Posted by overmyhead, 04-01-05
We will be hitting the main Whitney trail in August but want to spend one or two nights before camping out and thinning our blood. We live and hike at sea level so we need to get some altitude before we start out! Other than traveling all the way to Mammoth....does anyone have any suggestions on where we can spend a couple of nights???

Posted by Richard, 04-01-05
Horseshoe Meadows is a few miles south of Whitney. You can drive a paved road to the campgrounds at 10,000 feet. Good luck!

Posted by Gusto, 04-01-05
If you're in the LA prior to your departure, try and hit up San Gorgonio and the surrounding peaks (all over 10,000 feet).

Posted by Ken, 04-01-05
I agree with Horseshoe meadow. There are a couple of nice peaks that can be day hiked to stretch your legs, Trail Peak, and Mt. Muah, or even just climbing to Cottonwood pass, or the Cottonwood Lakes.

Posted by Kashcraft, 04-02-05
If you are camping out at Whitney Portal campground in association with your hike, you can hike up to Lone Pine Lake and spend some time in the Meysan Lake Canyon. Both are nice diversions, and the Whitney Portal area is fun to hang around anyway for 2 nights/ 1 day before you head up the trail.

Posted by wbtravis5152, 04-04-05
Onion Valley is another option. 9,200' campground with a lot of hiking trail in the area.
Mt. Whitney and Eastern Sierra Blog
The Mt. Whitney Day Hike and Backpacking Page

Posted by Ken, 04-04-05
Onion Valley is another nice area, but I've found the campground difficult to get a place in. That is one advantage of the Horseshoe Meadow area, two campgrounds that are all walk-in, first come, with plenty of overflow space.

Posted by leh, 04-04-05
Onion Valley is a great place to "tune up" for Whitney. It's higher and quieter than the Portal campgrounds and has lots of trails to "go high, sleep low". August is still wide open, if you go online and book now . Here is the link:
Good luck!

Posted by wbtravis5152, 04-04-05

I like Horseshoe better because I don't like hard acclimatization hikes before Whitney. I also like the set up at Horseshoe better. I've never had a problem getting a campsite at either of the trailheads.

I was just pointing out the easy options for the area.
Mt. Whitney and Eastern Sierra Blog
The Mt. Whitney Day Hike and Backpacking Page

Posted by tomcat_rc, 04-04-05
in the White Mountains - White Mountain is a good test for acclimatization and a fair 14 mile hike and you still get a 14ker - worth the drive

Posted by Robert Rainey, 04-05-05
I guess I am in the minority here.I feel that there is limited benefit to staying at altitude for one-three days before the hike.Real adaptation takes three weeks.There is some adaptation through hyperventilation which involve chemical changes in the blood.Lowering of the CO2 therefore the carbonic acid,shifting the blood ph towards basic,which shifts the oxyhemoglobin dissociation curve allowing more oxygen to be carried on your RBC's. People climbing above 8000 meters always stay at altitude for three weeks plus before an assent.
I have hiked Whitney with and without staying at altitude.I don't think there is much of a difference.RR

Posted by BK_1, 04-05-05
Are these hikes mentioned from Horseshoe Meadows and Onion Valley "permit-free" zones? They all seem to be on trails that eventually end up at Whitney.

Posted by Steve C, 04-05-05
RR: You wrote "Real adaptation takes three weeks", but I think, if you read the replies to your messages of 10 months ago (the link Richard provided), you should say "FULL adaptation takes three weeks." And points made about climbing 8000 meter peaks don't apply well to Mt. Whitney at around 4400 meters. If you have climbed Whitney successfully without staying at altitude and felt no affects, then you are one of the lucky 25% minority whose body adapts better to the altitude.

I, on the other hand, have absolutely no appetite -- can't generate enough saliva to chew and swallow even a peanut -- when I go above 12000 feet, and it takes about three days before my appetite kicks back in.

BK: Those hikes are meant as dayhikes, which require no permits. And you can car-camp at both locations.

Steve C
Mt. Whitney Hikers Association

Posted by Ken, 04-05-05
BK, the day hikes out of both Horseshoe and Onion require no permits.

Robert, your assertion that there is no effect of several days at altitude is not factual. You mention the folks that spend three weeks for 8k peaks. Actually, it is closer to 3 months. However, that is not the time for 14,000 feet, but to 24,000 feet!

The oft quoted rule, and probably reasonable one, that you should sleep 1000 ft. higher/nite as a max, over 10k, gives a clue.

You can easily do the calculation, looking at where one is going, and what is required.

However, that does not make the point of individual variation. You might well be compared to my friend, Mike Gauthier. Mike has been struck by lightning 4 times. Do you imagine that he advocates to people that being struck by lightning is safe, and something that people should not worry about, based upon his experience?? Should your experience, which flies in the face of many professional's experience, many research projects on the subject, and many, many people's experience, be the basis of advice to the average person??

No. Just as Mike hypothetically advising people not to worry about lightning, advising people not to worry about altitude illness is poor advice.

Posted by Richard P, 04-05-05
I'll toss in another comment about climbing in the Himalaya: after having spent at least 4 weeks at successively higher camps, and prior to the final push to the summit, most climbers retreat to around 4000m (for example, an Everest climber would head to Pheriche, 4280m) for several days of recuperation.

I know that a lot of people will argue with this point, but I've found (no scientific evidence to prove it) that if I can spend time at altitude several weekends in advance of a trip above 4000m, I have an easier time during the climb.

Posted by Bob R, 04-05-05
This is of only peripheral interest, but I thought I would post it anyway.

As part of a class in introductory mountaineering, I used to give a lecture on training and acclimatization. I listed different responses the human body undergoes, based on the knowledge at the time, with effects that occur almost immediately to long-term evolutionary consequences.

Just remember that this was made close to 30 years ago, and so I would make changes today. Also, much of it is adaptation rather than acclimatization.

Arranged in order of short term to long, with the first few occurring very quickly and the rest taking a while:

1. Respiration and heart rate increase in response to visual clues
2. Respiration and heart rate increase in response to physical exercise
3. Second wind
4. Increased ventilation due to altitude exposure
5. Increased heart rate due to altitude exposure (temporary)
6. More efficient muscular performance
7. Increased cardiac mass
8. Increased cardiac stroke volume
9. More red blood cells (10 -- 80%)
10. More hemoglobin per red blood cell (20 -- 40%)
11. Increased ease of oxygen release from hemoglobin
12. Increased diffusion of oxygen to tissues
13. Faster utilization of oxygen (different biochemical pathways)
14. Increased lung volume (10 -- 30%)
15. Increased lung surface area
16. Increased lung capillary volume (10 -- 40%)
17. Evolutionary effects

No 1 is sort of tongue-in-cheek but I wanted to make a point. (We am going to climb that!?!) For no. 17, think in terms of the dwellers who are able to live comfortably at 17,000' in the Andes or Tibet.

Again, this list is 30 years old and in need of updating. Personally, I have neither the time nor interest, but I think it would be a worthwhile thing for someone to do.

Posted by Memory Lapse, 04-05-05
Thanks to all who have contributed to this discussion.

There is a lot of valuable and accurate information and some opinion in this thread. It's too bad casual readers do not have the luxury of knowing how to decipher one from the other. If they knew each poster's experiences and general physical attributes they would be in a better position to judge for themselves whether information applies to them.

It's always good to see Bob R's sage wisdom interjected into these types of discussions.

All I am suggesting is when giving this kind of information, consider how your comments might be interpreted by the novice. After all, there are a lot of them reading this message board and do not know how much value to place on the information.

Apologies for being preachy, it's not my vocation.

Posted by Richard P, 04-05-05
For those who are interested in seeing some of the serious research into this topic, follow the link that I posted above. Ken cited a bunch of studies that you'll see if you scroll down through it.

Posted by mark, 04-05-05
As a response to spending a few days at altitude not having any effect, I can only fall back on my last year's experience, coming up the back side to Whitney from Horseshoe Meadows- a 5 day trip. Even though we had full packs, by the time we got to Trail Crest, and stashed them there- only 4 days later- we were able to do that last 2 miles without being winded in the least. During that last 2 miles we joked, laughed, and had a conversation with all who we met- at least those who would respond. It was interesting that you could easily tell apart those who had acclimated, and who had not. Those who had not taken any time at all seemed listless, had no pep, and did not talk at all. All those who we conversed with had either 1) stayed over at the Portal, 2) stayed over at one of the Trail camps, or 3) both. It seems a few days at altitude makes a big difference in attitude up there.

Posted by Doug Sr, 04-05-05
Hi My favorite topic, if you drive up at 3:00am can't find the parking lot, bathroom ,trailhead water, and take off at a dead run going to the behind the store "TRAILHEAD" I THINK IT'S OVER HERE for about an hour, now hows that to start trip.
We see flash lights and groups doing this every night, coming back down the hillside behind the store and walking around looking for the trailhead/trail.
I think getting to the Portal a day before lets one unwind from the travel,find all of the above and Talk to hikers coming down ,Don't be shy.Ask what the trail is like how long it took to get from the summit to the Portal and how much Stuff they took they didn't need/use
I need two more hours of sleep a night living at the Portal than at lower elevation. And the first several weeks at the start of the season we try to work shorter hours and take breaks often.
The more time one spends at elevation will help but the best most people can do is try to get to the area a day before during the day light relax and get ready for the hike,
Thanks Doug

Posted by Robert Rainey, 04-06-05
In the Rob R list 6-17 take weeks,months or years.I dosn't mean to say that there is no effect just that it is not full acclimatization.
The general rule was not quoted correctly it is do not go more than 1000 feet higher per day over 10,000 ft so, it would take 5 days above 10,000 to get basic changes such as the kidneys getting rid of bicarb(this is why Diamox helps)
in order to climb Whitney.For most people this is not practical.So if some helps go for it (and go slow).RR

Posted by Robert Rainey, 04-08-05
My advice was not to ignore the issue.Others seem
to think that one day or two sleeping at the portal protects you from Altitude sickness.It won't.It may help for those that adapt easily.
For those that have the time and are sensitive
a week or more at altitude(above 10,000 in this case) would help them.I just wouldn't want people to rush up the mountain impervious to the danger,"acclimatized" with their two days
at altitude.

Posted by lcpman, 04-08-05
I've done it with and without an acclamation day or two, tried the Ginkgo, and more or less water and various foods, bars, etc. My personal experience, and it is only that, a day or two of above 8000 ft, drink enough power drink to pee regularly, and eat something with compact energy every few hours makes a world of difference. Not as winded, less or no headaches and body aches. I think it's worth the planning and discipline. Bottom line it's a lot easier to take in the awesomeness of it all and enjoy the time together when you fell better.

Posted by nhfours, 04-08-05
On our 2002 trip to Mt. Whitney we did a dayhike along the Meysan Lake Trail on the first day, then drove over to Onion Valley where we spent the night. Next day we backpacked to the beautiful Kearsarge Lakes and slept there (11,000 feet). Next day we returned to Lone Pine for the night, ready for our adventure the day after that.

None of our group of four had any serious altitude related problems, and we enjoyed the acclimatization hikes as much as the main one.

Posted by norweejunwood, 04-22-05
time is usually the enemy in getting used to altitude.

last year, our group got up to lone pine around 11 am, then ran up to the portal and did some day hiking, returned and spent the night at the beautiful dow villa. we had a portal campground reservation for the next night, so we went back up in the morning, hiked again, including a portion of the main trail, had a cheeseburger, then crashed for the night.

we took off next day around 7, and went slow. 2 people had headaches, and one guy who tried to fly up to trail camp, our next overnight spot, suffered some altitude sickness and headed back down.

with our time limits, that's the best we could do. we ran into a guy who said he spent 3 nights at meysan and then lone pine lake and he still couldn't make the summit due to altitude.

Posted by Memory Lapse, 04-22-05
All the advice here is sound and can be applied in general to most people. But the thing I see missing most in conversations about acclimatization is that there must be some physiological reason why some people have a more difficult time acclimatizing than others. Everyone is different so whatever techniques one person uses may not work for another.

I have only summited Whitney twice and both times I had no symptoms of AMS. One trip we drove up to the Portal from Orange County California arriving at midnight and after three hours sleep, did the round trip in 17 hours. On the other trip we camped one night each at the Portal and Trail Camp, summiting on the third day.

It is easy to find causes of AMS but what are the physiological factors influencing one person's ability to acclimatize.

Posted by asbufra, 04-22-05
A few years ago I was camping in Cottonwood and met a school teacher who had hiked the John Muir Trail every summer of his adult life, I think he said 19 times. Interesting and intelligent fellow. I mentioned how it seemed that no matter what my age or level of condition (translation: I get heavier each year) every trip to high altitude seemed easier than the last. He said wisely "you learn how to handle the altitude". I understood, You breathe deeper and move differently at altitude, some of this is involuntary but most is a learned response to being out of breath "see Bob R's post items #1-6". Its not a thinking type of learning it is more like swimming and how you eventually can glide and float in the water with little effort.

A slow steady pace that keeps your breathing at normal goes a long way towards avoiding headaches. That is why the step/rest lock your knee thing they teach is so effective.

You probably can not really acclimate sleeping one night at 10 or 11,000 feet, but you gain a lot by getting up there and moving around learning to pace your exertion and building confidence. Of course the actual experience of sleeping at some of the higher trailheads Onion Valley, Cotton Wood and The Portal are well worth on their own because those spots are beautiful, except you risk interrupted sleep.

Disclaimer is:
AMS is it is unpredictable, can happen to anyone at any fitness level, and is dangerous. Although I think most climbers on the Whitney Trail who are sick have that other illness "acute exhaustion" anyone who climbs up should learn about AMS (links are posted in other replys) and if they have symptoms of AMS they should turn around.

Posted by teleuwhat, 04-22-05
1988 was my first time on Whitney and my first serious bout with minor ams. My buddy and his date and I attempted the main trail after spending the night in the portal. We all carried heavy packs, and pitched the tent as the sun dipped over the mountain tops. Dinner never tasted so good and I passed out right after dinner.

The next morning I was slightly disoriented, had some coffee and realized my tentmates were really sick. Apparently they took turns barfing all night and I snored so loud, they put paper in their ears.

Right after the coffee is when I became sick. My head started spinning, I staggered to the outhouse, lost it from both ends, made it back to the tent, and demented I go down. All of us had the same mind-set.

I did not feel ok until about 10000 feet, and walked dejectedly back to the portal. After a shower rest time, I bought a sixer of Bud and carbo loaded for the rest of the day. The other two decided to leave the next morning, and I decided to make a one day attempt. They told me I was nuts!

The next day I cranked that sucker out in just over 8 and half hours. It was a perfect day and I smiled all the way home.

Posted by lcpman, 04-22-05
My Friend & I first hiked Whitney in Sept. 1977. We were fairly knowledgeable backpackers but never had spent much time above tree line. We didn't bother to get any info on the hike; hey we were young, invincible and stupid. We drove to the Portal, parked and immediately hiked to Trail Camp. What an awful night. Couldn't eat, drank a little water, begged some Aspirin off another hiker. We trudged up to the summit, it could have been Everest as far as we knew, cut up our tube tent to make gaiters to make it thru the snow on the west side. We barely made it. Spend about 5 dizzy mins. on top and got below 11,000 ft ASAP. What a difference 3 decades, a few books, and the Internet makes. A day or two at Cottonwood, water and a snack every hour or so while hiking and this older and wiser man can now really enjoy the view.

Posted by 67brickie, 04-25-05
I'll offer up the following (and seek input on how you think I'll do in July) - living just above sea level on the Texas Gulf coast, in '03, without much more than three days "at elevation" and with plenty of agua and snacks, I hiked 13,063 Wheeler Peak in Great Basin N.P. Nevada without any significant issues. I learned the breathing is different and my muscles needed rest more often, but I never felt I wouldn't make the top. That trailhead starts around 9800' and the roundtrip is just shy of 10 miles. I'm 56, in "shape" with regular exercise (and the quadruple bypass was 13 1/2 years ago...really) My group's three day permit is third week in July, with camp planned at Outpost (where one not outdoorsy type will remain) then up and back second day, before another night then leave third day. Any predictions on how I'll fare? I'm reading everything I can, don't care to fail, and hopefully with good weather, I'll get to put an entry in the summit log. Let me hear from ya....

Posted by Ken, 04-25-05
Memory, I don't think the physiological factors that you refer to are defined or known, yet. Obviously, genetic, but what specifically is varying, is not known.

67, I think few people summit from Outpost Camp, as it is over 4,000 feet of gain from there, to the summit, at altitude. Some certainly do. Problem is, that altitude can affect a person differently on different trips, and unless you are hiking alone, may affect a companion radically.

Posted by Wayne, 04-25-05
67brickie, if you could do Wheeler so easy, you should do just fine with your Outpost plan. Over the years I've taken a number of groups up the main trail and camped at Outpost. I tend to carry heavy backpacks, up to 50 pounds, and it is so much easier for us crazies to drop the weight at Outpost. After Outpost, day packs give you the feeling you're weightless, almost, compared to lugging the heavy packs, and it feels like you're flying up the trail, compared to the slow, heavy backpack trudge the day or two before. Moreover, I love the beauty of Outpost, compared to the lunar landscape at Trail Camp. Yes, I know Trail Camp has its own innate beauty, but I prefer the trees and the bubbling creek that runs through or around Outpost. I have lugged a 70-pounder up to Trail Crest on a trans-Sierra trip, but that is not too pleasant up the east side of Whitney. Outpost Camp is waiting for you!

Posted by mjfuller, 04-27-05
67: I intend to do the same itinerary you described. We'll stay at Horseshoe Meadows for a night and then Whitney Portal for a second night before setting out. I'm a little younger than you at 51 and in good overall shape, but my knees are about 20 years older. I prefer to drop the heavy pack at Outpost and summit from there, but my group has agreed to see how we feel when we get to Outpost and decide whether to continue. I figure if the really hard core can do a round trip from Whitney Portal in a day then I ought to be able to start from Outpost and come back to stay there again that night. I'll take my chances with the altitude sickness and I'm considering using Diamox as well.

Posted by 67brickie, 04-27-05
Thanks Wayne, I too share the notion (and tendency) to haul too much, so our plan for Outpost is both a realization of that as well as having one member along who just wants to chill there and not do more. I hope (and expect) that the feeling of having left most of the stuff behind and just carrying a couple of day packs the rest of the way will prevail and give us the incentive to make the top.
Thanks Ken about the forewarning of altitude affects and adjustments from Outpost. Like MJFuller, we'll have some Diamox along and Advil too. I also know exactly what MJ means about the knees "being 20 years older" - I still walk golf courses and carry the clubs, and knowing they'll probably be in worse shape next year is exactly why, after several years of wishing and talking about it, I'm finally doing the Whitney trip this year. Thanks to all for the input. Would welcome more any time.

Posted 04-27-05
I offer up these three experiences. I am or at least was a serious runner with a 10 mile time of well under the hour and while I was not as fit as when I did that I was still in reasonable shape at least the first time when I was 46.

2002 Working in LA at 4.30 in the afternoon, climbing the mountain by 11 (btw this is a great time to start, extra time , less water needed, less chance of thunder, not so crowded at the summit). Did not expect much problem and the climb itself is not a big deal (if you started from sea level). By the switchbacks was feeling a bit thickheaded / dizzy / sick and after staggering worryingly near the edge at the cables realized I may not make it.

Trouble is as a runner you try and measure the effort and work against it but here it was better to back off a bit and certainly be very cautious. The trail is plenty wide - until you are staggering about. Made it to the top eventually by just letting it take as long as it took. Felt just as bad on the way down and not being good with heights either bit of an ordeal especially passing people. Nearly everybody we passed said 'is your friend feeling alright?' Well worth going though.

2003 Having vowed to never go again realized I felt so bad I had taken no photos so went again. Stopped overnight at Horseshoe Meadows (no sleep, headache, felt terrible), and again set off at 11 in the evening. Took it steady from the start and planned rests at the switchbacks but basically strolled up no problem. Still a bit queasy at the drop offs on the descent.

2004 Tried for in between. Spent all day at Horseshoe and set of at 10.30 pm. This was just enough time to make me feel bad before I set off without any benefit. Felt bad (dizzy) even earlier and again a dire ascent of the switchbacks but just plodded to the top as before. Descent NTB as at least I was expecting the bad bit.

Now all I have to do is repeat 20 times and have my non existent twin brother do the opposite as a control and we can draw some conclusions.

This year we may try Mammoth.

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