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TR: Onion Valley to Whitney with kids, 8/19-8/24

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TR: Onion Valley to Whitney with kids, 8/19-8/24

Postby tim » Sat Aug 25, 2012 9:14 pm

I took my 11 yr old twins (plus a friend of theirs and his dad) on a 6 day, 50 mile trip from Onion Valley to Whitney Portal this week. It was rather more ambitious than previous trips, but they did very well, coping with the altitude much better than I did and beating me to the top of all the passes (especially my daughter who was well in front). My argument is that if only my pack was as light as theirs...but they did actually carry quite a bit.

We drove down the Owens Valley on Saturday afternoon in thunderstorms, with lightning close by on several occasions, but gradually improving conditions as we headed south. We dropped one car at Whitney Portal and staying in the campground there on Saturday night (without any rain), then started off at Onion Valley on Sunday morning, and panted our way up to Kearsage Pass, feeling the altitude. The weather looked threatening, particularly over University Peak and Forester Pass, where we'd be heading in a few days.

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Kearsage Pass

We stayed the first night at Kearsage Lakes and had a beautiful sunset as the skies cleared. The lake was alive with fish jumping everywhere.

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Kearsage Lakes sunset

Monday morning we headed down past Bullfrog Lake.

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Bullfrog Lake

Then we descended to Vidette Meadow, getting our first view of quite how far up we'd have to go to reach Forester Pass.

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Descent to Vidette Meadow

We camped below the trail roughly 20 mins above the Center Basin Creek crossing at about 10600ft, with a great view both up and down the valley.

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View down Bubbs Creek

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View up towards Forester Pass

On Tuesday morning, the clouds steadily built as we climbed towards Forester Pass, but we made it there in just over 3 hours, followed by a hair-raising descent down the south side of the pass and a long trek down to Tyndall Creek.

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Forester Pass

We set up camp on a very peaceful evening at Tyndall Creek, but were awoken at 2.30am by a huge thunderstorm with lightning all around. It lasted about an hour, and though we stayed dry we heard later that many of the people who had spent the night in the basin below Forester weren't so lucky. We saw one person the next day wearing a garbage bag as her raingear/pants, and many others with tales of woe (demolished tents, etc.). Even the rangers were apparently taken by surprise by the unexpectedly severe nightime storm.

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A wet morning at Tyndall Creek

The next day we dodged the hail showers as we made our way rapidly to Crabtree Meadow. Sun on Bighorn Plateau turned to threatening clouds by Wallace Creek, but we were impressed by our level of acclimatization as we climbed quickly out of Wallace Creek to get ahead of the storm. In the end we only had minimal showers, but those behind us had hail and even thunder for most of the day, with some unable to cross Forester until late that day. Conditions gradually improved during the afternoon and the rangers said that Thursday onwards would have much better weather.

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Bighorn Plateau
Last edited by tim on Sat Aug 25, 2012 9:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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TR: Onion Valley to Whitney with kids, 8/19-8/24 (continued)

Postby tim » Sat Aug 25, 2012 9:36 pm

Thursday morning we headed up a short 3 miles to the 11600ft tarns above Guitar Lake, taking the time for a swim in Timberline Lake.

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Swimming in Timberline Lake

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Admiring the view of Whitney

We had a restful afternoon before the next day's climb and had a beautiful sunset on Whitney's pinnacles and a great view over Guitar Lake. Amazingly enough we were all alone - everyone else had chosen to spend the night down at Guitar Lake, even though we were only 15 minutes further up the trail in what was definitely a prettier setting.

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Sunset on Whitney pinnacles

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Guitar Lake sunset

We got up fairly early (6am) but discovered the disadvantage of our location as a steady stream of people (including a pack train) started coming past our camp from shortly after 2am. However, we made the best of it, and were on the trail by 7.15am, climbing rapidly to Trail Crest by just after 9am. We dropped our packs with great relief and after a few minutes rest we headed over to Whitney, reaching the summit at 10.30am. The sky was virtually cloudless and in the sun it was pretty warm, certainly almost shirtsleeves weather, with very little wind.

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Whitney summit

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We made it!

After 50 minutes at the summit, we headed down quickly, reaching Trail Crest by 12.30pm and Trail Camp at just after 2pm. We had made the decision that pushing on to Whitney Portal made more sense than our original plan of staying the night at Trail Camp, and we got there by 5pm, all spurred on by the thought of burger and fries.

We passed many people in pain, both those climbing up to Trail Camp and descending after a one day climb, and concluded that our route had been much better than a direct climb. The series of 3 increasingly difficult passes had allowed us to acclimatize much more gradually and watch carefully for any signs of altitude problems. I'd taken the kids to 11500ft before (Miter Basin last year) so I didn't expect any issues, but I also wanted them to enjoy the climb, and that's certainly what they did, especially when they were passing lots of adults who were struggling near the top.

Timing-wise we were ahead of the bulk of the day trippers (many of whom started to arrive during the period we spent on the top or we passed as we headed down) so it didn't feel as crowded as I expected. Unless you really wanted to be there for sunrise, its therefore a bit hard to see why people really needed to go up at 4 or 5 am let alone 2am, but each to his own. On the other hand, I suspect our 1hr 45mins from the tarns above Guitar Lake to Trail Crest was faster than many would plan to do it.

I think we were quite lucky with the weather, after a couple of weeks of showers, and getting over Forester before the big storm. However, the short day to Guitar Lake gave us a bit of a buffer, and was definitely useful in making sure we were well rested. Unless I was in a desperate hurry I would likely take the same approach even without the kids, because it made the summit day a lot more enjoyable. All in all a great trip, I just don't know how we're going to top it next year!
Last edited by tim on Sun Aug 26, 2012 12:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Whitney with kids, 8/19-8/24

Postby gary c. » Sat Aug 25, 2012 11:07 pm

Great report and pictures. What an awesome way to spend time with your kids.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
-- Lionel Terray
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Whitney with kids, 8/19-8/24

Postby Mradford » Sun Aug 26, 2012 10:27 am

Great report. I would love to do a similar trip. Thats great that you were able to bring your kids and friends along! The shots of Whitney sunset and Kearsarge sunset are awesome! Thanks for posting.
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Whitney with kids, 8/19-8/24

Postby lambertiana » Sun Aug 26, 2012 7:26 pm

Great trip, it's wonderful to take the kids on a trip like that. I know that my most memorable backpacking trips were the ones when my sons went along.

I did that same route two years ago with a scout troop, they enjoyed it as well.
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Whitney with kids, 8/19-8/24

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:40 pm

We did a similar trip a few years ago. We didn't have the courage to bring kids. You rock for doing that! Great report and great photos. They took me right back there.
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Whitney with kids, 8/19-8/24

Postby toejam » Mon Aug 27, 2012 8:33 am

I had planned on doing the same trip at the same time, but my buddy's 15 yr old boy blew the trip up. Good job by you guys!
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Whitney with kids, 8/19-8/24

Postby RooPhillip » Mon Aug 27, 2012 1:36 pm

Outstanding post! Lucky and inspiring kids! :)
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Whitney with kids, 8/19-8/24

Postby Cross Country » Mon Aug 27, 2012 2:04 pm

How fortunate for all of you that your 2 kids like to BP like you. I had 1 who didn't like it and 1 who loved it. I was very fortunate to BP with Mike over 100 days between at 6 to 28 years old. You wrote a really nice report. I enjoyed reading it and seeing your pics very much
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Whitney with kids, 8/19-8/24

Postby tim » Mon Aug 27, 2012 8:50 pm

Cross Country wrote:How fortunate for all of you that your 2 kids like to BP like you. I had 1 who didn't like it and 1 who loved it. I was very fortunate to BP with Mike over 100 days between at 6 to 28 years old.

I'd love to think I could get to 100+ days of backpacking with any or all of them (especially if I can offload some of my pack weight to them as we both get older :nod:). I'm up to 33 days with my twins (over the last 5 years) and 9 days with my 7 yr old (last 2 summers), but it will be interesting to see how it goes as they get into the teenage years...hopefully I've started them early enough that they will come back to BPing even if they have other priorities for a few years. Out of the three of them, at the moment it looks more likely to be my daughter that will stick with it rather than the two boys.
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Whitney with kids, 8/19-8/24

Postby Cross Country » Tue Aug 28, 2012 3:40 pm

Mike may have lost interest in backpacking (with me) between the ages of 15 to 23 but I'm not really sure because I lost interest in BP at the same time. I had interest in other sports which were less grueling than BP. After 50 years old backpacking just got harder and harder. I did very little backpacking after the age of 54. Softball doesn't get harder. You just play with people your own age. Now I'm 69.
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