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#16695 - 07/23/11 01:38 PM Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT
Brent N Offline


Registered: 01/20/11
Posts: 278
Loc: Orange County, CA
For those interested just in trail conditions, I'll break my report up into two sections. First trail conditions and then a bit of a narrative with some lessons learned.

Trail Conditions:

The first water crossing .6 miles from the portal has genrated a lot of discussion, prompting people to use the old trail. The rocks were not covered by water in the morning or in the early evening (7:00 pm). You will not need the old trail in the morning in any event. If a particularly strong melt occurs in the afternoon, you can always double back to the old trail which is just a stone's throw away from the water crossing that has concerned some folks in the last few weeks. Just above Mirror Lake lots of footprints will lead up to the left--that is a wrong turn and will become evident in about 15-20 paces. Turn to the right/straight instead. Someone scratched out an arrow to point the way. From the Portal through Mirror Lake, mosquitoes were not bad. There was one non-frightening snow crossing just before you get to Trail Side Meadows. Consultation Lake is thawing. Trail Camp is mostly thawed--Only a few sections around the lake have appreciable snow.
Switchbacks: There is some snow early in the switchbacks and you will encounter ice in the teens switchbacks up through switchback 23 where the spring is. The trail will be largely dry until you hit the snow at the cables, but you have a very comfortable margin of rock on the cables. However, to get to the cables, you have to scramble up about 8 feet of rock as one of the switchbacks is covered in snow. This scramble was not frightening for our party, including my 13 year old son, but might be for someone who has a fear of heights. You will have three snow crossings in the upper 90 switchbacks. The first two were in deep (2 foot) snow troughs, meaning if one were to slip, they would not likely slip down the chute. The last snow crossing, however (which was on the last switchback) was far more precarious. A slip here could mean you slip down the chute. In the mid-morning, the snow was slushy and microspikes did little to maintain traction. In fact, my 13 year old did slip here, with his legs slipping down the chute side, but he was able to stay on the trail. Treking poles with good sized snow cups will help you here. We did not encounter any snow on the Western side past Trail Crest. Unfortunately, we had to turn around with the hut in sight when we were at 13,760 feet with one mile to go when my son developed a headache and started a slight slur in his speech that Dexamethasone and a 1 hour rest couldn't fix. I can't tell you what conditions were like after that, but I couldn't see any ice or snow patches left.
In my mind, the most precarious part of the hike is the 97th switchback. There is still a lot of snow there. Conditions were relatively warm, but it could be a a couple of weeks before that section thaws out.

Observations: This was my third trip up Whitney with my sister and first with my 13 year old son. I got AMS my first time even though we camped at Outpost and then at Trail Camp. My second time, I came back with Diamox in my blood and tried heading straight for Trail Camp. I started puking at 12,000 feet, just before Trail Camp and headed back down again. This time, I had a better acclimatization plan. I slept the three Friday nights prior to heading to Whitney up on Mt. Baldy (10,064 feet) and my son joined me for the first two of those trips. My son and I both took Diamox with my son on 125 MG doses and me on twice that. I also took as a preventative med, Dexamethasone (4MG) and 4 MG of Ondansetron. On this third trip, we camped at Outpost and then camped at Trail Camp. On the second day, we hiked up to 13,010 feet in order to climb high and sleep low back at TC. My son did great--no altitude issues at all.

On the third day, we attempted the summit. My son did outstanding until he started developing a headache at about 13,600 and then finally fessed up that he had one at 13,700 feet. (On the drive up, I told him that we power through fears and tiredness, but there are a few things that we don't power through including thunderheads, storms and any of the symptoms of AMS.) When he told me he had a pounding headache, I gave him Dex which was cleared by his doctor beforehand, but his doctor preferred that he not take it as a preventative, but only take it as needed at the first sign of a headache. We rested for about 15 minutes and then when it seemed to get a little bit better we moved at a very slow pace up to 13,760 feet. The pounding got worse and we stopped for a good 45 minutes. When it didn't get any better, we headed back down, even though we had 745 vertical feet and 1 trail mile to go and we could see the hut. It was the right call. (I made the wrong call three years ago when I pressed on and became a significant liability to my sister who had to help shoulder part of my load.

On our way back down, we had the pleasure of running into Quillian Sculpture and Bulldog and Bulldog's wife and 11 year old daughter. What a pleasure.

Observations: My sister is a model of grace. She does not get AMS in the slightest, but is extremely compassionate when dealing with people who do. What a joy to hike with someone who understands when it is time to turn around. I am blessed and she blessed her nephew immensely. I could not ask for two better hiking companions. Life is good.

I was disappointed to see how many teenagers and younger children were sent packing down the mountain alone because their parent(s) decided to summit without them once the kids developed AMS. One person who we met said that he piggy backed a stranger's 8 year old child down to Trail Camp and to leave him at the tent alone as per the request of the 8 year old's parents. Really?

What is with all of the wag bags cached along the switchbacks? Since we did most the switchbacks on two days in a row, I can tell you that they were not left there to be picked up by the same person on the way back because they were there two days in a row. Yuck.

Finally, what a privilege it is to be able to hike this mountain and to share it with all of you (with the possible exception of the few who left wag bags behind.) I have learned immensely from this Board and am grateful for all of you who have shared what you have learned along the way.


Brent N

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#16698 - 07/23/11 03:42 PM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: Brent N]
Ruben Offline


Registered: 07/23/11
Posts: 1
Loc: New Mexico

Hey Bulldog,

My brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and I met you on Mount Whitney yesterday (Thursday, July 21st). We met you, your wife, daughter, and a couple of others in your party (one of them was a sculptor, that's all I remember).

In any event, we fell about a mile short of the summit. Long story short, I'm the guy who blacked out on the way back on the crest. You and your family were very kind and offered to help in any way you could. I wanted to take a minute to personally thank you for going out of your way to offer assistance. In one of your earlier posts you talked about how it's important to offer help to others on the trail - I can vouch for the fact that you walk the talk.

I also wanted to take a few minutes to offer my perspective on a hike that fell short of the summit. I don't see too many of those posts on this board, but I think these stories can be just a valuable as a learning tool as the stories of successful summits.

We started our hike from the portal at 4:00 am on Thursday, July 21st. We arrived at Mirror lake and had "lunch" at 9:00 am. By 9:30 we were prepared to climb the harrowing 97 switchbacks that awaited us just beyond Mirror Lake. BTW, we ran into Bulldog's group at the start of the cables. Bulldog offered us advise and physical assistance in getting up that 8 to 10 foot climb to the cables.

We made it to the Trail Crest around 1:00 and proceeded to hike past the two windows. At 1:30 we stopped to take inventory of our situation. We were very low on water and equally important, we we were running out of daylight. We stopped a park ranger and asked him to assess our situation so that we could make a decision about whether to continue to the summit.

He advised us that we were 1 mile short of the summit. My brother in law estimated that we were still 1.5 hours away from the summit. Based on our calculations, we would reach the summit by 3:00 pm. After taking the celebratory pictures and soaking in the views, we figured we would resume our hike down around 4:00 pm, which meant that we would get back to the "97" switchbacks around 6:00 pm.

It was then that we realized we were in trouble if we continued our hike to the summit. A "successful" climb to the summit would mean that we would take the chance on dehydrating for lack of water on the way down. Also we would arrive at the 97th switchback, which was a snowy traverse, after it had been in the shade for an hour or so. The traverse was scary enough under ideal conditions. The thought of negotiating that part of the hike in icy conditions was an even scarier prosect. And even if we successfully negotiated that part of the hike and were able to overcome any hydration challenges, we would still be looking at completing the final 3 hours of the hike in darkness, possibly arriving at camp around midnight or later, assuming of course, that we didn't get lost in darkness on the way down.

Luckily for us, we made the right decision and decided to turn back to camp at 1:30. We would become aware of just how good our decision was just a few minutes later.

About 15 minutes after turning around on the Crest Trail, I was climbing uphill when I suddenly felt everything blacking out. The blackout started at the perimeter of my vision and progressed in an inward circle toward the middle until everything went dark. As soon as the blackout started, I had the presence to realize what was happening (though I've never fainted before in my life) and fortuitously, I threw my arms in front of me to brace my fall.

Luckily for me, I was going uphill and was leaning towards the mountain, so my fall was a short one and to the "correct" side of the trail. I shudder to think of the consequences had I fallen in a direction away from the mountain.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law came to my aid. They said I had passed out for about 10 seconds before coming back to consciousness. It was a strange sensation to hear voices asking me if I was okay, and then to slowly see their faces coming out of the darkness and into focus. I tried to stand up, but they made me stay down and made me eat some snacks and drink water.

After about a 10 to 15 minute recuperation period, we proceeded back on our hike. My brother in law carried my backpack and held onto me. We took frequent breaks after only a few yards until I was able to regain full strength about halfway down the 97 switchbacks.

We finally made it back to camp at 10:00, 18 hours after we started.

Thanks again, Bulldog, for being one of the good guys on the trail. Many others also offered assistance. I've walked away with a newfound respect for those in the hiking community. Everyone really does watch out for everyone else.

We didn't make it to the summit on this hike, but in retrospect, I couldn't be prouder of our group for making good decisions and sticking together. You learn a lot about yourself and others when the chips are down. I like what I learned about every one of us in our group. For that reason alone, this hike turned out to be more successful than I could have imagined.

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#16714 - 07/24/11 01:37 PM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: Brent N]
Julie Offline


Registered: 03/31/11
Posts: 20
Loc: California
Thanks for the trip report. It really helps. I just got a prescription for Diamox from my Doctor, and my husband and I plan to camp at Trail and Outpost Camp. Sounds like you did the same, and still your son felt some altitude sickness.

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#16716 - 07/24/11 02:04 PM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: Ruben]
quillansculpture Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 562
Loc: Murrieta, CA
Hi Ruben, yes, I remember meeting you on the switchbacks.... I'm the sculptor. It is amazing how fast things can go wrong. You guys all looked pretty good when I saw you at the cables when we were going up. I'm sorry you didn't summit, but am happy you have a good outlook on your experiences. The decision to go back was a good decision. That snow field on the 97th switchback was a bit intimidating. I know when I was on the summit, I kept thinking about it and if it had iced over yet. When I hit it on the way back, it was way different than the mushy snow on the way up. It had started to ice. I'm sure it was no wider than a foot and possibly 50 feet or more in length. Needless to say, one wrong step, slip, etc and you would fall down the entire icy slope. I think it's important for anybody going up in the next week or so to know that the last snowfield above the chute on the 97th switchback does not have a lip to make you feel better. The edge just falls off. You need to think about the danger involved and the conditions you may face on the way back before proceeding.
_________________________
"Turtles, Frogs & other Environmental Sculpture"

www.quillansculpturegallery.com
twitter: @josephquillan

If less is more, imagine how much more, more is -Frasier

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#16721 - 07/24/11 05:10 PM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: Julie]
Brent N Offline


Registered: 01/20/11
Posts: 278
Loc: Orange County, CA
Diamox is helpful, but definitely did not stop the AMS from setting in. In addition to camping at Outpost one night and then going to 13K and back down to 12K to camp the next night, he slept on top of Baldy at 10,064 for two nights on succesive weekends prior to our summit. AMS didn't kick in until probably Trail Crest or so. I would be curious next time we do this to see if we could handle using Trail Crest as a two night base camp instead of Outpost, if we can manage to get in a couple of nights up on Baldy first.

However high you get, enjoy. If symptoms set in, get low. I have ignored that advice before and was very sorry I did.

Brent

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#16722 - 07/24/11 08:12 PM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: Brent N]
quillansculpture Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 562
Loc: Murrieta, CA
Brent, I'm actually more confused than ever about AMS symptoms. As I told you in my PM, I felt great going up and camping at Consultation Lake, but woke up the next morning with a headache and nausea. I didn't feel like eating anything and there was barely anything in my container that sounded like it would taste even okay. I told myself that I was not going to be able to even make Trail Crest, but decided to go as far as I could. About 1/3 of the way up the switchbacks, I decided to eat some crackers and I started to feel better. By the time I hit Trail Crest I was fine. On to the summit......but then I got a bit overconfident and quickened my pace a bit while helping a newbie to the summit. Headache started to come back a bit. I slowed down and felt fine by the summit. I stayed on the summit about 30 minutes or so and was concerned as I had a headache the year before when I thought I was on the summit too long. As I headed down, I felt okay and even jogged a bit on the sandier parts of the trail. I felt great on the switchbacks, but when I stopped for a water break at about switchback 40, I was overwhelmed by nausea. Yes, I had gone down 2000 feet and felt worse than I felt at 14,500 feet. Though I felt a little better a few minutes later, I didn't get over a light nausea until I laid down in my tent at Consultation lake. Next morning, I felt perfect.

This all leads me to the conversation on what to bring to eat on Whitney. I am now in the opinion that what you will feel like eating changes every hike. Snickers and sweets nauseated me this summit, while last year, I loved them. Carbs from crackers and peanut butter helped me this year, while I didn't even think of enjoying them last year. Even Vitalyte was disgusting this year and water tasted better than ever. So, you really need to bring a variety of food. I know Bulldog's gonna chime in with how much crap I brought in the bear canister, but I was just bringing what I liked last year.....and that was a mistake.
_________________________
"Turtles, Frogs & other Environmental Sculpture"

www.quillansculpturegallery.com
twitter: @josephquillan

If less is more, imagine how much more, more is -Frasier

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#16724 - 07/24/11 09:01 PM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: quillansculpture]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7583
Loc: Fresno, CA
quillansculpture wrote:
> I didn't get over a light nausea until I laid down in my tent at Consultation lake. Next morning, I felt perfect.

Joe, what was your acclimation schedule before climbing to Consultation Lake?

On an Onion Valley to Whitney hike, I spent first night at 9k, second and third around 10k, and had a hard time eating on those two. Finally by 60 hours at altitude, I could eat a hearty meal, and was then ok spending the 4th night on the summit.

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#16725 - 07/24/11 09:04 PM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: quillansculpture]
Rod Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 660
Loc: Santa Clarita, Ca. USA
You know what Joe you are right in learning that AMS and what sounds good to eat is a dynamic condition. Like I tell my patients. The past does not equal the present.You have to find out what works in the moment not what worked in the past as far as food goes.Crackers and peanut butter is something I can always gag down.Natures Valley Honey/Oatmeal granola bars seem to go down easy even at altitude.Sometimes beef jerkey works.I find bland and salty work better than sweet. Sometimes you just have to force yourself to eat something appetite or not.

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#16726 - 07/24/11 09:08 PM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: Steve C]
quillansculpture Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 562
Loc: Murrieta, CA
I was a bit overconfident as I never had any AMS symptoms that lasted long, including the last two hikes on Whitney in which I stayed at the portal just one night. Felt fine on those two, but the one night at the portal, and being on Whitney two weeks ago didn't work this time around.
_________________________
"Turtles, Frogs & other Environmental Sculpture"

www.quillansculpturegallery.com
twitter: @josephquillan

If less is more, imagine how much more, more is -Frasier

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#16729 - 07/25/11 07:51 AM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: quillansculpture]
Brent N Offline


Registered: 01/20/11
Posts: 278
Loc: Orange County, CA
Your AMS symptoms sure sound different from what I have experienced. Going higher always compounds the symptoms exponentially for me. I feel like I'm wearing a kryptonite suit and then when I get a couple thousand feet lower, I feel like Superman liberated again. I would be interested to hear Rod, Ken's or Harvey Langford's opinions on whether your symptoms were AMS or whether something else was going on.

Brent

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#16738 - 07/25/11 11:03 AM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: Brent N]
Rod Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 660
Loc: Santa Clarita, Ca. USA
Well the saying is that it is always considered AMS until proven differently.It doesn't sound like a classic case of AMS but then again every illness can take many forms.It has many of the components of AMS so it is better to assume that is the correct diagnosis and take the appropiate steps and go down in elevation till the symptoms go away.Joe stayed the night at close to 12K and woke up feeling better. So either eating or sleeping got him aclimated in spite of not descending further down the mountain.

It is one of the arguments about spending the night before the summit at either TC or CL because you are sleeping at 12K. That may cause AMS and not actually allow you to acclimate properly at a lower elevation.


Edited by Rod (07/25/11 11:09 AM)

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#16743 - 07/25/11 02:35 PM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: Brent N]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 1015
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
Originally Posted By: Brent N
I would be interested to hear Rod, Ken's or Harvey Langford's opinions on whether your symptoms were AMS or whether something else was going on. Brent


There are several patients in this trip report!

Agree with Rod -AMS until proven otherwise.


Here are some generalizations..hope this helps:

Diamox does not always work.

Acclimatization does not always work for everyone, even with more of it.

The reported third-time-scenario suggests a "ceiling" for that individual and perhaps some of their kin.

You can continue to have AMS, or worsening AMS even with descent for an hour, a day, or longer. At the risk of sounding theatrical... at (usually) more severe altitudes there are people who continue to deteriorate and do die despite descent and care. They may progress from simple AMS to HAPE and HACE. It is sort of like.. once the process begins, it may get worse before it gets better. I am glad descent usually works.

Harvey

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#16778 - 07/26/11 09:49 AM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: Brent N]
Bulldog34 Offline


Registered: 11/12/09
Posts: 1254
Loc: Atlanta
Brent, that was great TR! My family and I enjoyed meeting you, your sister and your son on the mountain Thursday. I hated to hear that he was suffering from AMS and that you had to turn around. It wasn't too long after we came across you folks on the back side that we made the same decision. Brianne was really beginning to slow down and we didn't want her crossing that snow traverse over the chute while she was exhausted or in late-day icy conditions.

I was flabbergasted at the situation you ran across with the 8 year-old boy - how can any parent consider such a foolish, self-centered thing?! That kind of stuff just makes my blood boil.

I was also glad to hear that your plan this time seemed to keep AMS issues for yourself at bay, especially after your past history. Now you know the game plan for future Whitney trips!

Hopefully this experience won't prevent your son from seeking that summit at some time in the future. My wife had a terrible bout with AMS on Pikes Peak in '07, and was very cautious of high elevation for a couple of years afterwards. This time she did fine, between 125 mg of Diamox twice daily, sleeping in Mammoth for 5 nights, and dayhiking Mt. Dana to about 13K'.

Again, a pleasure meeting you, and we hope to see you on the mountain at some point in the future!

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#16780 - 07/26/11 10:27 AM Re: Trip Report 7-19- 7-21, MWMT [Re: Ruben]
Bulldog34 Offline


Registered: 11/12/09
Posts: 1254
Loc: Atlanta
Ruben, yes I remember you well. We crossed paths with you, your BIL and SIL a number of times during the day. We kept remarking. "Hey, there are those nice folks we met earlier!" I also remember that your SIL was not very keen to make that scramble up to the cables!

Thanks for the kind words, but any help we were able to offer was simply what people should do for each other on the trail, and I try to impress that upon our 11 YO daughter every chance I have. I just wish we could have done more to assist you, Ruben. That blackout episode is scary enough on the backside of the mountain - I can't imagine how you must have felt crossing that traverse over the snow chute!

I'm very glad your group made the decision you did. In retrospect, if you had continued on to the summit things could have turned out a lot worse. Getting back to the parking lot whole and healthy is the top priority - the mountain will still be there when you want to tackle it again.

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