Climbing Mount Whitney in 1955

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Submitted by Vince Flynn


Reading your article about CHS freshmen who climbed Mount Whitney recently, I had a flashback to 1955, Labor Day weekend. Our friend, Bud Bernard, was an expert mountaineer. He was a contractor in Coronado and was renowned for his fine masonry work in the city. He let us know that he was going to join other friends to climb the mountaineers route up Mount Whitney. I was just entering my final year at the CHS, as was my good friend Steve Jordan. We asked if we could follow and climb the traditional beginner trail. Bud said yes, be at my place on Ocean Blvd. at 5 a.m.

The three of us drove up in his GMC van and arrived at Whitney Portal on Friday afternoon of this three day weekend. Bud left with his climbing friends Saturday morning and said he would meet us here Monday morning for the ride home.

Steve and I hiked to Mirror Lake, which was on the way to the trailhead, if I remember correctly. We had perfect warm sunny weather, perfect for swimming in the lake and floating in our inflatable mattresses. We let time slip away and realized we were running out of time for a day of climbing the trail to the top. So, we did the next best thing. We climbed it at night! We started around 4 pm with food, water and sleeping bags. People coming down the trail said we would run out of daylight soon, but the trail was in good shape and we kept going. We kept going up and soon there were no other hikers to be seen coming down the trail. The views of the setting sun were gorgeous and we trudged.

Once it got dark the moon came out and provided enough light for us to see the trail without any issues. We could see lights several miles away, both to the east and to the west. Around 4am we came to a little hut near the top, it was made out of rocks. The wind was so strong and the temperature was around 25 degrees that we couldn’t stay there and went back down the trail sheltered from the wind and climbed into our sleeping bags to rest.

Around 5:30 am we decided it was time to reach the top and watch the sunrise. Which we did and it was the most fabulous sunrise I have ever experienced, before and at any time for the next 67 years. We were lucky enough to witness the sunrise from the highest point in the United States at the time. Hawaii and Alaska were still territories and not yet states. This was also before the time when permits were needed to climb the mountain, we just went there with permission from our parents, that’s all we needed.

Bud Bernard completed the mountaineer course, we all met at the truck Monday morning and drove home. It was a great adventure for two 16-year-old CHS students that I will cherish and always remember. We both finished our senior year and graduated in 1956.

Vince Flynn

Mount Whitney. Image: Wikimedia. Creative Commons Attribution 1.0 Generic License
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