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Watch out for the Wind
Posted by mgk, 09-18-07I am a 45 year old beginner hiker and still learning. Although I summitted Mount Langley a couple of months ago and thought I knew what I was doing, I was not as prepared for Whitney last week as I should have been. I thought I would share a little of my experience for those who are looking to hike in the area and haven't thought about the wind (as I hadn't)
Last week (Thursday to be exact), I attempted to day hike to the summit of Whitney, but turned back at Trail Camp due to high winds. I had checked the weather for the week leading up to the hike and noted the forecast was consistently "sunny and clear". I did not expect 35 mph winds with gusts up to 60 mph and the wind chill impact that came with it. Although I had dressed warmly, I neglected to bring warm gloves (I brought a thin pair of gloves that the wind blew right through). So, lesson learned for me is to consider not only what weather is forecasted, but what weather is possible as well. I was disappointed to turn back at Trail Camp, but met many nice people on the trail and will definitely be back next summer for another attempt. A lot of hikers turned around due to the wind, but I did notice some still going up the switchbacks so assume the wind was not a factor for them.
Just wondering from others who hike MWT frequently if wind is typically a factor in clmbing to the summit, or can it be eliminated by proper preparation?
Posted by KevinR, 09-18-07Hiking in wind takes practice, and can be disorienting, even when you've had some experience. By 'wind', I'm referring to wind speed speeds 30mph and above. At 30-35 the wind begins to push you around a bit; by 60mph it's tough to stand up and you're getting knocked down from time to time. Personally, I don't often hike in sustained winds of 45mph as it's too tiring, but I will if the summit is near and other factors keep the risk within my comfort zone.
What you can do to reduce the effects of wind, other than insulating layers and windpants & windshell, is to also carry hat and gloves (mittens are even better) made of windbloc/windproof fleece. The best hats also have earflaps - I have one from OR which works especially well. I also have a fleece neckgaitor which I can pull up over my nose, so that in cold weather my breath doesn't fog my glasses quite as much. These items weigh very little, and are not as suitable for milder conditions, but when it's cold, raw and windy - they're indispensible.
One comment on the Windbloc hat with ear flaps - the material tends to block sound as well as the wind, so some find this a bit dis-orienting (including me) and takes some getting used to.
Posted by Jim, 09-18-07MGT,
Thanks for sharing your experience and reminding us of the distinction between EXPECTATIONS and POSSIBILITIES. Our outings (Plan A) commence with a set of expectations. Plans B,C,D,... can be formulated (and even rehearsed, e.g. self rescue) to accommodate a spectrum of possibilities (not always happy ones).
Last Thurs 9/13 you intelligently activated Plan B= do not advance into possibly deteriorating conditions without the correct gear. On the prior day Wed 9/12 (windy above 14,000 feet too, but less so than 9/13, but not silent like 9/11)I used a different type of Plan B up on the Mountain.
9/12 AM I was hiking up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek solo in the dark.
The forecast for the coming day was generally favorable and I was in good spirits. As there was no appreciable moonlight, I employed a headlamp and a strong hand-held flashlight. I headed up the "trail" on the south side of the creek. Perhaps a hundred yards before the waterfall at the base of the E Ledges, I saw a pair of eyes observing me. The local inhabitant was on the path about 25 yards ahead of me. Then it suddenly vanished.
I advanced the 25 yards and scanned the area with the artificial light. To my right, crouched on a large rock slab (again about 25 yards away) was a mountain lion. We exchanged gazes.
As I bent over for my camera, the cat crept a few yards closer to me. Promptly I grasped my knife instead and exposed its generously sized blade. I stood tall, yelled, and tossed a large rock at the cat. It retreated back into the bushes. I continued on and my friend was never seen again.(Its intentions were probably benign. Possibly it could easily have ambushed me earlier if it so desired. But who knows? I'm certainly no animal expert.)
The knife I carry is probably much larger (and heavier) than needed for usual backcountry activities, but was in part carried as Plan B for any possible (exceedingly rare)confrontation with night critters up there. (The only time I was even close to getting hurt by one of the locals was when I was almost trampled by a deer I startled at night. Typically the critters graciously let us pass through their homes. Well, except for the mosquitos,but they were mostly no-shows this year!)
In any case, both our expereiences last week reinforce the need for Plans B,C,D,....
See you on the Big Mountain soon,
Posted by mgk, 09-18-07Thanks for your thoughts on "wind-wear". You are right, for a few dollars and a few ounces of weight, one can be better prepared for the elements. I had over-prepared on some items (too much food) and under-prepared on others (no warm gloves), so as I said, am still learning. I won't be unprepared for wind again.
Posted by Mark, 09-18-07Been there, done that. I had a similar experience back in 2002. When I saw a tent at Trail Camp fly away while resting, I knew I was making the right decision. Came back the next year and summited in perfect weather.
Mark A. Patton
Posted by wbtravis5152, 09-18-07Wind is the one constant in the Sierra. People here always ask about temperature and inclement weather but almost never about wind.
I've summited in 30 MPH winds with single digit temperatures twice. The first time I had my PreCip Pants on, the second time I wish I my PreCip pants on. It is the matter of having the right clothing for your trip. I generally will have a Windstopper gloves, hat, wind/rain pants and windshirt or/and Windstopper vest with me for a trip to this summit.
A very good idea this time of year is to bring a lot of extra clothing and gear for trailhead decisions.
Mt. Whitney and Eastern Sierra Blog
The Mt. Whitney Day Hike and Backpacking Page
Posted by mrmuscato, 09-19-07We summited on the 13th and you definitely made the right decision turning around as it only got worse after Trail Camp.
By my estimates the wind was a steady 30-40 mph on the switchbacks and temperature was just hovering over freezing, probably about 35-40f putting the temp with wind chill right around 20 degrees give or take. Not desirable, but not horrible either. We were wearing long underwear, convertible pants, T-shirt, wind shirt, wool hat, fleece gloves, and PreCip with the hood cinched up. I wish we had gotten some PreCip pants for this trip.
At Trail Crest the wind had increased to at least 40mph steady and was gusting to 60+ mph. I got knocked off balance and to my knees a few times taking pictures when unexpected gusts hit me. Being on the back side of the ridge we were in the shade and I'm sure the temperature dropped a bit too. My fingers and legs got cold and I added my down jacket to the mix which helped a lot.
The summit was a bit better because the sun was out strong and helped warm things up but the wind was no better than trail crest. I spent most of the time up there inside the hut.
Posted by mgk, 09-19-07I suspected it would only get worse as I went higher and given that I was already cold at Trail Camp, I'm glad I turned around. I had already gotten knocked off balance myself a couple of times, and being 200 lbs, guessed the wind gusts to be 50+ mph to do this. I was a pretty big target for the gusts.
Glad you made it to the summit though. I know now that it is possible in those conditions, maybe just not enjoyable.
I'll chalk this one up to experience.
Posted by h_lankford, 09-19-07I'd like to share some "windy-eye" thoughts.
whenever I go to the big mountains, I always take my dark glacier glasses.
Not only do the side flaps and nose piece stop glare, they stop wind. This helps protect my eyes and reduce irritation and watering from cold, dry air and blowing grit.
For really big, high, white climbs,and worse weather, I wear these underneath my ski goggles. Both.
PS: glad you are learning. I do every time I go out.
Posted by 31ruecambon, 09-19-07Hello.
I also summitted on the 13th. Oh brother! I always bring a bit too much clothing (because I am a fashionable girl and think one can look cute while hiking), and am I glad I did! I camped at Trail Camp Wednesday night and awoke Thursday to quite a bit of wind. I put on my thermal underwear (top and bottom), the heavier of my two pair of hiking pants, a long sleeved t-shirt, a Columbia oxford hiking shirt, fleece jacket, hooded windbreaker, my nordic skiing gloves, a brimmed hat and a white bandanna with black accents to complete the look. I also carried a wool cap in my day pack which I used on the summit.
Fashion aside, the extra clothing came in handy with the wind...something that extreme I didn't expect. It was so windy that the knot of my scarf had come undone by the time I reached the summit!
I stayed at Trail Camp again Thursday night and Friday when I reached the Store, even Doug was chuckling a bit about the wind.
Quite a day apparently. Glad I was able to summit and am glad I brought a little extra to wear!
See you on the mountain next year!
P.S. to mrmuscato: Were you one of the four guys in the hut around noon that I took a picture of?
Posted by mrmuscato, 09-19-07Nope, not one of those four guys but based on your self-description and the time of your summit I think I might just remember you. If so then you'll be sure to recognize us...Susan!
Posted by zip, 09-19-07Hi mgk. We may have passed each other along the trail. I went up on the 13th, leaving the Portal about 9:00. I dressed very lightly, wearing biking shorts (for smooth running) and a t-shirt. As I got near trail crest, I pulled on a long sleeve t-shirt and a light windbreaker.
Maybe my experience was a little different from the other posters, as I went on to the peak and found the wind much milder there than on the trail after trailcrest. Seemed odd, but I was happy about it. While some factors increase danger tremendously (ice, exhaustion, AMS, etc.), I usually find that the wind sounds and feels more ominous than it really is. As you're new to this, I completely agree that you made the right choice. On the other hand, once you get a feel for the situation, you'll have a better grasp of whether you need to turn around or not.
I was quite comfortable on the peak in shorts and light attire, and was kind of amazed to be passing people with parkas, etc. One caveat: I'm a trailrunner, so my body probably prefers cooler temps because I overheat easily due to the running. Still, I'd be curious to find if others feel a little spooked by wild winds when the actual danger they present is not generally all that significant. (That's not to say they can never be dangerous, only that they probably sound worse than they are.)
Did we meet? I did run into lots of friendly folks.
Posted by mgk, 09-20-07Z
I turned around from Trail Camp at around 7:30am, and returned to the portal by 11:00am. So, I remember seeing you on the lower part of the trail as I couldn't believe you were in shorts. But given that you were still fairly low on the mountain, the temperature was pretty warm at that point. Don't think we stopped to chat since I was in that thankless part of the hike where I was just humping back to the trailhead, and probably not in that great of a mood by then.
I appreciate the perspective on wind relative to other weather dangers on the mountain. I don't regret turning around under the circumstances, but as long as I am better prepared next time, I would not turn around in similar circustances given this experience.
Posted by 31ruecambon, 09-22-07Were you and Z my neighbors at Trail Camp with whom I shared my wine and potatoes?
Posted by zip, 09-22-07Unfortunately, I wasn't up there long enough to share wine and potatoes. I'll definitely have to rethink my plan for next year! I just drove up for the day ( I only live about 3 1/2 hours away) then drove home afterward. Still, a big part of the experience is, at least for me, the kind souls I run into along the way. Your posting reminds me of the value of allowing a couple of extra days to enjoy the company of old and new friends.
Posted by David, 09-23-07I summitted on Friday the 14th, about 2 p.m., after having slept at Guitar Lake the night before. It was very windy at Trail Junction, both coming and going, but only a light breeze on the summit. In fact, the weather, although chilly enough for me to wear my down parka, was marvelous at the top. About 25 people milling about, taking photos, lots of smiles, lots of sun, all very pleasant. Couldn't ask for much better.
Since it was my first time on the top, I don't know if it is usual for there to be high winds nearby, including a windy, very cold morning at Guitar Lake, while remaining mild at the summit.
All in all, especially after hearing about the wind the previous day, and all the snow that fell this past week, I feel very fortunate.
(By the way, I started my hike in Yosemite Valley and was surprised at how few people were on the trail, especially on the eastern half, until one gets to Guitar Lake area and Whitney. Do all you Whitney-ites realize how awesome and beautiful the area is north/west of Whitney? I know the Sierras a little, but found myself astounded by the beauty and solitude and lapsing into ecstatic reveries nearly every day of my hike. What an absolutely fantastic treasure the Sierras are!)
Posted by mrmuscato, 09-24-07
Were you and Z my neighbors at Trail Camp with whom I shared my wine and potatoes?
We sure are! Thanks again for the wine, it was a wonderful and rewarding snack after battling the cold all day.
Posted by TonyC, 09-24-07I've only been in those kind of cold winds a couple of times, but it's amazing how they suck the warmth out of your body so quickly and efficiently. All you can really do is just be covered up from head to toe. I have a hat that I pull down pretty far, then my sunglasses and then a "clava" type mask that goes over my nose to jaw and then my coat takes over from there unless I throw on an additional scarf as well.
As people have said, wear a good insulating layer and a "windproof" top layer and you can actually stay almost cozy in those sort of conditions (as long as the wind doesn't knock you off your feet).