Mount Whitney: Trip Summary

3-6 Nov 1999


random trip report

Mike and I loaded up my Honda and hit the road 5:00 PM Wednesday November 3, 1999. We went over Tioga pass and down to Mono Lake (cleverly avoiding the $20 Yosemite entrance fee, since it was after hours). We camped in a clearing off a dirt road. Mike made a giant fire, we cooked and ate some vile Italian sausages, and listened to Reggae music on his boom-box.

In spite of my nested-sleeping-bag approach I was very cold, and slept little. We rose, had breakfast in nearby Lee Vining and visited the tourist info center. I bought the Audubon guide to the trees of the western U.S, and we got directions to the Obsidian Dome.

The east side of the Sierras has patches of deciduous trees, and they were at the height of fall color, mostly a brilliant golden-yellow. On the way out of town, we paused to identify the tall, slender Lombardy Poplar and the closely-related but rounder Fremont Cottonwood.

Driving down 395 we kept a lookout for the Obsidian Dome sign, but never saw it. We turned off, just past Mammoth Mountain, to a place called Hot Creek, where boiling geothermal water bubbles up into an icy-cold mountain stream. You select a temperature by where you sit. It was great - we lingered there for an hour.

We stopped in Bishop to have lunch and get supplies. Mike was lured by a place offering 2 for 1 Italian sandwiches (Mike is half Italian, by the way), which turned out to be a bait-and-switch, but we had some bad pizza there anyway.

I realized that I had forgotten to pack my walking shorts, and we began a tour of the businesses of Bishop, Big Pine, and Lone Pine. Hard to believe, but except for some shiny nylon basketball shorts in the Bishop K-Mart, there was nothing. Rural people, Lynne points out, are loathe to bare limbs. I was mentally preparing to do the hike in my underwear (it would have been a first, perhaps) but fortunately Mike had an extra pair, and we both have a 32' waist.

We pulled into Lone Pine around 3:00 PM, drove partway to the Whitney Portal, and identified a Singleleaf Pinyon. We returned to town and made a circuit of the motels, looking for one that was cheap and had quiet heaters. One of them was staffed by a belligerent Indian woman who got a mild shock trying to plug a heater into a faulty, loose outlet, and then questioned our desire for quiet, saying it was going to be plenty noisy in the mountains (somehow she had pegged us as climbers). [ASIDE TO DAVE WEINBERG: this is the same place where we stayed in our Death Valley trip many years ago; the heaters have not been upgraded.]

We found a fine motel a block off the main drag, and cooked dinner on the camp stove in our room. We put on hiking boots and went for a shake-down walk around town, namely to the local bar for a drink. Mike discovered a nascent hole in his boots, so we then scoured the local businesses for shoe-goo (no go). After a final snack at PJ's Diner, we retired. Again, I got very little sleep - this time the problem was Mike's snoring. Nonetheless, when the alarm clock went off at 5:00 AM, I was energetic and totally pumped up - I had visualized this moment for quite some time!

The summary of the hike is here.

We got back to Lone Pine about 7:30 PM, and stopped at a gas station to change clothes. Walking ten feet was very difficult at this point. We drove back to Bishop (an hour or so) and found another good off-the-main-road motel: El Rancho. We had a nice dinner at the Whiskey Creek Inn, with a chatty waitress who slid in the booth and told us about her own Whitney ascent, a number of years back.

I was in desperate need of a good night's sleep so we had separate rooms I was a bit discouraged when, soon after lights out, a sawing-wood sound filtered through the wall from Mike's room next door. Fortunately this died out quickly, and I drifted off into a wonderful, very contented sleep.

I got up early the next morning, flipped on the TV, and saw an ad for Jack's Bakery, which made gigantic biscuits, as well as a prize-winning Cheese Jerky bread. Mike wasn't up, but I jumped in the car and scouted out the town, locating Jack's. I rousted Mike and we had breakfast there; the biscuits were impossibly high (4" or so) with a tub of sausage gravy on the side.

Going back up 395, we turned off at a sign saying 'Glass Flow'; a dirt road led to a sign saying 'Obsidian Dome', though it wasn't a dome so much as a big pile of obsidian boulders, which the mountain-goat-like Mike immediately scampered up. (I myself was still walking kind of slow).

For variety, we crossed the Sierras at the next pass up from Tioga, namely highway 108 over Sonora Pass. This is a wonderful old-fashioned road, made without big road-cuts or blasting away hillsides, so it's extremely steep and winding in places. The pass, and the Stanislaus Forest through which the road descends, are incredibly beautiful.

Back in the central valley, we stopped at Missy's Espresso and Pastries, improbably located in the farm town of Escalon, and I enjoyed a Napoleon. We were back in Berkeley around 5:00 PM. Mike and I unpacked the car, exchanged a high five, and went our separate ways. Needless to say, we felt great about the trip, and we will no doubt talk about it, exaggerate it, and embellish it, for years to come.

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