The Lure Of A Mountain Lake – Whitney Portal Trail, CA
I’ve always been attracted to high mountains. There is something about their imposing presence that teases and lures me.
“Come climb me” they seem to say “you’ll find yourself here”
This would all be fine and dandy were it not for the fact that I have a debilitating fear of heights combined with a good dose of vertigo the combo of which makes for entertaining stuff.
As an example, I might be hiking along perfectly normally when something about the trail, some sheer drop or some angled perspective suddenly grips me. The world fades away, my vision turns to tunnel tightness, things start to wobble and there I am…on my ass in complete rigor mortis. Once in this embarrassing state it’s very hard to get myself out and I might sit there and cry like an abandoned baby seal until I’m able to scoot myself down (usually, once again, on my ass) to the bottom. I react the same on snow and ice, having an unreasonably morbid fear of slipping which only amplifies my inadequacy in the mountains. I don’t ski much.
Despite this I just can’t resist the draw. I want to be there, up in the high clouds breathing in that sharp air and fading into oblivion in the largeness of the mountains. It’s a strange mix of fear and excitement which I guess only the insane have?
As you imagine, given my odd persona, I’ve wanted to climb Mt.Whitney forever.
The sharp tooth-edge tips of the 14,505 ft (4,421 m) high mountain seem impossibly enticing. She is the tallest in the contiguous US and yet she is totally climbable. Hundreds of people take the 22 mile round trip each year, many of them with only amateur hiking skills.
The problem is that the last 5 miles or so of the trip involve walking along a high ridgeline with steep drop-offs on both sides, a scene guaranteed to turn me into fear-paralyzed granite. If I ever did try to climb her, I’d probably have to be left there as a permanent souvenir since I don’t think any earthly thing could ever get me down.
So, I’ve resigned myself to doing the next best thing.
The first 2.5-3 miles of the Whitney Portal Trail provide a steep, but wide switchback of trails up to a beautiful mountain lake (Lone Pine Lake). No permit is required and the entire trail is dog-friendly (a definite bonus). We’ve hiked this trail before and, more importantly, I’ve managed to do the whole thing upright without any use of my posterior. This time of year the lake is still frozen, but the snowline is mostly above the lake-bed with clear trails beneath.
After confirming it was safe at the Lone Pine Visitor’s Center we decided to give it a try.
Our companions on this little expedition were RV buddies Russ, Todd & Frances who we’ve dragged along (or did they drag us?) on Hwy 395. Since they also own a “beastly” rig (albeit a rather sexy vintage one), they’re almost like RV soul-mates. Besides that Frances and Polly are in deep doggie-love and play like young puppies everytime they’re together. It’s too darn cute.
We chose mid-morning for our hike to allow the trail to warm up and started the long, winding drive up Whitney Portal to the 8,360 ft (~2,550 m) parking lot at the trailhead entrance. It was a brilliant, clear morning and the sky was that impossibly deep, intense blue that is so unique in the high mountains. Temps dropped dramatically as we drove higher and by the time we got to the tree-line it was nicely chilly.
This is where the trail starts. From a baseline of thick Ponderosa Pine it winds through seemingly never-ending set of switchbacks up the steep heart of the mountain. As you climb the views open and expand providing an almost inconceivably wide panorama. It’s so hard to capture it on camera since it’s just so immense and you get the feeling that you’re both impossibly small and impossibly large at the same time. You know what I mean?
Once you hit ~9,800 ft (~2,990 m) you shift south on a longer traverse until you reach a saddle where the trail splits off to the lake. At this point you’re in the snowline, at least this time of year, and the brilliant white of the snow glistens brightly against the aqua blue of the frozen lake. Strange, cracked formations web across the lake-shore revealing both the beauty and fragility of the ice. It’s a breathtaking scene and the perfect place to stop for a snack.
We all took around 4 easy hours doing the trail. Happily enough I had no “episodes”, although poor Paul suffered from some kind of strange blood-sugar drop at the summit and was only saved by the prompt intervention of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Sea-Salt Caramels which (thankfully) our RV buddies had bought along for emergency purposes. Thank goodness, yet again, for chocolate.
A brilliant day with a brilliant hike. I may not have mastered the mountain, but I got to partake of her and that’ll do for now.SPONSORED LINK:
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