Day-Hiking Mount Whitney

On an early morning this past June some friends and I set off for an epic day-hike to the highest point in the lower 48 states – Mt. Whitney. Along the way I was able to field test some of my favorite Terramar Gear. Because Whitney tops out at about 14,500 feet we needed to be prepared for all kinds of weather. Like other mountains in the Sierra Range, Mt. Whitney is prone to cold and fast-changing weather, so being well informed and fully prepared was essential for a successful climb and it was important to have enough layers to stay warm, dry, and comfortable for the 18-hour hike.

The sun rising over the Eastern Sierra

The sun rising over the Eastern Sierra (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

At about 2:30 AM we start our hike in the dark on very little sleep but with a lot of excitement. At 22 miles long and gaining over 6,000 feet in elevation, the trip from the trailhead is no walk in the park. But I had done a lot of research and some training, and as fate would have it we did our climb on the summer solstice. In more ways than one it was the longest day of the year!

For the entirety of the climb I wore my trusty neon-green Helix Crew. As I’ve written about before this dry-wicking shirt is really comfortable. It performed well as a foundation of my layering system, along with my comfortable and flexible Terramar boxer briefs. I won’t get into too many details about the boxer-briefs but I’ll say they are breathable, stay in place and don’t cause any chafing issues.

A view of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental US. (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

A view of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental US. (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

Hours went by and the sun slowly hinted at its arrival. In the blue-gray, early-morning light we started to see the immensity of the stone walls to our left and right. The size and scale of the shear faces was incredible. It’s enough to make you stop and wonder. It’s enough to make you feel tiny.

At a few of the stream crossings, we took a break to filter the flowing water into our camelbaks. We snacked and snapped a few photos. It wasn’t long before the sun peeked over the White Mountains to the East and we’re basking in daylight. Above 10,000 feet the wind and sun can be draining, but we made sure to keep layered up, hydrated and covered in sunscreen.

Keeping warm in the quiet early-morning air (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

Keeping warm in the quiet early-morning air (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

To keep warm and to protect myself from the sun I wore my orange Microcool Long Sleeve Crew. This shirt is flexible, soft, and light. It also fits my long torso and wicks away moisture. When every ounce counts, this shirt was a great asset in keeping me dry and comfortable during the climb.

Soon after a sunrise we got our first view of the summit. Glowing amber in the early-morning light the sawtooth peak to the west looked more like a painting than a tangible goal. Seeing the top was simultaneously daunting and motivating: While it was hard to register distance and scale, I thought to myself, “It doesn’t look easy, but at least the end is in sight.”

Green grass and slow melt along the 22-mile trail (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

Green grass and slow melt along the 22-mile trail (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

Along the trail we saw spots of snow, bristlecone pines and wildflowers. We passed creeks, alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls and some of the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. With a steady pace, we continued to climb at a rate of about 2 miles per hour, and before we knew it we had covered 6-miles to an area known as Trail Camp. Stopping for a break, we enjoyed the warm sunshine while leaning against boulders. We ate our breakfast at the edge of a small alpine lake with several tents pitched near-by. The bright orange and yellow nylon contrasted against the desaturated stone above the treeline. The lake is the last water source before the summit, so we filtered enough for the climb and descent back to Trail Camp, which was a good thing because I was drinking as much as I could all morning to stay hydrated and combat any potential effects of altitude. So with four liters of water in my pack for the next 10 miles, we continued on to the top.

As we gained elevation I relied on my trusty Terramar black half-zip. Rated a 2 out of 3 on Terramar’s insulation scale, this medium weight long-sleeve is clutch when the wind picks up or the temperature drops. The collar keeps your neck warm, and the zipper helps regulate heat when steep inclines raise your core temp. This is one of my favorite and most used base Layers, and I can’t recommend enough.

Keeping warm in my Terramar 1/2 Zip base layer

Keeping warm in my Terramar 1/2 Zip base layer

The last two miles to the summit offered unparalleled views in almost every direction. As we skirted along the edge of the mountain face, I was impressed by the sheer-vertical drops to our east and the millions of scattered boulders to our west. The trail became more challenging here as we navigated over large jagged stones. The wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped, and our lungs reminded us of the reduced of oxygen in the air. We put on the rest of our layers, hats and gloves, and slowly made progress step by step.

Twhtney orange shirt

The last 2 miles to the summit are very steep and rugged (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

The summit was a joyous atmosphere. About 40 fellow hikers were relaxing, taking photos, eating lunch and enjoying conversation. Others found a quiet corner to take a nap. Under a clear blue sky we could see for miles and miles in every directions. It also happened to be Father’s Day and we saw sons with their dads, arms in arms, celebrating together. There was even a guy wearing nothing but a fanny-pack doing yo-yo tricks while a friend took video with his phone. Only in California!  

From the summit we could see for miles and miles

From the summit we could see for miles and miles

It took us about as long to get back down to the bottom as it did to reach the top. The descent was a long haul and we certainly felt the distance on our legs, knees, and feet. But just as the sun began to set we made it to the camp store minutes before they closed. A few minutes later, sitting together barefooted at picnic table full of junk food, we cheers bottles of cold beer to a mission accomplished. Despite the aches, blisters and sweat, we couldn’t help but smile as we recalled the events of the day. With the goal of climbing Whitney now checked off our list, there are two more goals I couldn’t  wait to achieve —  a nice, hot shower and a good night’s sleep.

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