Mount Whitney – 2012 (Part 1)


Mt. Whitney, Lone Pine, San Francisco Giants…these are a few of my favorite things.                                                                   ‘I’ll leave the singing to Julie Andrews and the Von Trapps.’


      Perhaps it’s part of my latent & dormant Catholicism that I feel it necessary to explain my absence from BlogLand to you, my readers. Like a penitent explaining to his confessor, his priest: “Bless me father, for I have sinned, it’s been about 30 years since my last confession (give or take 5 years) these are my sins…and you might want to clear your calendar for the rest of the afternoon, we’re going to be here a while”.

      But I promise I haven’t been completely lazy. Since my Mt. Whitney climb six weeks ago, except for a one-week back strain-induced hiatus last week, I’ve been on the trails locally on Mt. Tam and up in Tahoe – Desolation Wilderness (Velma Lakes) and Carson Pass (Winnemuca Lake). But the main reason for my lack of blog entries has been a desire to focus my writing energies on putting together a query letter and proposal for my book ‘The Mount Whitney Journals’. (If there are any editors/agents out there, feel free to contact me!) Some of the writer’s blocks I’ve endured in writing the book pale in comparison to squeezing out words for the letter and proposal. But I had a productive morning and am rewarding myself this afternoon with a blog session at Peets Coffee in Alameda.

As for today’s entry, I revisit my August Mt. Whitney trip. My previous entry was a gallery of images solely from the climb itself, with little in the way of narrative. But as always with my trips to the Sierras, the hike up Mt. Whitney is only one of many highlights. I get special joy in every aspect of the trip, from packing the truck, driving the winding roads of the Sierras, stopping in small towns and along creeks and rivers for photos, drinking my gourmet coffee at my camps under a canopy of a billion stars and the company of friends. 

MOUNT WHITNEY – 2012                                                                            Monday morning, August 6

One of the things I like about leaving for my trips on a Monday morning is what I like to call the ‘gloat factor’, the feeling on the freeway that I’m heading to the Sierras while everyone else is driving to work to start their week. By mid-morning, I’m past Manteca on State Route 120 driving past farms, orchards and fruit stands. I stop at the Raley’s in Oakdale for groceries and supplies and continue east into the foothills. Rather than my usual route through Groveland, Yosemite and Tioga Pass, I opt for Sonora Pass and take SR 108 into the mountains. I relive some old private memories in Strawberry along the Stanislaus River and ascend towards the glory of the high peaks.

A bag of chips bought at sea level. If the altitude does this to a paper bag, what do my bladder and kidneys look like?

With deft use of my Swiss Army knife, I open my bag of Kettle chips without incident or explosion as I stop for a snack at 9,000 along the river. A bit further east, I stop along a small creek to stretch my legs and photograph some wildflowers.

Wildflower along a small roadside creek

Although I’ve driven Sonora Pass twice on the way home from past trips, this is the first time I’ve negotiated the road heading east. I find it much steeper than Tioga and other Sierra crossings.

State Route 108, west of Sonora Pass

With 229,000 miles on my Toyota 4Runner, I drive even slower than I normally do and make it safely to the top of the pass.

Supporting my team at 9,624′

From the pass, I descend to Highway 395 and turn south toward Bridgeport, Lee Vining, and Mono Lake.

Above Sonora Junction (near SR 108/highway 395)

As is my custom, I make halting progress during my drive, enjoying the mountain vistas, the clouds, and the cows. At many points, it almost feels like I’m driving through an Eyvind Earle painting.

The outskirts of Bridgeport

My ultimate destination for today is my campsite at June Lake where I’ve camped each year since 2009. Although there’s a modest ski resort in June Lake, the area is a popular summer destination. There are countless places to fish, hike, bike and camp. I love it because it’s a perfect place to relax, acclimate to some elevation (about 7200′), and shorten my drive to Lone Pine and the Whitney Portal for the next morning.

Early evening sky near Silver Lake (west of June Lake)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

This morning, after meeting my friends Joe and Denise, in Mammoth Lakes for coffee at Stellar Brew, I drive south along highway 395 towards Lone Pine. I make a much needed stop at Schat’s Bakkery in Bishop to satisfy my doughnut cravings.

Schat’s Bakkery, Bishop, CA. Sadly, the doughnut didn’t last long enough to be photographed

Next stop after the town of Bishop is Lone Pine, at the base of Mt. Whitney. It’s a small, one-stop light desert town. For being such a small town, they have a surprising supply of quality amenities. Or at least ones that I deem important. They have a fantastic coffee shop, Espresso Parlor, that brews coffee good enough to suit my palate. They also have an excellent restaurant, Seasons Restaurant, that serves filet mignon cooked perfectly and served with port reduction or green peppercorn sauce. What else does a town need? After picking up my wilderness passes at the Interagency Center, I start the 13 mile drive up Whitney Portal Road, through the Alabama Hills, towards my campsite at the Whitney Portal Campground. (Joe and Denise, by the way, are supposed to meet me at the site by mid-afternoon).

Alabama Hills, Mt. Whitney and my 1997 Toyota 4Runner

In the next blog entry, I’ll write about my stay on the mountain, and the 21.4 mile climb to the summit. Happy Trails!

About victorvolta

I am a freelance photographer/writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up in the very suburban city of Santa Clara. Education: San Jose State University (class of '84) BA degree in Journalism with concentrations in Photojournalism and English. Favorite Foods: Ribeye steaks and Stan's Doughnuts (separate plates, usually). Favorite Drinks: Strong gourmet coffee and Trader Joe's Blood Orange Italian Soda (separate cups).
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One Response to Mount Whitney – 2012 (Part 1)

  1. Emily Gooch says:

    Very nice photos and story. Looks like an amazing place to spend some quiet time alone. I really like the wildflower shot and your creative use of dof. You turned a simple flower into a real beauty.

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