Mt. Whitney Backpack - Trip Description

Organization and Leadership:
This 6-day backpack trip was run by Call of the Wild, an organization offering outdoor adventures for women for the past 21 years. The founder/leader, Carole Latimer, has climbed Mt. Whitney 21 times now, and is an inspiring example of the strength and self-reliance women can have in wilderness adventures. Carole's professional leadership and extensive knowledge of the area made for the most enjoyable possible experience for the group - she planned a well-paced itinerary (that maximized our acclimatization and strength before the summit climb) and took us to choice campsites (that avoided the crowds and gave us the best views). In addition, the top-notch gourmet food - much of it pre-made or freeze-dried by Carole in advance - set the highest standards I've ever seen for outdoor cooking, true to Carole's reputation for delicious outdoor cuisine.
Day 0: Meet up at Horseshoe Meadow
We all arrive for gear checks and orientation, and the evening meal gives us our first taste of Carole's gourmet outdoor cooking. The night at 9,000 ft elevation starts our acclimatizaion.
Day 1: Horseshoe Meadow to Chicken Spring Lake
We climb over Cottonwood Pass (11,120 ft), and then into Chicken Spring Lake, at 11,160 ft, for an easy 5 mile day. The trail runs first through pine forest and then opens up onto rocky slopes at our camp near timberline. A sharp rocky ridge forms a bowl around most of the lake, and creates a dramatic horizon. Lots of large boulders near the lake shore give great opportunitiies for skinny dipping, washing and playing in the water.
Day 2: Chicken Spring Lake to Rock Creek
We cruise along the contours to a lunch site with views of nearby Joe Devel Peak, and the ragged Miter peaks. Then we descend slightly to the meadows at Rock Creek, at 9,600 ft. to finish this 9 mile day.
Day 3: Layover Day at Rock Creek
The open meadow areas give the perfect setting for the solar-heated garbage bag baths, as well as a morning Yoga class, massage sessions, hair braiding, and general relaxation on this layover day.
Day 4: Rock Creek to Guitar Lake
An early start gives us ample time to reach Crabtree Meadow for lunch, where we start getting great views of the higher peaks behind Mt. Whitney, including Mt. Young and Mt. Hitchcock. After ascending above timberline once again, we reach camp just above Guitar Lake, 11,480 ft., to end a 12 mile day. We're now surrounded by the grey-beige granite faces of Mt. Young and Mt. Hitchcock, and the backside of Mt. Whitney itself looms 3,000 ft over us. The entire landscape has changed its nature from the lushness of the meadows and forests to the barren openness of the rocky high peaks. The sunset reflecting over Guitar Lake gives some memorable evening views.
Day 5: Summit Mt. Whitney - 14,496 feet, Descend to Consultation Lake
We start early again, and immediately hit the switchbacks for 3 miles up to the summit trail junction, at 13,450 ft. After stashing (or partially unloading) our packs, we finish the remaining 2 miles on steep rocky trail to the summit of Mt. Whitney, 14,496 ft. The high, exposed trail gives extraordinary views that change around every corner, and the notches between the Needles give sudden, spectacular vistas over the steep eastern face of the mountain. After 3 hours of climbing the advance party reaches the summit, and 2 hours later everyone is on top! On the descent to Consultation Lake (11,680 ft.) we lose count of the near-infinite switchbacks down the steep eastern side to finish a 10 mile day. Our campsite just above the lake gives great views back up to the Whitney summit.
Day 6: Consultation Lake to Whitney Portal
It's nothing but downhill, but a short 6 miles later we're at Whitney Portal for a welcome feast of french fries! (Grease and salt - two food groups not covered on the trip - never tasted so good!) Mt. Whitney has now disappeared from view, but not from our memories.
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