Chris Roams

Travel, Adventures, and Photography

Movie Country

After my night at 10,000 feet it was time to cross over to the trailhead at Whitney Portal and get ready to start hiking. Even though I was already high up in the Sierras there was no direct way across so I had to drop all the way back down to the desert floor, through the Alabama Hills, and then back up via a different route. The Alabama Hills sit right at the foot of the Sierras and nearly everyone has seen them, usually without realizing it. When Clint Eastwood is defending a Mexican village in Joe Kidd, when Russell Crowe is riding across Spain in Gladiator, and when Robert Downey Jr is kidnapped by Afghani militants in Iron Man they are all actually in the Alabama Hills. The convenient location relative to Los Angeles has made this a go-to destination for generic desert scenes since the dawn of Hollywood westerns.

Whitney Portal is another tiny outpost at the terminus of another dead-end road up into the edge of the Sierra, although even this road has a Hollywood pedigree: it was the featured steep and winding road in The Long Long Trailer. A small store at the top of the road sells t-shirts, bumper stickers, and cheeseburgers while visitors try their luck fishing in a small pond out front or wander over to take pictures of a waterfall on the edge of the parking lot. I had reserved a spot at the "family campground" a mile downhill from the trailhead. Even though I had specifically reserved a tent spot it looked like just another paved spot for a Winnebagos to park in while its generator thumps away. Fortunately the Portal also has a "walk-in" hiker's campground right at the trailhead with a few tent spots scattered around a communal fire pit in a grove of trees. I quickly abandoned my reservation down the hill and set up at the hiker's campground. With the advantage that I was right at the trailhead and would not have to get back on the bike in the morning I took the time to pull my hiking gear off the bike and get ready for the next day before turning in to get a good night's sleep.

Most of my neighbors were there to day-hike the mountain, planning to start just before sunrise so that they could cover the 22 mile round-trip and hopefully get back just after sunset. Their nervous glances at the line of headlamps winding their way down the trail switchbacks above the portal revealed their anxiety about their plans. Unfortunately I was awoken by my neighbors at 3am as they were preparing to hit the trail. To be fair it wasn't their preparations that woke me, it was the fact that they were yelling at the 2 bears that had wandered into camp. All my food was safely secured in the bear box back at the parking lot, it sounded like my neighbors were doing an adequate job of yelling, and in any case I had left my bear spray (a can of pepper spray the size of a small fire extinguisher) on the bike so I rolled over and went back to sleep.
Lone Pine - galleryWhitney Portal Falls - galleryMt Whitney - gallery