Woke up at 4am in my cheap hotel room in Ridgecrest. I drove to Death Valley to start dropping off my water/food caches in bright orange Home Depot buckets, I duct tape the shit outta them and throw heavy rocks on top because if one of these caches gets messed with the hike is over. I get to Lone Pine at around 11am and park my car in the Chamber of Commerce parking lot. I'm finishing placing the odds and ends into my pack and realize I am shaking. Holy fuck, I'm actually doing this! it's not just a dream. I open the Uber app no luck, no cars. Same with Lyft. I go into the local outfitters on the corner and get a number for a local shuttle service. I go wait at the McDonalds for Paul to arrive.
I get dropped off at Badwater at about 3pm. I patiently wait in line to get my picture taken in front of the Badwater Basin sign. I start making my way past the tourists ducking selfie sticks and dodging children. I walk past the last set of tourists like a dishonored soldier banished to the wasteland.
I make my way north of the actual L2H route to see the actual lowest point in the western hemisphere. A small pile of rocks in the middle of the salt flat. Fun fact: it's not actually flat. It's actually quite bumpy and in certain areas I'm sinking up to my ankles in mud. Because I got such a late start I'm trying to keep a quick pace. Although I have my umbrella, the sun is beating on my legs and also bouncing off the white salt.
I am questioning my life choices. 2 hours in and I am huddled under my umbrella trying to cool off. I contemplate writing "I should have gone surfing" in the salt just so the park rangers get a chuckle when they recover my body. I feel like I could Butttchug a gallon of Gatorade.
I finally cool off enough to continue my journey. I decided to walk at a more moderate pace and eventually the sun falls behind telescope peak. The terrain gets more bumpy as i continue out of the basin. The mixture of salt and mud make me feel as if I have landed on the planet of Wank and Poo.
After another couple miles I start seeing the first shrubbery and spring flowers. It's a welcome site to see signs of life outside of the basin. I make my way to the road to Hanaupah canyon and night hike for about another hour before collapsing on the side of the road cowboy camping under a rich tapestry of stars.
Is this a road? is it a riverbed? Will it twist my ankle? I make my way up the south fork of Hanaupah Canyon. This day sets the precedent that will repeat for the majority of the route. Will there be water there and why is this so fucking hard to walk on? That's the L2H in a nutshell.
Oh shit!! My first rattlesnake! I make a wide berth around the murder worm.
Luckily I come across a creek as I'm down to a liter of water. Hanaupah spring is pumping and I'm grateful I don't have to bushwack to get to the spring. I fill up to my 6L capacity as the park rangers couldn't tell me if Tuber Canyon springs were running or not.
I take a side road up to Shorty's Mine before realizing NOPE.You don't get an easy road walk up to telescope ridge. Time to scramble up the north side of Hanaupah canyon. Climbing up scree with 6 litters of water is totally fun! That is a total lie. It's not fun.
I make my way to the ridge above the canyon and begin making my way up towards telescope ridge. It's getting dark and I find the flattest spot I can on the ridge to crash out among the Pinyon Pines.
Scree, scree never changes. 2 steps up slide 1 step down. I'm starting to feel the altitude at this point. I'm sucking air. No one ever makes videos about this part of the route. I wonder if I'm going the wrong way because no one ever complains about this. Well, listen to me, the climb up to telescope is maximum suckage. Finally after many breaks i make it to the ridge. I don't bother with summiting telescope as I had already accomplished that back in February. I make my way down Telescope trail down to tuber canyon, it's nice to walk on a real trail for the first time this trip if only for about a mile and a half. I also get the first glimpse of my destination from the ridge, the snowcapped Sierras.
Descending into tuber canyon things get a bit more green again. The spring is dry when i reach the bottom of the canyon but luckily filled a couple smartwater bottles with snow near telescope peak. I continue down the wash and see murder worm number 2. I don't shit my pants that bad this time, it's old hat at this point.
I come across riparian vegetation and find a 2 inch deep spring it is occupied with bees. I scoop 2 liters of murky water filled with tadpoles and pre filter it through my shirt to remove the muck and floaters.
Oh that wasn't horse shit this whole time! A wild burrow yells at me from across the wash and ascends to a perch above. This is the place where he rules over his pack plotting revenge on the grandchildren of the miners that abandoned their ilk in this god forsaken wasteland.
I make my way out of Tuber Canyon at dusk passing the ruins of an Impala that shows up in every L2H blog. A few more more miles and I collapse next to my water cache #1 chugging half a gallon and sleeping in a ditch for the night.
I get to have a burger today. I just have to make it to Panamint springs and a restaurant awaits. I just have to make it down the entirety of Panamint valley to get there. Not much to say. it's the easiest walk of the trip so far, a 4wd road and then cutting over through a smooth flat.
A bit of cross country walking and I eventually make it to a $15 bacon burger, salad, and fries. I pay 3 dollars and am able to take a shower at the campgrounds across the street at the RV park. I almost feel human again.
I fill a couple of liters up and walk the couple miles to Darwin Falls. This is an amazing oasis in the middle of the wasteland. I don't know if I'll ever do the L2h again but I definitely will visit Darwin Falls. It's like someone dropped a G.E.C.K. here. Green trees, waterfalls and fun class 3 scrambles to the top of the canyon. I make my way up a scree field to China garden to see Iconic L2H sight #2, the goldfish. They swim up to my fingers as I fill my water bottles. Some are the size of Coi. I think about keeping one as a pet in a water bottle for the rest of the L2H but I'm not sure they would eat cliff bars.
I make way up Darwin canyon, it's getting dark and i'm looking for a flat place to crash, unfortunately King Burro told his minions to poop in every flat spot in the wash. I find a place and have a rough night sleep with the wind whipping around me. Also I hear rocks crashing in the middle of the night, Burros make terrible ninjas.
I make my way out of Darwin canyon. Fighter jets scream overhead. Besides that it's non eventful. I make my way to cache #2. as I'm filling my bottles for a 20 mile water carry a CHP sees me from the road. He shouts out his loud speaker "ARE YOU OKAY?" I try shouting back "IM JUST A HIKER" He returns with "IF YOU ARE OKAY, WAVE YOUR HANDS!" I wave them and he kicks bricks. I think if i was in trouble I would be waving my hands anyways and he just wanted to avoid paper work.
This is a long boring 4wd roadwalk through a Joshua Tree forest. it seems like it's gonna be easy but the L2H decides I should walk into 20MPH winds. I don't really take pics here I just hold hands with Ms. Misery and set up my tent for the first time 3 miles outside of Cerro Gordo ghost town. It's actually nice to put in some bigger miles for the day.
UPHILL BAAAYBEEE!! I get to Cerro Gordo where the caretaker Robert is supposed to have 2 gallons of water waiting for me. I wander the scattering of buildings looking for jugs andd yell out a "HELOOOO" Robert emerges from a building and says "Hell son it's 26 degrees out, come in for a coffee and sit by the fire." This small act of kindness makes me wanna cry. I sit there for 2 hours listening to his tales of the shady world of the mining industry. As I leave he tells me to make sure to take the middle road out because the air force has an installation on the high road and I might catch a stinger missile.
I make my way out of Cerro Gordo passing mining ruins. I'm determined to make it to Lone Pine tonight. I WANT PIZZA!! I walk along a 4wd track along the spine of the Inyo mountain range. The salt tram ruins are cool. The fact salt was so valuable at the time that they would build a tram over a mountain is mindblowing.
Descending down long john canyon towards Lone pine is frustrating. It's supposed to be marked by cairns but I think a 6 yr old just came along and stacked rocks randomly, or maybe it was the Burro King. I think this is the part in the thru where my mind starts slipping. I believe that maybe I'm just a simulation. Like Sim City or Roller Coaster Tycoon. There's a game called Thru Hiker Sim and I'm just an avatar getting lost along the route destined to fall in a pool with no ladder. I curse Brett Tucker Player #1.
I make my way out of Long John Canyon after sunset and follow more 4wd roads into Lone Pine. I have been salivating over the thought of pizza for the past 6 hours but Lone Pine is small and closes early. It's 11:30 pm by the time I roll into town. I settle for Pepperoni Hot Pockets from a gas station and check into a motel.
I actually sleep in late. It's hard to get out of an actual bed. I feel like if I leave I'll never be comfortable again. I pack up my gear, take another shower and get my Whitney gear out of my trunk. I drive to the visitors center to pick up my Whitney permits. The plan is to take the regular route and bypass the switchbacks with snowshoes as I have read about others doing in an April L2H finish. I return my car to the Chamber of Commerce and begin the walk up to Whitney.
Whitney is imposing in the distance. The mountain gets larger and more formidable with every step. I cant believe I'm so close to the finish. Cars keep stopping asking me if I need a ride to the portal, I say thanks and keep walking soaking in the new alpine environment.
I finally make my way to the portal and run into a couple of guys setting up camp near the store. I ask if they are summiting tomorrow and they tell me the hikers route is completely snowed in and impassable. They say they talked to a couple of people that came down from the regular route and one guy had snapped his snowshoe postholing and in some places the powder was chest high. I'm too close to the finish to turn around now.
I guess I'm doing the goddamn Mountaineers Route.
I wake up at 2am and start packing up. I stash my bearcan and snowshoes in a bearbox and start making the trek up the trail. I pass another group making their way up the regular trail in the dark. I take a break at a stream and check Gaia app. The mountaineers route is right in front of me, unmarked.
Bumbling around by the light of my headlamp, the Mountaineers Route isn't actually a trail. It's a lot of scrambling over large rocks and crossing frosty streams whose stepping stones are icy slick in the hours before dawn. I am filled with doubt at this point and am mentally preparing myself for the all too familiar feeling of failure.
The sounds of quick footfalls is approaching behind me. Two guys come rushing up. One of them states, "You're lucky, this was covered in snow 2 weeks ago." they go rushing up the route quickly and with the familiarity of a retiree making his way to the kitchen for a cold brew. These guys know what they are doing.
Fuck HYOH. I'm now hiking their hike.
I do my best to keep up but these guys are moving through the brush and rocks like animals. at points I almost lose them but then catch a glimpse of their headlamps in the distance and head off in that direction. I feel good, I feel my confidence coming back. After climbing 2 other mountain ranges in the past week I'm a little more altitude acquainted and am able to walk 30 feet without sucking air. I finally catch up to my unknowing guides as they are taking a snack break at Lower Boyscout lake. I tell them about the L2H and they tell me that they are just doing Whitney as a quick hike to help train for Denali later in the year. I ask if they mind if I follow them as I don't have a lot of snow experience. Tony and Dane say it's cool as long as I can keep up.
Making our way out of Lower Boyscout Lake the sun is rising and the views are spectacular. I wish I had time to take more photos and video but I'm having trouble keeping up as it is. We pass a beautiful blue icewall near Upper Boysout Lake. The views here are amazing and make the dry desolate desert seem like a faint memory from another life.
We take a break at Iceberg lake. I snack a cliff bar while Tony and Dane consolidate their packs and get their crampons strapped in. I just sit there snacking because all I have is the same micro spikes I've been wearing for the past couple of miles. I look up at the couloir that leads to the notch and then to the summit of Mt Whitney. It's scarier than than the rattler I saw oh so many miles ago. The coulair is a 1500 foot vertical climb in hard packed snow to "The Notch". I can't believe I'm going to attempt this.
Don't look down! don't look down! I keep telling myself this as over and over again I repeat the same ritual up to the notch. Step Step Axe Rest Repeat. For 1500 feet. Dane occasionally shouts down at me "Keep going Josh! You're killing it!" I feel the it I'm killing is myself. I wish I had crampons.
I finally pull myself up to the notch. Tony and Dane are lounging. "You ready to do the traverse?" "Yeah totally ready!" I have no idea what the traverse is.
Dontlookdown dontlookdown. fuck. I looked down. The traverse goes around to the west side of Whitney. One mis step here and you're going on a 2000 foot tumble into Sequoia National Park. The boot pack I'm following is shallow and I'd be shitting my pants if it wasn't for a pucker factor of 11. I wish I had crampons.
Finally making my way around the traverse and begin the walk up to the summit. I feel kind of sick, my vision seems spotty and dim. I am steps away from the end. Everyone is taking pictures at the plaque.
I walk up and slap the monument.No joy. No huge sense of accomplishment.
I take the customary summit photos and have very little time to soak it all in. The cold is making my phone freak out, becoming as responsive as my brain at the moment. The weather is turning for the worse and its time to get off this wild ride. Tony and Dane ask if i can make it down on my own. They have to drive to Mammoth that night and I don't wanna slow them down. I thank them with all the gratitude I can muster. They laugh and say. " I can't believe you did this in running shoes and microspikes! Thanks for letting us be a part of your journey." We head down the mountain and somehow I am able to keep up with them. They give me a ride to Lone Pine and I buy them BBQ and beers because even though I probably would have eventually made it to the top, it was a huge morale booster to tag along with people that knew what the fuck they were doing.
I check into a hotel that night and have the best sleep of my life.
Video summary of the trip