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Mt Whitney

The Summit of Mt Whitney is made up of a large fairly level area that can hold a multitude of hikers/climbers on it's summit plateau. You have worked hard to get on top, and now is the time to enjoy the 360 degree view that the highest peak in the Continental US affords you.

Mt Whitney's summit also sports a Stone Hut (as seen in the right hand image) that was built in 1909 under the sponsorship of the Smithsonian Institute. The main trail was completed in July of 1904, and just five years latter, in 1909, the current stone hut was constructed. It was completed in about a months time. In modern day terms this may not seem like any big deal, but one must remember that back then all building materials had to be delivered on site by mules (who had to be coaxed up the trail under heavy loads). Add to this, the fact that all construction had to be done with simple hand tools, and you begin to get the picture of how much effort it took to complete this project.

The idea to construct a hut on the summit was conceived after the first recorded death on Mt Whitney on July 26, 1904. Three men from the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries had climbed up the brand new trail, and while on top eating lunch, were struck by lightening. Two out of the three men survived, but the strike on Bryd Surby ended up being fatal.
Looking east, you will be able to look down 10,000 vertical feet and see the little town of Lone Pine and the Owens Valley. The mountain range that you see across the valley is the Inyo Mountains. To the north you will be able to see many Sierra peaks, along with White Mountain on the north eastern side of the valley over 60 miles away. To the west is Sequoia National Park, and to the south peaks such as near by Lone Pine Peak, and Mt Langley come into view.

As with most Sierra Nevada peaks, Mt Whitney contains a summit register box (as you can see in the left hand photo). It is like no other I have ever seen on any Sierra Peak (and I have been on many of them) in terms of size and construction. This register is designed to fit several thousand names. I was told by one of the forest service personnel that Sequoia Rangers now and then make the trip to the top of Mt Whitney in order to collect the filled register and replace it with a new one. The registers are not discarded, however, but are placed in the archives as part of Mt Whitney's legacy. So you can be assured when you sign the Mt Whitney Register your name is going down in history.
Afternoon thunderstorms during the summer months are still a danger to the modern day hiker and climber. Lightening is not only a concern on peaks but also on exposed ridges. The summit shelter's door has a warning posted on it (image to the right)warning visitors about the dangers of being on the peak during lightening storms.

The warning also lets you know that taking shelter inside the hut is no protection against electrical storms. Your best bet is to always move toward lower ground when foul weather threatens.

Spending the night on the summit of Mt Whitney can be an experience all its own. Some hikers plan their trip so that they will be able to reach the top by sunrise. Watching the sun rise on the eastern horizon from the vantage point of Mt Whitney's summit can be an experience you will never forget. I only spent the night out on the peak once under circumstances that were not as pleasant as I would have liked.
My climbing partner Mike and I were pretty much forced into a night out after climbing the East Face of Mt Whitney in 1981. We ended up running out of time for the descent to Iceberg Lake (where we had set up our initial base camp) because it had taken us so long to make the ascent.

We took shelter in the hut but were unable to close the door because it was rusted into an open position that could not be altered by mere human effort (the stone hut door was made of iron back then but has since been replaced by a wooden one). The wind whistled throughout the inside of the shelter all night, and time went by very slowly. It is best to forget about looking at your watch in situations like this (because when you think an hour has gone by your watch reveals that only 5 minutes has elapsed). I was never so glad to see the dawning of a new day after that cold night out. The photo to the left shows a view of the inside of the stone structure. The stone seat with a patch of snow on it was where we sat the night out while waiting for first light. We placed our climbing rope on top of the stone seat to provide a little insulation from the bitter cold.

If you should decide to spend the night out on the summit of Mt Whitney make sure you are prepared for it. Have proper equipment for the cold and have plenty of water along during the summer months, or carry a stove for melting snow during early season so you can melt down snow and ice. Also, as noted in the sign above, do not be inside of the hut or even on the summit at all if lightening is a possibility. Seek lower ground as soon as it is safely possible.
I find that one of the neatest views from the summit of Mt Whitney is Mt Russell just to the north of Mt Whitney. Mt Russell is one of the California 14ers, and has a double summit. The photo to the right shows a view of this magnificent mountain from the top of Mt Whitney. The peak on the left hand side of the image is the higher point and shows the imposing face of the fish hook arete. This face poses an interesting challenge for accomplished mountaineers. I have climbed Mt Russell twice via the east ridge route, and can tell you that it is a Classic Sierra Climb along a knife blade ridge.

All in all, the summit of Mt Whitney is a great place to spend some time. The spectacular views, the wonderful since of accomplishment, and the great memories that you have created, make the 22 mile round-trip well worth the effort. Iceberg Lake as seen from the summit over 2,000 feet below is just one of those special views from the summit. Iceberg Lake is the campsite of choice for climbers who are taking on the challenging routes up the East Face or taking on the class 3 Mountaineer's Route.

So make sure to plan you trip accordingly, so that you can spend some quality time on the summit. And make sure your camera has plenty of film (or room on your digital card) for taking plenty of photographs. You will want to record all your memories for your loved ones back home.


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