Not that lottery… unfortunately.
Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous US. Despite being a 37Km hike, with 7000 feet of elevation, the hike to the top of Mount Whitney is extremely popular. The US parks service doesn’t want the area to become over-run with hikers, so they limit access to the mountain to 100 people per day. In order to become one of those 100 people, you have to enter a lottery.
In February of each year, they open up the lottery system. You pick the date you want to go on. I figured a good strategy would be to pick a weekday in September after all the kids have gone back to school but not too late into September as the weather would turn bad. After randomly picking a Wednesday on the calendar I hit submit, not realizing the date I had just picked.
Yup, I had accidentally picked Sept 11, for my date. Perhaps this helped increase the odds of winning for me. Next stop, California!
The first stop is the sierra inter-agency visitor center to pick up the permits. This is the view from the parking lot. The rangers go over the rules for climbing Mount Whitney and make you sign a bunch of paperwork agreeing to follow the rules. I asked if they had any information about current conditions. She says to me “We have been getting reports that it has been extremely cold on the summit”, then she pauses, looks at my ID and says “oh, you’re from Canada, you’ll be fine”.
In the parking lot I do a jig to appease the mountain gods. Having my permits and paperwork now I’m ready to go!
The permits are good for one day only. If it rains that day, or you get sick, too bad for you. The permit is valid from midnight to midnight and I’m told a number of people actually start out at midnight to increase their chance of success. I decide a lazy 4am start should be fine.
Another condition of the permit is you have to carry a WAG bag with you at all times. A WAG bag is basically a portable toilet for #2. If you need to do your business on the trail, you legally have to pack it out with you.
At 14,505 feet high, climbing Mount Whitney can result in Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS). When I picked up the permits I had to read and sign off that I understood the effects of Altitude sickness and how to recognize if I was in trouble. Most guides for climbing Whitney suggest a 5-day acclimatization plan that involves spending time at higher elevations and sleeping at lower altitude. The accelerated plan is 3 days in length with camping at the base of Whitney one night. I decide that a short hike the day before should be more than adequate. (Serious note, don’t take AMS lightly. AMS does kill people. I live at a high elevation and know how my body reacts to high altitudes. If I lived at sea level, I would seriously consider proper acclimatization.)
The sign for the start of the trail. They allow anybody to hike the first portion of the trail without permits. This is handy for me because my permits are not valid until Midnight.
The portal at the start (and end) of the trail. It includes a weigh scale to check how heavy your pack is and numerous signs warning you about the risks involved in hiking up Mount Whitney.
One of those warning signs.
The trail starts up the valley and has some great scenery.
The other reason I am hiking the trail is to familiarize myself with navigation. I will have to spend the first few hours hiking in the dark, so it is nice to get an idea of the trail during the day in advance.
After a long 2Km hike, I decide that is plenty of acclimatization and turn around at this sign.
View back down the valley from the spot I turned around at.
At the end of the trail is the Whitney Portal store. I have heard that after you climb Whitney, it is tradition to have a beer here. Next stop, the summit of Mount Whitney (hopefully).