My brother Aric is a great farmer and enjoys what he does, but his heart also inclines toward mountain adventuring. In 2018, after persuading a few of us to join him up Half Dome in Yosemite, he began looking for a Bigger Thing and settled on Mount Whitney, at 14,500 feet the highest point in the contiguous U.S.

Like Half Dome, Mount Whitney access involves a lottery. We entered in late February, and lost. I thought I’d heard the last of it, until I got a text from Aric on the way into work:

Turns out not all the lottery winners picked up their option, and opened first-come-first-serve at midnight April 30. I was able to grab one of the last spots just before my train pulled into Union Station and I lost connection. California, here we come!

We decided on an overnight permit. From Mt Whitney Portal campground it’s a 22-mile round trip and 6,500 ft elevation gain. (elevations in meters)

That kind of elevation requires acclimation, at least for Illinoisans. We went four days early, stayed at Bishop, and attempted White Mountain Peak. Although 14,250 ft and a 15-mile roundtrip, it’s relatively easy access for a fourteener.

To get to the access point we had to take a jeep trail well-known for puncturing tires. It was unexpectedly challenging finding a rental outlet who would guarantee to provide a vehicle with a spare tire!

We reached the White Mountain Peak trailhead at 11,400 feet, after a wonderfully scenic but arduous drive (or crawl, more aptly—about 20 miles at 10 mph).

We hiked a couple miles up to Barcroft Field Station, and then after awhile saw White Mountain Peak in the distance.

Unfortunately, we had not started early enough; after we’d climbed a little past 13,000 feet, the afternoon weather turned us back. My brother had just read “Shattered Air” so was more twitchy about lightning than I was, probably for good reason.

But no worries, we got some great acclimating done, and saw some amazing countryside.

After White Mountain Peak, we traveled 70 miles south down the Owens River valley to Lone Pine, where we picked up our permits and headed up to Mount Whitney Portal campground. On the way, we went through the Alabama hills, which features otherworldly rock formations (Andy in the Mobius Arch below) and has seen lots of movie-making activity, especially Westerns. Mt. Whitney is visible in the background.

We found Mt. Whitney Portal campground to be a great place to camp, and didn’t need reservations. It probably helped that it was Wednesday. Even so, it’s good to get there early to pick a spot, before the open ones are gone. We picked up our permits from the Lone Pine ranger station about noon, headed up to the campground, and were able to find a decent site.

Thursday morning, we headed up. Incredible.

We camped at Trail Crest camp above the treeline at 12,000 feet. There’s another camp at 10,000 feet, but since it’s below treeline, mosquitoes can be a problem, and it makes for a looonng approach to the peak the next day.

We didn’t want to be turned back by weather again, so we started for the summit at 1:30 a.m.

Along the way, we learned how to detect lightning.

As we neared the summit, the going got colder and windier and snowier. We should’ve brought crampons, but were fortunate that conditions were barely OK enough.

We reached the top about half an hour after sunrise, but were not able to see anything; the summit was entirely fogged in. We signed the guest book at the summit hut, called and texted (yes, there was signal!), and since it was 32F and blowing and sleeting, we headed back down.

As we descended, the clouds broke up partially, for some stunning views to the west.

By the time we came around the flank and began descending the Ninety-Nine Switchbacks, the weather had cleared. Mount Whitney is the peak with the cloud skipping off it.

If we had set out from camp at 4:00 a.m. instead of 1:30 a.m., we’d have had a great view from the summit. Regardless, it was a tremendous experience.

No time to tell about the road trip back to Las Vegas thru Death Valley, in which we drove through a huge sandstorm and visited the Area 51 Alien Welcome Center.

Aric has recently begun talking about Mount Rainier, but so far to no avail.