mt. whitney wednesday: the infamous 97 switchbacks

Hi everyone! This post is part of my series the Mt. Whitney chronicles, which is comprised of journal entries from when I climbed Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, ten years ago. If you missed the earlier post in the series, you can read them here.

mt whitney chronicles

Saturday, July 26, 9:02 a.m.

We have reached “Trail Camp” where hikers climbing Whitney in two days camp out overnight. It is a lot quieter up here, as desolate and barren as I imagine Mars to be. The surroundings have turned from the greens of foliage and trees to the browns and grays of rock. Finally, it actually feels like I’m climbing a mountain!

We take a short break for water and food before shouldering our packs and starting up again. Trail Camp is at the base of the switchbacks. The infamous switchbacks. There are, by actual count, 97 switchbacks covering 2.2 steep-and-jagged miles leading from Trail Camp with an elevation of 12,000 feet to Trail Crest with an elevation of 13,777 feet.

The ankle-twisting switchbacks are daunting. Those who have conquered Whitney say they are the most difficult part of the whole climb. The mountain rises above us, so immense I can’t even imagine it having a summit. Slowly we start up the first switchback, then turn and head up the second. One down, 96 more to go.

switchbacks

10:13 a.m.

Ninety-six down – trust me, I counted each and every one! – and only one more to go. Woo-hoo!

I can’t believe it. We made it up the switchbacks in only an hour! I thought it would surely take us twice that long. The switchbacks were hard, to be certain, and long and boring, but I was actually surprised to see the welcoming “Trail Crest” sign as soon as we did. I guess you get into a sort of rhythm, trudging up, up, up the mountain, one foot in front of the other, your breathing heavy and even, taking each switchback as it comes, and time goes by almost as if you are in a trance. The fun part about the switchbacks is that you feel like you really are climbing a mountain – you can look down and see the trail winding away below you, like a giant snake.

Mom and I are in our highest spirits, I think, of the whole hike so far. The rest of trail cannot be nearly so steep as the rocky and uneven staircase we just climbed. And we are only two miles away from the summit! We are so close to the top I feel as excited in anticipation as a 5-year-old on Christmas Eve night.

at trail crest

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