Mt Whitney - Day Hike 8/18/17 - Trip Report
Description: Here is a first-timerís day hike report with some additional information on preparation, training and things taken on trip. I hope someone finds this useful.Hiker Experience:
Moderate Athletic/15 lbs over goal weight
Group Composition: Experienced leader with 2 successful Whitney ascents. Original group of 7 hikers, all low-intermediate hiking experience, without any Whitney attempts. Final group of 5 hikers, ages ranging from 17 to 51.PRE-TRIP DETAILS
Gym Exercise Regimen: 4-6 days a week at gym doing at least 30 minutes on stair climber. Increased gradually to 70 minutes 1 month prior to ascent (other cardio equipment does not give same feeling of climbing - elliptical, bikes, treadmill, etc. not even close). Weight training for another 40 minutes up until a week before climb. Stopped all training two days before climb to have fresh body.
Training Hikes: This was our regimen - not perfect by a long shot, but just what we were able to do as a group. Iíll discuss what I would have done different at the end of the report.
Training Hike #1 - Stewart Canyon, Ojai - Night Hike
Distance: 7.9 Miles
Ascent: 2,257 ft.
Max. Elevation: 3,006 ft.
Avg. Moving Speed: 2.1 mph
Training Hike #2 - Cooper Canyon to Mt. Waterman Loop
Distance: 13 Miles
Ascent: 2,303 ft.
Max. Elevation: 7,983 ft.
Avg. Moving Speed: 2.0 mph
Training Hike #3 - Point Dume Trail to Encinal Canyon (Malibu)
Distance: 12.8 Mies
Ascent: 3,059 ft.
Max. Elevation: 2,408 ft.
Avg. Moving Speed: 2.4 mph
Training Hike #4 - Mt. Wilson from Chantry Flats Loop
Distance: 16.3 Miles
Ascent: 4,569 ft.
Max. Elevation: 5,683 ft.
Avg. Speed: 1.9 mph
Training Hike #5 - Mt. Baldy - Devils Backbone up / Ski Hut Trail Down
Distance: 9.97 Miles
Ascent: 3,951 ft.
Max. Elevation: 10,000 ft.
Avg. Speed: 1.8 mph
Notes: There were about 3 or 4 additional hikes that were not part of the group hikes that I did on my own. One in Colorado that was rather short during a business trip, another to the Hollywood sign with some friends, as well as a couple around the local trails - nothing serious. The group had one additional solid hike from Wildwood to Mt. San Jacinto that I was unable to attend due to a family event.
I had HUGE doubts about going to try Mt. Whitney after Mt. Wilson. I hit the wall there at 6 miles and really struggled to make it to the top. A combination of heat/humidity (90 degrees), lack of proper calorie/hydration regimen, and starting out at a faster speed all contributed to me struggling the last two miles to the top. Took me about 1.5 hrs to make those last two miles. I decided that Baldy would be the defining hike. Changed my pace, had Carbo Pro and Electrolyte supplements, and trained harder in the gym before the hike. Felt solid on Baldy which I then decided ďWhat the heck - Iíll give Whitney a try and worst case scenario I turn back at Trail Camp.Ē Discussed this with the leader who agreed.
Gear: I made sure that I would have all the gear I was taking to Mt. Whitney with me on every practice hike. Things changed a little as I felt the sweet spot. Here is what I had with me:
Clothing (Worn at 3:40 a.m. start):
Pair of synthetic convertible pants
Pair of synthetic socks
Long Sleeved Synthetic Shirt (cheap Target G9)
Beanie (cold start and at top)
Large Brimmed Synthetic Hat
Fleece full-zip sweater (Columbia)
Columbia mid-height top boots
Synthetic brief underwear
Clothing (in pack):
2 additional pairs of synthetic socks
Rain Shell (Columbia)
Gear in Pack: - Weight with 2.5 litters of water and food was 12 lbs.
10 Essentials -
- Map/Compass and knowledge of how to use them (one map in pants, other in pack)
- fire starter (matches/bic lighter)
- emergency blanket
- headlamp and extra batteries (also put fresh set of batteries in headlamp)
- water (2.5 liters) - used 2 Smart Water bottles, and one 500 ml Hydrapak SF500 (16.5 oz) collapsible water bottle - perfect to attach to front of pack and sip out of. I do not like water hydration units inside pack since I have had leaks plus I cannot keep track of how much water I have used/have left.
- food (described later)
- First Aid Kit, signaling mirror, whistle (small first aid kit fits in Altoids box)
- Extra clothing items (described above)
- Sun Screen / Lip Balm
Additional Gear in pack: Also carried 30 ft 8 mm Cordelette (rope) for emergency use as well as Black Diamond HMS-type carabiner. Carried a 14,000 mAh battery charger for iPhone. Mountain Money (toilet paper). Pencil with 3í duct tape wrapped around. 1 piece of paper folded for notes. Potable Aqua water purification tablets. Pair of cheap Costco $28 tracking poles. Also took a large hand-warmer chemical pack which was great for the summit. Also had one large plastic bag, and three small plastic bags for rain protection/trash bags.
Electronic Gear/Navigation Tracking: iPhone 7 with GaiaGPS with map and track pre-loaded. I love statistics and this app worked perfectly for navigation assistance as well as tracking pace and altitude changes. Also for several videos and photos. Battery charge lasted up until summit (5% left) then recharged with portable battery charger to 74% by the time we left summit - plenty to get all the way down with. Turned off Cellular and WiFi.
Day Pack: My pack was a cheap day-pack I bought several years ago for around $35 at www.steepandcheap.com.
It is the Alps Mountaineering, Olympus 20L Pack that worked great for me - yet still looking for the ďnextĒ pack.
Food: A triathlete/Orthopedic surgeon friend of mine (who joined me on the Baldy hike) gave me great recommendation on calorie/hydration regimen:
Calories - Nature Smart Carbo-Pro pure complex carbohydrates. 200 calories per 2 scoops (mixed with 16 oz. of water).
Hydration - Scratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix (with oranges). All the electrolytes, etc. needed. Adds another 40 calories per 16 oz. of water.
I made 6 baggies (2 per litter) and put into half-size zip lock bags mixing both powders together. Real easy - I would just bite a corner off and then it would easily pour into my collapsible bottle.
I also took two PB&J Sandwiches, as well as 8 Nutter Butter 4-piece packages (270 Calories per package).
My friend told me to focus on Carbs and reduce protein since protein diverts energy to break it down.
Medical Notes - I have a yearly physical (June) and do a full blood test. Everything came back fine except for a slightly high cholesterol (hereditary) at 205. I think before trying to do Whitney it would be good to make sure to have a full checkup. TRIP REPORT
Trip to Area: We left at peak traffic on Thursday afternoon, arriving at Lone Pine around 9 p.m.
Stay: Stayed at Whitney Portal Hostel. Nice facilities and good price. Roughly $25 per bed. Communal showers which were in excellent condition and private toilet. Full linen service with towels.
Climber Status: Had Carls Jr. for dinner which was not a great idea. Went right through me that evening! Got to bed around 9:30 p.m. and I didnít sleep a wink the whole time. A little anxious/excited/nervous, plus I havenít been sleeping well the last couple of weeks.
Wake Time: 2:45 a.m.
Trail head: Arrived around 3:30 and left Portal Trail Head at 3:40 a.m.
Ascent: We mostly stayed in a group during the initial night phase of the hike. Different hiking/conditioning abilities prevented this from being the case the whole time, but we were never alone - always at least two together. I stayed at a slow pace that I knew I could do all day - roughly around 1.8 mph. I had given myself an estimated time of 4 hours to make it to Trail Camp.
Temperature was cool at start and stayed cool until day break. Had to take off my fleece and beanie after less than 1/2 mile. Creek crossings were excellent and had no issues at all. Water never got above 2 inches where I stepped, and if I was extra careful it wouldnít even reach that. Must have water proof boots or take extra care where stepping. Hiking poles a must for balance on crossings - just carried them in my hands the rest of the times which I would use occasionally on higher steps that are all along the trail. Didnít feel the need to make any stops longer than 20-40 seconds every couple of miles up to Mirror Lake. Cooler temperatures really helped there.
The toughest part of the hike for me was from Mirror Lake to Trail Camp. About 1.5 mile and 1,500 ft. climb. Took it nice and easy and stopped about 6-8 times to take photos and short breather breaks (never took off my pack except for a couple times to get hydration mix and refill water bottle).
Along the way our tags were checked by the nice young lady ranger. I caught her later doing some trail work and she seems to be the cause for many of the cairns to help find the trails. I thanked her for her service because the work they do help us enjoy the things we do.
Arrived at switchbacks start around 8 a.m. which made it a 4:20 hour trip from Portal. Not the speed I had wanted but comfortable. We took a 30 minute break there.
I had never had altitude effects prior to this trip, either on our training hikes or on any ski trips. However, by the time I got to Trail Camp I was definitely feeling it. My head felt a little ďswollenĒ if that makes sense - pressure but not a severe headache. I also felt punch drunk. Definitely felt nausea at this point - in fact, I could barely finish half a PB&J that I had planned to eat for energy before the switchbacks (I had frozen the PB&Jís the day prior). Thank God for the calorie/hydration mix. By the time I reached Trail Camp I had used up 1 litter of water/hydration mix (in addition to the 16 oz. I drank before I left Portal). I also ate 2 packages of Nutter Butters on the way. So I had a total of 1,020 calories (roughly) before I ate half of the PB&J.
This was the point at which we were all going to decide what to do next. I was feeling a little tired and nauseous, but I felt good. We all decided to keep climbing.
The switchbacks were what I was really dreading, so before going up them it was completely about preparing my mind for the agony to come. They werenít as bad as I had thought in my mind - definitely VERY tough, but actually quite enjoyable. The trail is in excellent condition (much better than I had envisioned) and the views were staggering. Never had to cross any snow during the ascent. I had to keep reminding myself to enjoy the views since I was so focused on where I was stepping and being very careful. Iím a rock climber so heights do not bother me, but there are many instances where you are very exposed. Because the nausea was getting worse and I was feeling dizzy (punch drunk) I took extra time to pay attention to what I was doing and where I was stepping. We hooked up with a group of women hikers from Fresno and passed a very enjoyable time talking. That really helps to keep my mind off the pain. The eventually left me in the dust!
Throughout the switchbacks it was all about telling yourself one step at a time. The ďJust Keep Swimming!Ē tune from Finding Nemo kept creeping into my mind. Quite annoying!
Again, I would take a break every 5-8 switchbacks to make sure and enjoy the views. ďMan - the chute is a lot steeper than it looks like in photos. I canít believe how people can glissade down that steep slopeĒ (these are the type of thoughts that go through your mind during this time). Usually just 10 second breaks or so. Temperature was getting cooler and it was mostly wind-chill. Probably about 50 degrees ambient with wind-chill dropping it another 5-10 degrees.
I was starting to feel quite tired, nauseous and even very sleepy. My head was hinting at a headache, but nothing severe yet. I was also still feeling punch drunk (very much like wearing a new pair of glasses type of feeling). Never felt in any danger, just paying attention to my body. I know I was feeling mild altitude sickness and kept a keen eye on it.
An interesting sensation happened to me that I was not sure what it was - and even now donít know. I didnít read it in any of the checking I did prior to going on the hike and donít find it in anything related to altitude now. At the time, I was associating the effect with what climbers call ďScreaming BarfiesĒ. It is associated with climbing in very cold conditions and exerting your arms. It causes extreme pain to the point of throwing up. I had never felt it, but knew about it and therefore associated what I was feeling as a slight variation of this. Climbing up the switchbacks I only had on my long sleeved synthetic shirt and no gloves. As I was getting to the top I was cold but not freezing. My hands were definitely cold (I remember wishing I had brought my glove liners at the time). And I was gripping the poles pretty strongly since I was using them carefully to make a safe ascent. Toward the top of the hike, when you get quite exposed and the wind starts blowing through the gap, I started feeling electric shocks in both forearms. It was definitely a feeling of being inside and not on the surface. It happened about 3-4 times a minute for short shocks. And only for about 3-5 minutes for the last several hundred feet. I also felt an occasional twinge in my upper left arm a couple of times, but that was it. The sensation was definitely unique and made me pay attention.
When we finally reached the top of the switchbacks we stopped at the junction. I decided to take two extra strength aspiring (Bayer 500 mg). The ďshocksĒ was the reason I decided to take the aspiring at the top and put all my layers on to warm up my core an extremities. Interestingly enough the nausea stopped at this time but I still felt punch drunk and my head still felt pressure (but not pain).
I still felt good enough to press on. Never felt urgency to do it but never felt bad enough to stop. The 15 minute rest at the top of the switchbacks was great and we kept on from there. The weather at the top was clear skies with occasional scattered clouds (we kept a close eye on those) and the wind was quite chilly. As we crept along the backside of the trail it got a lot warmer. I ended up having to take some layers off less than half a mile after leaving the trail junction. In the future I will not stop at the junction since the wind makes it a lot colder then it will be on the trail just a hundred yards away.
That last part of the hike is tough but doable. Again the views from there are amazing and Guitar Lake was beautiful. A lot of distractions but I made sure to never look away from the trail. This is the most exposed/dangerous part of the hike and I made sure to pay attention to the trail and myself. I would stop every 300-400 yards to take a small 10 second break. My legs were never a problem, however my breathing and heart rate were the real challenge. I would make sure to breathe deeply as often as possible without making myself dizzy. When I stopped I would focus on my breathing and it seemed to help. The little rests would really help a lot. Even little things like taking a sip of water can exhausts you because it alters your breathing rhythm - it was quite interesting. Let alone having to take layers off or backpack. So I did this to the minimum.
I had already read a lot about the hike here, so I knew not to get demoralized when you finally see the hut from far away. I already had prepared mentally for the fact that the end of the switchbacks didnít mean I was close! I just kept trudging along and pushing myself.
The next notable spot was just before you have to scramble up the rocks to the summit. Our leader had done the climb before so he tried going along the left backside trail but it was completely covered with snow/ice. So we followed the rock cairns (and arrow) to the trail. It was very easy to follow to the top. As I came up one last little switchback through the scree I finally saw it - the Cabin!!! I canít tell you the elation I felt when I saw it so close. In order to manage the climb I would keep telling myself that I was still a far ways away from the summit, so just focus on each step. So to actually see it was a little shock and happiness set in! I was definitely pumped the last few hundred yards!
A pair of our faster climbers was already there for a few hours and were in the hut chatting away. I first went and signed my name in the book. A many-years goal of mine had been achieved. I really never was sure whether I would be able to actually do it. And here I was. Even at my older age I still learn new things about myself. I reached the top at 12:10.
We did the customary sightseeing and photo opportunities. Chatted away with many of the others at the summit and helped others by taking their photos. I really enjoyed the friendliness of everyone and the positive vibes going on at the top. Also enjoyed talking to the JMTíers (especially a dad and his teenage son). It was everything I had hoped for and more.
By this point I had drank 1.75 litters of water/hydration mix. I had also consumed another pack of Nutter Butters for a total of about 1,700 calories. Anytime my stomach would feel empty I would open up a pack of Nutter Butters and follow it up with a gulp of water/hydration mix.
No more nausea, a little punch drunk, and the starts of a slight headache. It was definitely the most exerting thing Iíve ever done since football hell week in high school! I was tired but felt real solid after we were done at the top. We spent roughly an hour up there. One from our group (a last minute addition who had climbed Baldy the week before) was really struggling and had a much slower pace. Arrived about 30 minutes after I did with the leader. I had left them at the junction and joined another group to the top (a father and teenage daughter).
Finally, we decided it was time to go and started down. I was re-energized after the summit and felt really good. I guess I got my second wind. The way to the junction was the same - just trudging away focusing on where you were stepping. I soon joined a JMTíer (from Iowa) and spent about 2 miles with him talking the whole time as he recounted his trip. This made time go by quickly plus I wanted to hang out with him since he was alone and carrying a full pack along those treacherous trails. Really nice guy and just reinforced my experience that hikers are awesome people.
Middle of this section my head really started to pound. In fact I had to leave the JMTíer behind because I wanted to loose elevation as fast as possible. When I made it to the switchbacks I just went straight down. About halfway down I took another couple of aspiring but they never actually did anything this time. Fortunately I spent another hour talking to a hiker from San Diego (a professional concert musician) who was Latvian. We enjoyed our conversation quite a bit and it made time go by quickly. I eventually had to leave her behind as well since my head was really hurting. Not to the point where you are nauseous and canít see straight, but right on the edge of that. I knew I had a 2/3rds of a liter of water left for the rest of the hike and was conserving a bit at this time. Idiotically, I didnít refill at the 25th switchback because I was more focused on getting down quickly. Lesson learned.
At Trail Camp I just kept going. Didnít feel a need to rest since I do a lot better downhill than uphill. I was feeling much better except for the pounding headache. Nausea was gone, punch drunk feeling gone, breathing good, etc. Kept on moving on the long way down. I think some of my headache was definitely because I didnít bring sunglasses (had only my prescription glasses on) and the pounding you take as you go down all those rock steps! It definitely didnít help. I used my hiking poles extensively on the down part - saves my legs and softens the impact of those million stairs!
I rejoined the father/teenage daughter for a good ways all the way to the end. We kept each other entertained with conversation. However, this was the tough part - the way home was LOOOOOOOONG. Especially since you donít see much of the last part of the trail due to the night start, it just feels so much longer. I kept asking myself ďDid we really climb all this during the night?Ē. Around this time (about a mile after Mirror Lake) is when the headache disappeared - I had made it down to the elevation my brain liked.
That last mile had to be the hardest! When you see the paved road on the left you are somewhat optimistic about getting to the end, only to be fooled by the fact that the trail head is still considerably further below! But we finally made it down.
I averaged 1.7 mph moving speed and it took 15:31 hours total time. 22.1 miles recorded in GaiaGPS and 6,502 ft climbed. With a stopped time of 1:45.
I had no water left, tired legs, very sore feet (but no blisters), very sore shoulders and neck (primarily from looking down the whole way) and a HUGE SMILE on my face. HINDSIGHT
WATER - definitely need to bring at least one more litter of water (or be smart and fill up at the switchbacks since I had the purification pills). Iím sure that affected my altitude sickness and made it worse. Had I drank even half a liter more prior to reaching the top I think I would have been better. The last 3 miles I really had to conserve, and even though I started feeling better with the headache, I still felt parched (peed orange when I got down).
FOOD - have to think of something else. The PB&J didnít seem very appealing at the time. The Nutter Butter did their job well and the calorie/hydration mix was a life saver.
CLOTHING - Perfect except for I will bring glove liners next time.
TRAINING - I know the training we did was not perfect, but I never felt physically incapable of going on. I will train harder next time so that I can increase my pace. In particular, I will do the Ski Hut trail up to Baldy, and add Gorgonio to the mix.
ACCLIMATIZATION - I know it would have helped. I know that the fact I didnít sleep well the night before and that I wasnít drinking enough water probably had more of an effect, but I might consider sleeping at Outpost next time. Still debating this in my mind.
I donít want to make this sound casual or easy. It was neither - in fact it was the most challenging thing Iíve ever done in my life. However, it was doable and I was proud that I did it.
I canít wait for next year and do it again!!! We are already planning it.
A special thank you to all of you here on Whitney Zone. I have been lurking in the back for years, dreaming about this special day, and all the information that you have shared made me feel confident that I had solid information to make this happen. Thank you all!