Conquering and capturing the Sierra Nevada - Part II

a photographer's trip report

This is Part II of my High Sierra Trail trip report. For Part I, click here.

Day 5 - Junction Meadow to somewhere near Guitar Lake (11 miles / 17.7 km)

On this day, we expected to join the John Muir Trail (JMT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) on the approach to Whitney. As a result, we saw at least 12 people on this 'crowded' stretch of trail, most of which packed much more efficiently (lighter) and hiked faster than us.

We started our day well before sunrise, eating breakfast, packing up and leaving our campsite before the first light hit the mountains. While that meant getting up early, keep in mind we had been going to sleep shortly after dark every day, getting solid 9-hour nights at least, which our bodies seemed to need.

Scaling the gap at Junction Meadow

From this point, we knew the trail would only go up, all the way until the summit of Mount Whitney, invisible to us at this point, but towering over 6000 feet (almost 2 km) above us!

So we paced ourselves, worried that any minor injury now would just be aggravated by the 25 miles or so of climbing left to do, or by the 11 miles down on the other side. We hiked up out of Junction Meadow for a beautiful view of the walls of the Kern Canyon bathing  in the light of the rising sun (image above).

Right at the junction with another trail, we saw a couple in their late fifties / early sixties make their breakfast at a spot with a spectacular view; a good idea to hike up a little bit first and enjoy your oatmeal and coffee in such a scenic spot. Marcel remarked how he couldn't see him doing this with my mom, hiking out multiple days by themselves. I asked him what the difference was in doing such a trip with me, then, since I had taken my mom backpacking on a separate trip, and she proved to be an excellent backpacker too. He said they rely on me for the backcountry expertise, quite the compliment from the man who had just carried his fair share of the camp duties and pack load for the past 5 days!

Marmot in a tree

Kaweah sunset

Day 6 - Rest day


Joost getting nicely sunburnt at 11000 feet. Photo credit: Marcel Daniëls

Kaweah sunset

A well-deserved treat: dark chocolate cheesecake!

Day 7 - The great Whitney Ascent (13.1 miles / 21.1 km)


Hitchcock Basin, the beginning of the end: a shot from our nightly ascent of Mount Whitney, the highest point of our hike, and the contiguous US for that matter. The colors on the horizon are from air glow, fire and even city lights 100 miles away. The summit of Whitney is just out of the frame on the right, and you can see the lights of some of the other hikers starting to get ready for their ascent at the lower elevations.

First view from the summit: alpenglow on Mount Whitney, stars in the sky. You can see the curvature of the earth!

  • Whitney sunrise

  • No biggie: Marcel taking photographs of the sunrise from the summit of Mount Whitney

  • Shooting sunrise at the highest point in the contiguous US. Photo credit: Marcel Daniëls

  • Iceberg Lake

  • Mount Hale and many other peaks, including Thunder Mountain and Mount Brewer, plus the belt of Venus

  • Sunrise on Mount Whitney

  • Sunrise on Mount Whitney

  • Sierra Nevada sunrise from the highest point in the contiguous US

  • Looking down towards Lone Pine and the White Mountains

  • We did it!!!

  • Our approach to Whitney from the west

  • Scree and talus

  • Starting the descent

  • "Yeah I just walked op here, no big deal"

Long exposure of Mount Whitney from below

Day 8 - Outpost Camp to Whitney Portal (3.5 miles / 5.6 km)


Waterfall at Outpost Camp

The end is near: Whitney Portal!

  • Civilization!

  • A well-deserved electrifying hot spring bath

Mountain men

During our trip, I took a good amount of video and hundred of gigabytes worth of timelapse footage. While I have not yet gotten to assemble that into a trip video, here is a quick cut that I made, centered around a song from Zorro, the classic 1957 series.

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