Sunday, January 13, 2013

Death Valley - Running Day 4

The long trek from Lone Pine with
the Alabama Hills in the foreground.
January 13 - Done! What a day. The trek started from Keeler at 3610 feet on the far side of the valley from Mt. Whitney and finished on the Mt. Whitney portal at 8360 feet. The weather was the wildcard as forecasts kept changing the night before. It ended up being quite cold all day. The temperature was 10 degrees as we set out at 7:20am but fortunately there was no wind. Jim's and Marvin's hydration packs froze up within minutes but I was carrying bottles and was okay. As the sun rose it warmed up quickly but I don't think it ever got above freezing. The sun felt good and the sky was a brilliant blue that made the snow-capped mountains stand out.

We made good time into Lone Pine (about 15 miles). We did stop at our motel in Lone Pine for a quick re-supply. The climb through the Alabama Hills (where many movie westerns are shot) to the base of Whitney was a beast of a climb. It was not as long as the last two days but it was relentless, with a steady steep grade and hardly any turns, and it was at the end of the day (starting at mile 15). We each picked our own pace and just ground it out.

The road beyond the base of Whitney was closed to vehicles so we met Doug there and he decided to hike up as far as he could as well. It was 3.6 miles from there to the Portal, and we would have to hike back down, making a 30 mile day. We had hoped to avoid making that far of a hike back down but the snow on the road made it a necessity.

Jim hikes to the Portal with Mt. Whitney
looming in the background.
As we climbed the temperature started to get colder. It was also clear that the sun would duck behind the mountains before too long and make it even colder. We kept a steady pace and ground out the miles. The views of the valley were incredible, as well as the views of the mountains above us. At about 7000 feet the show grew steadily deeper. This part of the road was in shadow much of the day and soon we were on two feet of snow. Fortunately, there had been enough snowshoers and hikers before us that we could hike fairly easily without sinking into the snow with every step. We had Yaktrax along but didn't have to use them.

Finally, after a couple more switchbacks, we arrived at the Portal. It was a great feeling of accomplishment to reach our destination. Badwater Basin seemed like a long distance away, both in time and miles.The trail to the top of Whitney broke off to the right but I'll have to save that for another day. I made the requisite snow angel, did a little Gangnam style dance, we took a few pictures and then we hiked it out of there. The sun was ducking behind the mountains and it was rapidly getting colder. We met Doug on the way down and he turned around and followed us down. We drove back, got cleaned up, went out for a burger and fries, and finished it up with ice cream.

After 135 miles it is great to have real trees and snow.
I do have to mention that Marvin cut through a parking lot in Lone Pine on our run, thereby violating the rules of tangent-running. He somewhat made up for it by pumping gas when the rest of us were too cold and wimpy to get out of the car, but it still just wasn't right. :-)

My legs actually felt better today than yesterday. Running was easier and they weren't quite as sore. I felt lucky to only have one blister bother me through the 139 miles and not suffer any major injuries. Jim had some shin split trouble today and the foot Marvin injured in the fall was a constant hassle for him but they both ground it out. Jim said the pain "kept him in the moment." I guess that is a good thing.

I make the all-important finishing snow angel at the Portal.
During the trek, my daily sustenance while in motion was 60 ounces of fluid (mostly water), two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a handful of Pringles, two peanut butter cups, and a handful of peanut butter M&Ms. We were on our feet for 8-9 hours a day. A breakfast of a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and a dinner of pizza or a burger with fries rounded out the day. I'll be ready to eat something else for awhile, although the above worked great for me and I had no stomach issues.

Doug makes the trek up Whitney.
Jim enjoys the warmth of the last of the sun on the way back down.
Tomorrow we travel back to Las Vegas and we all catch flights home on Tuesday morning. This has been a good vacation and I have been reminded again that there is no better way to see a place than on foot. Having said all of that, I don't ever have to do this entire trek again.

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