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7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
#16236 07/10/11 02:46 PM
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For those who don't want to read this novel:

1. Slow and steady wins the race. We eventually leap frogged most of the people who passed us.
2. Start early. Your brain doesn't register distance in the dark so the more you can cover at night the shorter the trip to the summit will feel.
3. Don't leave Trail Camp for the summit without 2-3 liters of water
4. The switchbacks are passable and can be done with poles. The existing ice axe holes are melting out and are getting loose. The trail is well kicked at the top, and the cables have 12-18 inches of exposed rock on the trail. Black ice is prevalent early in the morning, but can be avoided
5. Be prepared for the wind chill at Trail Crest and beyond. I could grate cheese on some of the goose bumps I saw on people in shorts.
6. If you feel lousy on the way down, just keep moving. Altitude sickness feels worse when you stop moving, and is made worse by dehydration.

I have to put this climb in context before going into the details. My wife, Darci, and I are climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in mid-August, and Whitney was to be our final test of our ability to do the highest mountain in Africa. I grew up mountain climbing in Colorado, but have a history of altitude sickness above 14,000'. I also suffered a hip avulsion fracture two years ago, which needed to be stress tested. My wife on the other hand has never been into mountain climbing, and I've been trying desperately to get her over the 14,000' mental block before going to 19,500'. We got blown off Quandary in Colorado last March, blocked by snow on the way to White Mountain Peak 3 weeks ago, and found ourselves with all of our eggs in the Mt Whitney basket. We've been sleeping in an altitude tent in preparation for Kili and also work out regularly. We are both athletic, but are in no way super heroes. Now onto the stuff you care about.

We started our climb at 1:20 am. After reading the recent trip reports I remained undecided about climbing the chute or the switchbacks, but we departed with the gear to do either. We had full rain gear, warm weather clothes, med kit, steri-pen, 3 liters of water, food, etc. My sole goal was to get my wife over the mental hurdle of climbing the mountain so doing as much of it in the dark when she couldn't see what was ahead of us was ideal. I set a slow and steady pace of about 1.4 miles per hour. We never stopped for more than 5 minutes at a time, and made great progress. The horizon started to reveal itself just about the time we were climbing the switchbacks above Mirror Lake. Before long we could make out faint outlines of the rocks and the snowfields. We stopped about three-quarters of the way up the switchbacks above Trailside Meadow to take off our headlamps and put on warm clothes. There were one or two areas where snow still covered the trail here, but it was so well kicked out that it was easy to get across.

We arrived at Trail Camp just before sunrise, where we made what would turn out to be a major mistake. We checked the level of our Camel Backs and thought that we had enough to go the rest of the way. No need to remind me how stupid this was because I was later reminded the hard way. Anyway, we caught the alpenglow on the peak, and I think my wife finally began to understand why people choose to climb mountains. This was a personal victory for me.

For my wife's mental sanity we decided to give the switchbacks a go vice climbing up the chute. The bottom third still has a few spots where snow hides the trail, but its been stepped out and its easy to make your way. The runoff comes down pretty steadily in this part and there was a good deal of black ice at 6:00am. We just followed a rule of "if you see water flowing you can step there. If it just looks wet don't step there because its ice." We never had any problems. Once past the bottom third, the trail was actually dry and free of snow. We crossed the cables quickly and without problem. There is about a 12-18 inches of exposed rock next to the cables and we scurried right across and up a few well-kicked steps at the end. We only had to cross the snowfield at the top, which was really no problem. The couple ahead of us did it with trekking poles, but we pulled out the ice axes so that I could teach my wife a mantra of being super safe (ironic since I opted not to top off the Camel Backs down below). We heard reports later in the day of people who turned around here, so it's obviously a measure of how comfortable you are with your own feet. My wife has never done anything like this and wasn't remotely nervous. I'm so proud.

We stopped at Trail Crest for pictures and to put on a jacket and gloves because the wind had picked up. It took us about two hours to make our way to the summit. The snowfield before the summit was also well kicked, and we did it easily with poles. This was about the time that I wished I had filled my Camel Back because I ran out of water. S&*%!! We made the top at 10:05 and in 8 hours and 45 minutes. I told my wife we couldn't stay long, though, because I knew the repercussions of running out of water here and was worried. After 15 minutes of pictures and registry signing we were off.

We passed a number of people on our way back to Trail Crest. Most of them woefully unprepared who were wearing shorts and carrying little more than a wag bag and water bottle. We never saw them again. I was dehydrated when we made it back to Trail Crest, which had resurrected some altitude sickness. We put on our helmets, microspikes, gaiters, and rain gear, and started down the glissade chute. I had taught my wife about glissading with the help of Freedom of the Hills and some great YouTube videos from the British Mountaineering Society, and we did a quick review before going down. The chute was extremely slushy, but when we did get going too fast we were able to self-arrest easily. Darci did amazing.

We got back to Trail Camp after 2 hours and 25 minutes. I was in bad shape, no doubt about it. My mouth was dry, my balance was off, and I was nauseous. We filled a Nalgene bottle of which I quickly drank half. My body was so dehydrated that it didn't take the water well, and my nausea increased. My wife, the newbie, came to my rescue and filled our Camel Backs while I lay prostrate and praying for death. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to realize that staying there wasn't going to get us closer to home so we started down. Moving helped with the altitude sickness, and the water slowly made it's way into my system. Within an hour I was back to 80% and we were fine....and lucky!

The remaining decent from Trail Camp took us 4 hours and 5 minutes with stops to change clothes and take a few pictures. We made it to the car 15 hours and 30 minutes after we left, and with a new realization that my wife may actually be tougher than me. I'm sure I won't hear about it for the rest of my life.

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
hooker612 #16258 07/10/11 08:32 PM
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Thanks for the great update. I am headed up this 7/14-15. I am planning to bring microspikes / poles and I have been worried that the switchbacks were not going to be ready.

It sounds like the trail is clearning up and I should be good to go.

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
hooker612 #16267 07/11/11 06:07 AM
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Hooker 612, you mentioned a steep slope near trail crest where some people turned back. Given the amount of snow left, do you have any predictions about whether that section will reveal dry rock within the next week?

Brent

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
hooker612 #16273 07/11/11 07:29 AM
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Thanks for the trip report! We are heading up on Sunday, the 17th. Going to do the switchback, not the chute as we have no experience with ice axe/crampons. Do you think we'll need gaiters? Just trying to figure out what last minute gear i need...really don't want to spend the money if I don't have to. Thanks for your time.

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
Tony George #16279 07/11/11 08:44 AM
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Gaiters are always helpful when hiking in snow. A handful of snow can enter your boot with a single posthole step.

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
Steve C #16289 07/11/11 10:48 AM
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This was a very helpful and descriptive TR, thanks.

I have some medical observations:

Don't kick your self about the purported dehydration. You give a great description of plain old AMS.

AMS occurs in unacclimatized people, or partially unacclimatized people, and even in acclimatized people with or without dehydration. There a plenty of cases of AMS that rehydration will not fix. Dehydration is not the root cause of AMS, although it can aggravate it.

Your recovery attributed to rehydration was more likely due to rest and descent. Afterall, it is the prescribed treatment.

Congratulations, and good luck on Kili.

Last edited by Harvey Lankford; 07/11/11 10:50 AM.
Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
hooker612 #16291 07/11/11 11:07 AM
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I'm going up on 7/17 for a day trip with my two teenaged sons and I really don't want to bring ice axes-- only trekking poles and crampons. We are planning on leaving at 1:00 AM but I'm worried about losing the trail. Was it easy to navigate in the dark with just a headlamp? How much weight did you have in your backpacks on average. I'm trying to bring as little as possible but still be prepared. Regarding the clothes, is a light but warm jacket with gloves and a hat enough? I also don't know anything about "gaiters" and I saw that someone else asked about them. Thanks for your insights.

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
Terry #16295 07/11/11 12:57 PM
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Terry, all fair questions. Regarding clothing. At a bare minimum, the wind chill will be very cold so whatever layers of warmth you have, a windproof outhershell is sure nice. The temperatures and preciptation at that height are predictably unpredictable. Prepare for snow, sleet, hail, rain and go from there. If you have warm jackets that aren't wind/water proof, buy an inexpensive outershell like DriDucks for $20 (pants and jacket) and that will really help with the wind and the rain. http://www.amazon.com/Driducks-Rain-Suit-Khaki-sm-Gear/dp/B001C3YJI8 You sure couldn't glissade in them but they are extremely light weight and effective at keeping out the wind and rain, while not blowing your wallet out. I leave my gortex at home-too heavy--and put an inexpensive, light windshell on over a lightweight, warm down jacket.

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
Brent N #16300 07/11/11 01:54 PM
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Thanks so much for the advice. I'll be thinking of you when the wind whips us around and I'm warm and dry but not burdened by heavy clothes!

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
Terry #16315 07/11/11 05:19 PM
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Gaiters are similar to spats. They cover the top of your boots to block sand, scree, dried grass, etc. Here's a link to a search of gaiters at REI.

They help, but not sure if they are required to get up to the summit. Many people make it without them.

IMHO, a good wind/water proof jacket, rain pants, gloves and hat are more important.

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
hooker612 #16338 07/12/11 11:36 AM
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Damn fine TR - enjoyed it!

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
hooker612 #16340 07/12/11 12:39 PM
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Very helpful. Mind kind of novel! Thx.

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
topomon #16342 07/12/11 12:59 PM
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Tony/Terry,

We have 8 guys going up on the 17th. Looks like a good weather forecast and the trail seems to be clearing up. See you on the trail and at the summit. grin

Sparty

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
hooker612 #16361 07/13/11 06:51 AM
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Sorry its taken me a while to get back. As for gear: The footprints we followed through the snow patches were no deeper than a few inches. We only put on gaiters when we decided to glissade down because our pants alone were more than capable of blocking a little snow from getting in our boots. If you intend to go back down the switchbacks I say leave the crampons and gaitors at home. We did have microspikes, and by the time we put them on for the glissade, the snow was so slushy that they didn't do anything. I feel more confident on hard snow, and was glad that we passed the snow fields while they were still firm (7:00am-ish), but still didn't feel the need to put on the microspikes.

Our packs weighed in at around 22.4 lbs. That included ice-axe, trekking poles, microspikes, helmet, 3 liters of water, rain jacket, rain pants, a patagonia nano-puff jacket, extra socks, steri-pen, first-aid kit, GPS, extra t-shirt, wag-bag, and food. Our packs weighed 4 and 5 pounds empty respectively. These are the Gregory pack we're taking to kili which is why they are heavier than your average day pack. I'ld say its pretty easy to drop that weight to 14lbs and still be safe for a day hike where you know you'll be using the switchbacks up and down.

As for finding the trail. Its pretty straight forward, but I can see how its easy to miss a switchback in the dark. Just remember that the trail is very well maintained, and if you feel like your making your own trail then you probably are. We had a GPS with the points pre-loaded, and it was nice to have the reassuring 'beep' whenever we hit a waypoint. We had to stop and figure out were the trail went during the switchbacks above mirror lake, and then again for the start of the switchbacks above trailside meadow. This was due to a couple of snowpatches and slabs of granite that interrupted the dirt tail.

As for the AMS and dehydration. I appreciate the input. Dehydration was my first bet because I couldn't keep water in my system. Normally I'm not one who needs to take a leak that often, but I could not, for the life of me, keep water from going right through me. To quote my wife, "I think you've peed more today than in the 3 years we've been married". I'm not sure if its a result of lower pressure, but I wasn't drinking any more frequently than I do on hikes in San Diego. Fortunately I pick up my prescription of Diamox for Kili next week. Hopefully that will sort out whatever the problem is.

Thanks,
Scott

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
hooker612 #16364 07/13/11 08:28 AM
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Thanks so much for all this information. I'm going to just bring crampons and trekking poles and forget the ice axe and the gaiters. I've also managed to borrow a GPS plus it looks like I'll have another adult joining me and my two sons, so I feel a little better. The weather looks like it will be dry but cold, but I'd rather deal with the cold then deal with hot weather since the more I exercise, of course, the hotter I get!

I'm getting more psyched for this rather than feeling anxious. I know that I can do this and I know that I can keep my kids safe....and we all should have fun in the process. Send positive energy our way starting at 1:00 AM Sunday morning!

Thank you so much for taking the time to give me such great details. Good luck on Kil!

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
Sparty85 #16365 07/13/11 08:35 AM
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Hey Sparty,

When are you guys leaving Whitney Portal?

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
Terry #16374 07/13/11 05:40 PM
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Terry,

We are planning to leave around 3am, but getting 8 people to be on time could be tough. We are camping at the portal so that should help but we may get a little later start. I just want to be back in time for the (hopefully) celebratory burgers. If you are starting around 1am I am sure we will see you on the trail somewhere.

I am sure that you and your sons will do well. We range in ages of 16 to 52 and five of us have been to the summit. If you want to leave a little later and join us send me a PM and we will get a plan together.

Sparty85

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
Sparty85 #16391 07/14/11 08:22 AM
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Thanks Sparty!

I think I'll just continue on with my 1:00 AM plan. I'm sure I'll see the 8 of you.....hopefully, once we're coming off the summit! Good luck!

If I get lost however, I may see you on the way up!


Only 3 more days to go....can't wait!

Re: 7/9/11 Single Day Trip Report
hooker612 #16402 07/14/11 05:54 PM
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If you are drinking and immediately peeing, a very likely possibility is an electrolyte deficiency. I understand that increased urination is also may be an attribute of altitude acclimatization. But if you are drinking and the water is going right through you, you might consider upping the electrolytes. (Note: diamox is a diuretic, so in theory, it may increase urination). Obviously things to discuss with your doctor.

Good luck on Kili and I hope you tell us about it. Kili is on my list too, maybe for January or February 2012.


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