Mt. Whitney Diary: A tale of 22 miles and Some Delicious French Fries

By muriel bartol

Mt. Whitney Diary: A tale of 22 miles and Some Delicious French Fries

Thursday, June 15, 2017

1:30 AM: Our surprisingly peaceful sleep at the Lone Pine Best Western comes to an end as our alarms nudge us awake. It's not even last call at the local bars, but it's time wake up and take a walk up Mt. Whitney. Joining Matt and me on this trek is our friend Leilani, who came out from Philadelphia for the fun. While she didn't have big mountains to train on like Matt and me, she's an avid runner and got her conditioning in by adding a lot of uphill sprints to her regimen. Plus, she's one of the most accomplished people we know; if she can manage a full-time career and two little boys while getting in the occasional run, there's no doubt she'll do just fine. 

We get dressed in near silence. When you're about to do something this big, you realize there's no such thing as "enough" when it comes double checking your gear. 

As we head out through the hotel lobby the breakfast bar is still closed, but the front desk clerk helpfully assembles a quick to-go breakfast for us. Matt's giddy about a tiny, single-dose bottle of Tabasco sauce he swiped from the condiment station. It will be the perfect addition to the pouch of tuna in his kit. (He will forget to eat the tuna.) 

3:16 AM: Go time! The Mt. Whitney trail starts at 8,374 feet so our collective shortness of breath wasn't only due to nerves when we set out.  

3:52 AM: Barely a few miles in and we're crossing a fast-moving, 15-foot wide stream in total darkness, save for our headlamps. The last thing we want to do is get our feet wet this early so we carefully hop scotch our way across the rocks with the aid of our hiking poles. We make it to the other side with dry feet fully intact. 

a little after 4:00 AM: We come across group of sleeping deer. They keep look up sleepily but keep snoozing as they realize we silly humans mean them no harm as make our way past. 

4:34 AM: The first rays of sun start peeking though in the distance. 

5:16 AM: First light arrives right on cue. Our next obstacle is making our way across a log bridge.


This bridge was so much fun! 

5:29 AM: Hello, sun! The stunning landscape is revealed.


5:43 AM: Rays of golden light begin to bathe the peaks all around us. There's Matt and Lei crossing some of the first snow patches we encounter.

5:59 AM: we turn back to see our first lake. We heard a lot of rushing water in the dark on our way up, but missed this placid lake. 

7:06 AM: We say goodbye to the heavily chlorinated and by now warm hotel water and replenish our supply straight from the source at Mirror Lake. It was delicious and ice-cold. The view made it a perfect spot to stop and literally catch our breath. 

7:59 AM: Time to put on our microspikes. The trail is well marked, but can at times be difficult to follow, especially when it is covered in snow. Our miniature crampons make straying off-course a lot easier. The air was crisp when we started but it's quickly getting warmer. On the day the temperature would range from 40-80 degrees. My triple layer of a Modal® Cotton t-shirt, long sleeve, and hiding hoody was a winning trio, supplemented with a down jacket and vest and windbreaker. 

As we cross a patch of snow we this hole with rushing snowmelt not more than 2 feet under us. We suddenly feel the need to step very carefully through this section. 

9:08 AM: We make it to Trail Camp and break for lunch. Not to brag but the rice bars I made have never tasted better. (You can find my top secret recipe at the very end. It's variation on the rice bars that Skratch Labs made famous.) 

Looking up from Trail Camp towards the final pitch. We see hikers attempt the chute but many turn back. The summit is only about one and half miles away, but about 2000 feet up. Usually you hike the famously torturous 99 switchbacks to the top, but when it is covered in snow like now, you have to go up the chute. It is steep and you need an ice axe to climb up. To go down you have to slide down and use your axe to slow down. Lei and I decide this is not the ideal setting to attempt self-arresting for the first time. This is where Leilani and I part ways with Matt.

Leilani studies the map while a marmot lurks over her shoulder ready to pounce and steal her lunch.


All the stories we heard about Mt. Whitney's marmots were true. As soon as we sat down, they took their places and were ready to scoop up any stray morsels of food or plunder an unattended bag. 

Matt enjoys an orange while completely forgetting about the tuna he was so excited about only hours earlier. 

10:30 AM: Matt makes sure he has everything he needs before making his push for the summit. The walkie talkies prove to be very useful for staying in touch. We definitely recommend adding a set to your outdoor quiver. We were able stay in contact off and on throughout the rest of the day. 


1:04 PM: Matt reaches the summit! 

The shelter at the top was half-filled with snow

Top of the contiguous United States! 

2:02 PM: Matt comes through the walkie-talkie letting us know he's at the top of the chute and about to go down. I attempt contact after a bit to see how he's doing but there is nothing but radio silence. Not surprising since there are giant granite mountains between us.

Meanwhile, I left a little trail message for Matt as we made our way down.

2:42 PM: Leilani and I cross paths with a mama grouse. Her little ones were playing nearby and were adorable. 

3:18 PM: Matt finally comes through on the walkie talkie. He made it down the chute! He admitted it was a bit terrifying. He's now on his way down the mountain, about 3 hours behind us.

3:32 PM: Lei and I are back where we started! It was a great day on the mountain and an incredible experience. All that's left is for Matt to catch up to us. Lei wants to check in with her family and we know that's going to be a while so we head to town for a celebratory meal. 

5:21 PM:  Radio contact again! Matt is almost done. I offer to grab a burger for him from the infamous Mt. Whitney Portal Store but all he wants is a plate of French fries. 

5:42 PM: Matt has made it. Just as his fry order is ready. He does a great job pretending to be more excited to see us than the plate of fries. They are the most delicious fries I have ever had.

His day was 22 miles roundtrip with 6,100 feet of elevation gain. He deserves every fry on that plate but I can't stop myself from stealing some more.

We're all ready for naps.

Right after we demolish a victory pizza. 



1 can coconut milk, equal parts water and Calrose rice. 

4 slices of bacon, cut into ¼” chunks, cooked

~1 cup chopped cilantro

½ cup dry roasted peanuts

Sriracha sauce 


Cook in rice cooker or follow directions, salt to taste. Let cool.  

Mix rice with bacon and cilantro until even and make sure rice has sufficient salt.

Line ~12” x 12” pan with clingwrap with sufficient hanging over the edges to fold over and cover when done. 

Flatten ½ of rice mixture (press down to form rice bar). 

Sprinkle peanuts and add Sriracha evenly to taste on top of rice (you’ll want more than you think you may, if you like spicy). 

Add remaining rice on top and spread evenly. 

Fold over clingwrap and press down again to form bars.

Cool in fridge a few hours to set.