst passed. We continued to trek down when it was a bit safer, until we reached Trail Camp and began teardown.
The remainder of the downward hike was fairly uneventful. We continued all the way down the mountain, met up with the other three who had participated in the aforementioned research study, and made our way home. For me, this was a success! I’d love to be able to spend more than five minutes at the top of Mt Whitney some day, but if not, I can at least say that I made it to the top of the highest peak in the lower 48!