Mt Whitney – 1997

At 14,505ft, Mt Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States. This makes it Very Popular. The normal way of tackling it is from the east side, over three days. On the first day you make your way from Whitney Portal (at 8,360ft) up to Trail Camp (12,000ft). The night is spent there, then the second day sees you summiting and then returning to Trail Camp for another night, before finally dropping back down to Whitney Portal on the third day.

In August of 1997, we managed to obtain a permit for this climb, which allowed us to summit on the 3rd of the month. In those days, permits were issued on a first come, first served basis. A few years after our trip, the system was changed to a lottery instead, making it almost impossible to get the necessary permit – the peak being so immensely popular.


Of course, there are some nutters people who attempt to do it all in one day, but that’s certainly not for us!

We set off on our trip with high hopes, after spending a few days in Yosemite – supposedly acclimatising to the altitude. This was our first ever trip to anything this high and unfortunately we didn’t get it quite right. Since then, we have had many trips to the High Sierra without any problems, but have learnt to take the acclimatisation process much more slowly.


We did, however, have an amazing experience. We made it to Trail Camp in good time (in reality, climbing too quickly) and were treated to an almighty thunderstorm which rattled and circled around us all afternoon and most of the evening.


I did suffer, though. Up to press, this has still been the longest night of my life. I spent the whole time with a headache which felt like it was threatening to explode my head into little pieces, and a stomach which constantly threatened to throw its contents all over the floor.


I was no better the next morning. The weather had improved greatly – although there was forecast to be more thunderstorms that afternoon – but we made the decision to descend. And almost by magic, we only needed to descend around 1,000ft before I once again felt absolutely fine.


But we’d lost our permit slot. If it says 3rd August, then you can’t summit on the 2nd or the 4th – the 3rd it has to be. And they do have Rangers at random spots on the trail, checking up on you….


A lot was learnt, however, and this paved the way for many more wonderful trips to the High Sierra in California.

Apologies for the lack of photos. At that time we used to use slides and I’ve only ever had a handful converted to prints.

8 thoughts on “Mt Whitney – 1997

  1. That looks a pretty serious hill – is it just walking? it looks very craggy… The lottery system wouldn’t really work if you’d come all the way from England to walk it would it?!


    1. It is just walking but it also rocky and craggy plus a bit more exposed in some places higher up, too.

      No, the lottery system is a complete non starter really when you’re trying to book flights etc from the uk!


  2. It’s such a shame that they feel the need to permit control these places. I really don’t see the need for it. It may be a popular peak but surely they can manage it better than with a tombola to decide who summits and who doesn’t
    Altitude never agreed with me either when I was doing Alpine stuff. I hated the 3am starts, always felt sick and never had any energy, although I never got the headaches.


    1. I think the numbers are just too enormous, Andy. Even permit controlled, they have unbelievable problems with human toilet waste! The tombola system isn’t good though. We did try and get another permit under that system a few years later but failed. It doesn’t fit well with booking flights etc from the other side of the world either…


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