October 2012

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2012.

Big Sur

We celebrated our one year anniversary (and Labor Day) by driving up Highway 1 and visiting the most stunning coastline in California.


We stayed at Glen Oaks Big Sur,  which was really just a small cabin amongst the redwoods just off the highway.


As usual Katharine, being the great planner that she is, not only picked a place with great amenities but one that was centrally located to minimize the time spent in the car.  The small cabin had a microwave, small refrigerator  and best of all heated bathroom floors!  That way when you step out of the shower or are brushing your teeth, the floor is just slightly warmer than your feet, which is a surprisingly amazing feeling.  It also didn’t have a TV which may turn some people away, but right now we will choose a fire pit over a TV almost any day.

Redwoods in the Camp Fire Light

The first morning we went to Point Lobos State Reserve and it was clear, but the clouds were moving in fast.


The increased coastal moisture makes for some interesting fungus on the trees.


Once the clouds socked in the coast we hiked a couple short trails with trees covered in moss (Lace Lichen Trail).  We had a little fun with moss, I’m sure other people walking by thought we were weird.


The clouds lifted a little, but just in select areas.  We drove up and down the coast looking for a clearing, but got mixed results as you can see.





Midway through the day we gave up on the coast and headed inland to do some hiking in the redwoods.  The redwood groves weren’t nearly as big as other further up the coast in Redwoods National Park, but it was nice to get some excercise after sitting in the car for the last couple of days.


Then we headed to Pfeiffer Beach for sunset. Pfeiffer Beach is a relatively unknown spot in Big Sur since there isn’t much signage on Rt. 1, it has pretty rough road to access it, and there is only extremely limited parking. So it’s much less crowded than it would otherwise be given that it’s a beautiful beach with amazing rock formations and purple sand. Even on Labor Day weekend just before sunset we were able to get a parking spot after just a ~20 minute wait.



Certain areas of the beach had very purple sand, especially near the bluffs due to the manganese garnet in the hills. But as the light faded it became harder to see the color and the temperatures started to  drop causing us to head back to the car.  Although we were able to stay much longer than others since we brought our down jackets and gloves 🙂

We had dinner at Ventana Inn, which was pretty fancy compared to our Mountain House freeze dried foods we had the weekend before when we were hiking Whitney.  This was definitely a different style of vacation for us, but the more relaxed setting was much appreciated.

The next morning the clouds were stil hugging the coast and preventing us from taking more photos.  We checked out McWay Falls, one of the few waterfalls that actually empties out into the ocean, but the fog made it a little less dramatic than we were hoping.


Since the coast was so foggy we decided to head back a little early to get a head start on the long drive. On the way back we stopped to check out the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas again, which were small in numbers compared to what we saw during the breeding season, so we spent some time watching the parasurfers instead.


All in all the trip was relaxing and different from our many summit hikes we had been doing all year.  We wish the clouds would have cleared more for some coastal photos, but that just gives us a reason to visit again!

Per usual we took many photos on our Mt. Whitney trip, 719 to exact.  Of course many of the photos help tell the story while others are just visually stunning and some are both. Here are some of our favorites.  Click on the photos for best viewing.

Lone Pine Lake

Olympus 14-42 @25mm, ISO 200, f/10, 1/400 sec

Trailside Meadows

Canon 24-105 @105mm, ISO 100, f/8.0, 1/640 sec

Consultation Lake

Olympus 14-42 @ 14mm, ISO 200, f/9.0, 1/320 sec

Whitney in the Moonlight

Canon 24-105 @24mm, ISO 800, f/6.3, 60 sec

Looking East From Trail Camp

Canon 24-105 @24mm, ISO 800, f/6.3, 33 sec

Trail Camp from the Switchbacks

Canon 24-105 @50mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/400 sec

Trail Crest from the Switchbacks

Canon 24-105 @ 24mm, ISO 100, f/8.0, 1/800 sec

John Muir Trail Junction

Canon 24-105 @105mm, ISO 100, f/8.0, 1/400 sec

Looking Over the Edge of Whitney

Olympus 9-18 @9mm, ISO 200, f/9.0, 1/400 sec

Trail Camp Stream

Olympus  9-18 @18mm, ISO 200, f/11, 1/400 sec

Trail Camp Sunset

Canon 24-105 @24mm, ISO 200, f/6.3, 1/160 sec

Trail Camp Sunset

Canon 24-105 @45mm, ISO 250, f/6.3, 1/125 sec

Looking Toward Whitney from Trail Camp

Canon 24-105 @24mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 30 sec

Trail Camp Marmot

Canon 24-105 @105mm, ISO 200, f/8.0, 1/640 sec

Looking Over Mirror Lake (Katharine is on the right)

Canon 24-105 @24mm, ISO 100, f/6.3, 1/640 sec

The gallery below has a few others as well, mostly ones included in the trip reports posted previously.

Well it’s all down hill from here!  Over the next 24 hours we would descend over 6,000 feet and 11 miles back to Whitney Portal.  On the way down from the summit we gave a few struggling hikers some words of encouragement as they were close to the summit, but as the sun started to get low in the sky and stragglers further from the summit asked us “am I close?” we tried to stay objective as possible letting them know how many miles were left, knowing they would probably reach the summit in the dark.   Once we reached Trail Crest no one else was headed up and we were all eager to get back to Trail Camp.


We tried counting the 99 switchbacks but tired and thinking about dinner we lost count around 15 or 16.  About half way down the switchbacks we were surprised to see a find a small group of young guys in t-shirts, no backpacks, and sledge hammers!  We had a brief conversation with them and found out they were the trail maintenance crew and would be working on the trail until they got snowed out.  Their job was to clear rock slides from the trail and shore up eroded areas.  We expressed our hope that they get paid well but they replied they do it mostly for the view.  We couldn’t imagine not only hiking up and down these trails everyday carrying pick axes and sledge hammers, but also doing it at 13,000+ feet!  These guys were insane, but to be honest they looked like they were having a good time.

Shortly after our conversation with the young trail maintenance team we were passed by the older park rangers who were doing maintenance on the summit hut.

Hope that paint can is empty!

We were thinking they should at least splurge for a paint can with a plastic handle.  Anyway these guys were also in good spirits talking about how they couldn’t wait to shower and drive a car!  Apparently they had been camping for a couple months and were finally done with their work.

At the bottom of the switchbacks we ran into two guys staring at the switchbacks discussing.  At this point the mountain shadows were shading the trail and to start up them at this time would be crazy in our opinion.  The two also had full backpacks and were obviously equipped to stay at Trail Camp, so we had to ask, “where are you headed?”  They responded “just trying to get out of the Whitney Zone so we don’t have to use a wag bag.”  We couldn’t help, but grin and wish them on their way.  Not sure if we mentioned it, but the Whitney Zone is a pack it in and pack EVERYTHING out kind of place.  We’ll let you figure out the rest.  After a long discussion the two headed up the switchbacks.

Once again the night was cold and restless, but we would rather sleep in the cold than hike another 5.5 miles in the dark.  Once we started packing up our gear the next morning, the marmots started coming out of the woodwork.  I’m guessing it’s part of their normal routine to scavenge newly vacated campsites.


As we started hiking out of Trail Camp the wind was picking up catching some backpackers off guard who setup their tent when the wind was calmer.


Even though the hike back was just a short 5.5 miles all downhill the last few switchbacks seemed never ending.  In the end it was completely worth it to stand on the top of Mt. Whitney and enjoy the amazing french fries at the Portal that are cooked in peanut oil!



Our first night after getting to Trail Camp was a little restless because the temperatures dropped below freezing. We woke up to a myriad of sounds around 4 am; a group of backpackers singing happy birthday, the tent next to us collapsing unexpectedly, and anxious excited day-hikers joining the line of people headed to the 99 switchbacks up to Trail Crest.  Since we knew we were staying a second night there wasn’t as big of a rush to get on the trail before sunrise, so we took it easy and went back to sleep for a little.  We ate breakfast while watching zombie day hikers wander past after hiking 6.3 miles and 4,000 feet of gain all before 8 AM.  Rested and full of energy we headed up the 99 switchbacks!

Looking down at Trail Camp from Switchback #10 or #12, Our tent is hidden in the shadows of the rock wall on the right

Climbing the 99 switchbacks is long and arduous, and the refrozen snow melt also made the granite steps a little more challenging.


Most of the switchbacks are well maintained, but there were some scary washed out sections this year.  There is only one section that had cables, this is not a hike for those who are afraid of heights.

Switchback Cables and a view of Consultation Lake, 1.4 miles from Trail Camp, 12,820 feet

Washed Out Section, About 12 Inches Wide at the Narrowest Section

The views are amazing, but it’s a steep climb and you really start to feel the effects of the altitude.  The man in this photo later got altitude sickness toward the summit, delaying his group as they had to help him down the mountain.  It was a reminder this isn’t just any summit, and without the proper training, you can put yourself at risk along with your fellow hikers.

Looking back at Trail Camp (Left) and Consultation Lake (Right)

The 99 switchbacks vary in length some seeming to never end and others only 15 feet or so.  Counting them can be a good distraction, but odds are you’ll loose count along the way.  The seemingly endless switchbacks do come to an end at Trail Crest, where the trail reaches the top of the ridge and continues on the backside.  If you click to enlarge the picture below, you can see 3 backpackers on the left breaking the horizon at Trail Crest.

Trail Crest, 2.2 miles from Trail Camp, 13,777 feet

Around 9:00 we made it over Trail Crest and into the shade of the mountain.  We were quickly met by a fierce cold wind that must have dropped the temperature back down to nearly freezing.  The narrow shadowed trail makes its way along the rocky cliff and eventually meets up with the end of the John Muir Trail.

Looking back towards the John Muir Trail Junction, 2.7 miles from Trail Camp, 13,480 feet

Once we got out of the shadows we could shed some layers and enjoy the view of the valley on the west side of the ridge which is full of beautiful alpine lakes.

The trail is carved into the mountain wall

Every once in a while the trail reaches a “window” in the pinnacles where you can look back toward the side we came up.

Mirror Lake, small green section in the granite mountains, 5 trail miles away, 3,000 feet below

At this point we were pretty tired and ready for the summit even though the rock formations around us and the views of the valley below us were pretty impressive.  Being surrounded by jagged granite peaks we scanned the horizon for the infamous summit hut.  Sometimes you feel like your just hiking up a gravel mountain.

Looking Back Toward the Pinnacles

Eventually we made it to the final push and after 5.7 miles and 2,496 feet of elevation we reached the summit at 14,504 feet!

Mt. Whitney Summit, Tallest Peak in the lower 49 states, 14,504 feet

Signing The Book

We ate lunch and watched other hikers reach the top, take a photo, and share their story.  Everyone had a unique story on why they wanted to summit and how they got there.  The most unique story we heard was a retired couple traveling the country to summit the highest point in each state!  They had just a handfull of states left including Alaska…definitely working their way up!

Reaching the top was surreal – in someways it was hard to comprehend the accomplishment after 6 months of preparation, and at the same time soak in the scenery. We we’re pretty impressed with ourselves, but like every trip there is always someone there to top us.  Whether it’s a father passing us on a trail while carrying his son on his shoulders, or a couple backpacking in Zion with their 2 year child.  This time it was the park rangers maintaining the summit hut.  Not only do they spend weeks up at high altitudes, and spend most of it doing construction work, but they had to backpack their tools up the mountain!  I wasn’t fast enough with the camera to capture him packing his framing hammer.

You can spot a small torpedo level in the side pocket and we later saw him carrying the can of paint down the trail.

It was a clear day, not a cloud in the sky giving people more confidence to spend more time at the summit without the risk of lighting strikes, but for most people they had along way to go back to their car.  For us it was just a short 4.7 miles back to our tent.

Looking back toward the pinnacles on a clear blue summit day

The return hike will be posted later in Part 3.