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#56098 - 08/25/19 12:02 AM Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience
CouchToWhitney Offline


Registered: 08/24/19
Posts: 11
Loc: Los Angeles
I was aimlessly surfing the web recently and decided to hike Mt. Whitney out of the blue. I apparently have more luck than preparation and somehow got a solo day hike permit for the Labor Day weekend.

I snapped up the permit without hesitation, but I'm now starting to have second thoughts of going there since I have very minimal hiking experience. I've done maybe 5 hikes in my life, never hiked more than once a year, and never hiked more than 8 miles in a day. Here's my most recent hiking experience:

2017 - Hiked the Methuselah Trail in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (4 mile loop, minimal elevation gain/loss). Didn't have any problems with the ~10,000' altitude even though I just came up from sea level that morning.

2018 - Summitted Mt. Baldy/Mt. San Antonio the easy way by taking the ski lift up and down. ~6 mile hike, ~2000' elevation gain

May 2019 - Did Angels Landing in Zion National Park. It was a 5.4 mile hike with some steep sections, but altitude wasn't a factor since the elevation was only 5K feet.

The things I have in my favor are that I'm relatively young (age 29), not overweight, and not completely out of shape. I used to be on the track team back in high school, and while I don't train anywhere near as much or as hard as I did back then, I've run 10 miles a week almost every week since college to stay in shape. I did a hard 12 minute run (Google "cooper test") yesterday to get a rough idea of my fitness. I covered 1.80 miles (6:40 mile pace), which is apparently the 85th percentile for my age group.

I went to the local REI today to get a backpack, a water purifier, and some hiking poles. I didn't need any of that before since all of my previous hikes were short enough where I didn't need to bring anything besides a water bottle. Anyway, my tentative plan is as follows:

Wednesday afternoon - Drive up to Mammoth Lakes (8K feet) right after work (which ends at 5 PM; I live and work in Los Angeles). Battle the traffic and reach there at midnight?

Thursday - Sightseeing and an easy warmup hike to the base of Devils Postpile. Pick up Whitney Permit and sleep in Mammoth Lakes again for the acclimation.

Friday night - Camp in Whitney Portal for more acclimation.

Saturday early morning - Summit day. Head up the main trail at 3 AM and hope for the best.

With that said, how far do you think I'll get? Do I have a snowball's chance in hell of reaching the summit or getting anywhere near it? I asked a few of my friends, and answers ranged from extreme pessimism ("just getting to Lone Pine Lake and back without needing a helicopter rescue would be considered a big accomplishment for you") to irrational insane optimism ("you'll summit and be back in your car by noon"). The most popular guess would be that I'll reach Trail Camp at 10 AM after a long hard slog, cramp up after the first switchback, and stumble my way back down to the Portal.

Any advice or predictions?

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#56099 - 08/25/19 12:40 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
StorminMatt Offline


Registered: 06/20/19
Posts: 33
Loc: Norcal
Itís SO hard to say how you will fare on Whitney. I have met LOTS of people coming down the trail who just couldnít make it. These folks may or may not have properly trained for the hike. And knowing that you really havenít, you could end up being one of these folks. But maybe not. One of my friendís girlfriend actually made it up last summer with pretty much no training. And that was VERY shortly after she got altitude sickness on Mauna Kea (which is a little lower than Whitney). So you just never know. You might find that you end up doing better than you thought you would.

There are a couple of things you might consider doing if you can. One would be to try a hike with a decent amount of elevation gain at a significant altitude. Consider Mount Baldy by the Baldy Bowl, San Gorgonio by Vivian Creek, or San Jacinto by Marion Mountain. Any of these would be good last minute training hikes (relatively) close to you if you can swing them.

Secondly, rather than staying Thursday night at Mammoth Lakes, camp out at a higher altitude. Mosquito Flat, Onion Valley, or Horseshoe Meadows would be good spots (Horseshoe Meadows is closest to Whitney). Maybe take a fairly short and easy hike at high altitude on Friday. These things will help better acclimate you to the altitude.

In the end, all you can do is try. You may summit. Or maybe not. But it is an AWESOME trail regardless. Enjoy your hike. And if you donít make it, try it again at a later date after you have trained more properly.


Edited by StorminMatt (08/25/19 12:43 AM)

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#56100 - 08/25/19 05:16 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: StorminMatt]
RichardK Offline


Registered: 11/06/09
Posts: 106
Loc: East Coast Florida
Since you are leaving at 3AM, I hope you bought a headlamp at REI. You may be too excited to sleep much the night before. Your permit allows you to leave at midnight. That gives you a better chance of getting back before sunset.

High mountains make their own weather. You need to carry a wind proof, water proof outer layer. Also, one warmer piece as well.

Take some aspirin (not Aleve or Advil) before starting as a preventative for altitude sickness.

Drink water on a schedule. If you wait until you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Add some sport drink powder as well.

You may not have much appetite. Take high carb foods and snacks that you like and will eat. The trail burns a ton of calories.

Whitney isn't going anywhere. If you start feeling the altitude or the distance, turn around and go back. Every step of the hike is beautiful. Your trip will not be wasted. If you are tempted to push for the summit, remember that it is only half way. It's still 11 miles back to your car.

Please report back on how you did. Good luck!

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#56105 - 08/25/19 09:05 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: StorminMatt]
CouchToWhitney Offline


Registered: 08/24/19
Posts: 11
Loc: Los Angeles
Originally Posted By: StorminMatt
One of my friendís girlfriend actually made it up last summer with pretty much no training. And that was VERY shortly after she got altitude sickness on Mauna Kea (which is a little lower than Whitney). So you just never know. You might find that you end up doing better than you thought you would.

There are a couple of things you might consider doing if you can. One would be to try a hike with a decent amount of elevation gain at a significant altitude. Consider Mount Baldy by the Baldy Bowl, San Gorgonio by Vivian Creek, or San Jacinto by Marion Mountain. Any of these would be good last minute training hikes (relatively) close to you if you can swing them.

Thanks! One question - how long would it take to recover from one of those hikes? I was thinking of doing San G today to have an idea of what I'm getting myself into, but decided against it since I thought that my legs would be too trashed to tackle Whitney less than a week later.

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#56106 - 08/25/19 09:07 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 61
Loc: Escondido, CA
I think your chances are as good as anyones. I prepared, trained and had all the gear for my first summit attempt last year. Got sick at Trail Camp and hiked back out.

It was still a great hike. While reaching the summit is, of course, the goal, the hike up is full of scenery many don't get to experience.

Be prepared and go enjoy yourself. If you make it, great. If not, it will still be a great adventure. And, as mentioned by the other poster, the mountain isn't going anywhere.

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#56107 - 08/25/19 09:10 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 61
Loc: Escondido, CA
I'm usually not interested in hiking - or exercising at all smile - for a week after doing any of the local mountains (Baldy, Jacinto, Gorgonio).

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#56108 - 08/25/19 09:34 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: RichardK]
CouchToWhitney Offline


Registered: 08/24/19
Posts: 11
Loc: Los Angeles
Originally Posted By: RichardK
Since you are leaving at 3AM, I hope you bought a headlamp at REI. You may be too excited to sleep much the night before. Your permit allows you to leave at midnight. That gives you a better chance of getting back before sunset.

High mountains make their own weather. You need to carry a wind proof, water proof outer layer. Also, one warmer piece as well.

Take some aspirin (not Aleve or Advil) before starting as a preventative for altitude sickness.

Drink water on a schedule. If you wait until you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Add some sport drink powder as well.

You may not have much appetite. Take high carb foods and snacks that you like and will eat. The trail burns a ton of calories.

Whitney isn't going anywhere. If you start feeling the altitude or the distance, turn around and go back. Every step of the hike is beautiful. Your trip will not be wasted. If you are tempted to push for the summit, remember that it is only half way. It's still 11 miles back to your car.

Please report back on how you did. Good luck!

Yup, I also got a headlamp. Anyway, how hard is it to follow the trail in the dark? It seems that the first mile or two should be easy to follow, but I've heard stories of people getting lost between Outpost Camp and Trail Camp. My plan is to tag along with another hiking group but am concerned that it won't work if they're going too fast.

Also, how accurate are weather forecasts at this time of the year? Right now (fingers crossed), the forecast calls for clear skies, calm winds, and daytime summit temps in the 50s from Thursday through Sunday. I'll check it again the day before, and if it holds, I'm tempted to just wear a T shirt, pants, and a hoodie and not bring any other clothes to keep weight to a minimum.

Regarding the food and water, I'm planning on bringing 7-8 Cliff bars of varying flavors (~2000 calories; I'm pretty small and only weigh 125 lbs) and have the following schedule in mind:
Whitney Portal - Drink a bottle before going on the trail; leave camp with 3L of water.
Trail Camp - Fill up all of the water bottles (should be close to empty by now?), eat 3 Cliff bars, leave Trail Camp with 3L of water
Summit - Eat 2 Cliff bars, enjoy the views, and sign the summit register. Set a turnaround time of 1 PM?
Trail Camp - Fill up all of the water bottles again, eat the remaining Cliff bars, and head down
Whitney Portal - Grab a congratulatory burger; hope it's still open when I get back.

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#56109 - 08/25/19 09:41 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: MikeH]
CouchToWhitney Offline


Registered: 08/24/19
Posts: 11
Loc: Los Angeles
Originally Posted By: MikeH
I think your chances are as good as anyones. I prepared, trained and had all the gear for my first summit attempt last year. Got sick at Trail Camp and hiked back out.

Ouch. Was it altitude sickness or something else (flu, diarrhea, food poisoning, etc.)? If it was altitude sickness, how much acclimation did you have before hiking up?

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#56110 - 08/25/19 11:43 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
John Sims Offline


Registered: 04/20/12
Posts: 551
Loc: Sunnyvale, California
I think your chances are actually good. I did my first hike in similar circumstances. I was early 40's, and a bit overweight (so you should have a good advantage) , but in OK condition. Did nothing to acclimate. A VERY difficult hike, but did make it. Mostly "mind over matter". I've summited 3 times since, once via the Mountaineer's route. All included much more preparation. A lesson well learned:-). I was hiking with a friend and that was certainly an advantage. You should have no problem hooking with with other hikers. I've always found hikers to be very friendly and supportive.

I like your plan, except I would not recommend the Devil's Postpile as your warmup. There is some debate as to best strategy for acclimation, but the one I find works the best is: Hike high, sleep low. This is "relative high, and low". For sleeping, 8K' is OK, 9K would be better (Mammoth Mountain Inn is at 9K). Instead of descending down to the Devil's Postpile, simply hike up Mammoth Mountain. Go as far as you like (top is just over 11K'). There is a trail, or you could simply hike up one of the ski slopes. Be wary of the mountain bikes depending the bike trails.

Also, on Friday, upon arrival at the portal, I would recommend hiking part way of the trail to familiarize yourself with the trail during daylight. The next morning, you will be starting in very dark circumstances. No moon. I suggest you investigate the "old" trail. It is not really a trail, but more a "boot track", but not difficult to follow. It cuts a bit off the distance, but also avoids one creek crossing.

Providing weather does not intervene (it can change quickly, be aware of it), I think you will make it.

Look forward to your trip report.

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#56111 - 08/25/19 11:53 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: John Sims]
Goose Offline


Registered: 07/17/16
Posts: 20
Loc: NY
Sound advice. I second all of that.

As far as eating goes, I would only add two suggestions--grazing and variety. The higher you go, the harder it will likely be to eat. Downing three Clif bars at Trail Camp is truly ambitious. And while you may be one of those people that can go 24 to 36 hours on bars, up there is very different. Consider swapping one or two out for some mini Snickers, and take some Gummi bears. My wife actually swears by Clif gels above 12k.



Edited by Goose (08/25/19 11:54 AM)

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#56112 - 08/25/19 12:04 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7910
Loc: Fresno, CA
Couch man: Your 10 miles per week is what I was doing at your age, and if you can do that 6:40 pace, I think you're good to go. Back then, I think I started Whitney about 7 AM and finished around 5 pm. AMS got me at the summmit. A juicy peach was all I could choke down -- nothing dry!

So... your AMS plan is excellent. Book a room up at the top of Mammoth-- Mammoth Mtn Inn. It's at 9000 elevation--two nights there plus one at Whitney Portal, and you will be good to go. Pick up your Whitney permit on Friday. It's a long round trip to Lone Pine back on Thursday. Instead, take the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mtn and spend several hours there.

You should have hiked today. It only takes a few days for muscle recovery. I'd try an after-work hike Monday.

Weather looks excellent so far. Check the link mid-week, but if it doesn't change, even thunderstorms are absent. Just in case, take an emergency rain poncho. Take something warm -- hat and jacket as a minimum. Your running shoes is all you need on the feet.

FYI: I just dip-and-drink the water. You need to drink lots of it, almost a pint an hour, even though you don't feel thirsty. Lemonade mix and Nuun electrolyte tablets make a great mix. The inlet to Trail Camp pond is good, but stay away from that pond ;-) Take 3 liters from Trail Camp up: Drink one by the top of the switchbacks, another by the summit.

Good luck! Let us know how you do.


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#56113 - 08/25/19 01:15 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: John Sims]
CouchToWhitney Offline


Registered: 08/24/19
Posts: 11
Loc: Los Angeles
Originally Posted By: John Sims
Also, on Friday, upon arrival at the portal, I would recommend hiking part way of the trail to familiarize yourself with the trail during daylight. The next morning, you will be starting in very dark circumstances. No moon. I suggest you investigate the "old" trail. It is not really a trail, but more a "boot track", but not difficult to follow. It cuts a bit off the distance, but also avoids one creek crossing.

Thanks for the tip. That doesn't look like a route I'd attempt in the dark, but it might be an option on the way down if there's still a decent amount of daylight when I get there.

I'll be hiking part of the trail before Saturday to check things out, but does anyone know how much of an issue the water crossings would be at this time of the year? Is it easy to avoid getting your feet wet, and are the most the most troublesome water crossings the ones on the first mile of the trail?

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#56114 - 08/25/19 01:28 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
StorminMatt Offline


Registered: 06/20/19
Posts: 33
Loc: Norcal
Originally Posted By: CouchToWhitney
Yup, I also got a headlamp. Anyway, how hard is it to follow the trail in the dark? It seems that the first mile or two should be easy to follow, but I've heard stories of people getting lost between Outpost Camp and Trail Camp. My plan is to tag along with another hiking group but am concerned that it won't work if they're going too fast.

Also, how accurate are weather forecasts at this time of the year? Right now (fingers crossed), the forecast calls for clear skies, calm winds, and daytime summit temps in the 50s from Thursday through Sunday. I'll check it again the day before, and if it holds, I'm tempted to just wear a T shirt, pants, and a hoodie and not bring any other clothes to keep weight to a minimum.


The Whitney trail is typically VERY easy to follow. As you say, there are some spots where you might get a little confused on the way up. But nothing too serious. If you are concerned with getting lost, My recommendation is to download a GPS app (like AllTrails or Hiking Project) on your phone and make sure you have a way to keep it charged (get a powerbank with enough capacity).

Weather forecasts are generally quite accurate as you approach your hike date. What I have noticed is that precipitation chance is the wildcard here. If there is no chance of precipitation in the forecast, you are almost always guaranteed a completely dry hike. Itís when the weather is in a somewhat active monsoon pattern and there is a chance of precipitation (especially above, say, 15-20%) that rain or thunderstorms become a concern. So keep a lookout. Of course, September is generally a safer bet as far as thunderstorms than July or August.

As far as clothes, I myself donít go too crazy. What you list sounds doable. But for a more comfortable hike (and lighter weight), I would make the T shirt a moisture wicking shirt, wear a pair of hiking pants instead of jeans, and carry a lightweight puffer instead of your average hoodie. Also, I tend to prefer a long sleeved t-shirt vs short sleeves. This helps to keep the sun off me, and allows me to apply less yucky sunscreen. But if you are okay with your clothing choice and donít have/donít want to get these things, you will likely be fine.


Edited by StorminMatt (08/25/19 01:39 PM)

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#56115 - 08/25/19 01:32 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: Steve C]
CouchToWhitney Offline


Registered: 08/24/19
Posts: 11
Loc: Los Angeles
Originally Posted By: Steve C

So... your AMS plan is excellent. Book a room up at the top of Mammoth-- Mammoth Mtn Inn. It's at 9000 elevation--two nights there plus one at Whitney Portal, and you will be good to go.

I'm kind of waffling between staying at Mammoth Mountain Inn at 9K or at/near the Village at 8K. My main concern is sleep quality. I can't seem to sleep right the first 2-3 days at altitude. On a recent road trip, LA to Flagstaff (7K feet) was perfectly fine, but the next day's drive from Flagstaff to Mountain Village, CO (9.5K feet) left me with very little good sleep that night even though I had a good hotel to stay in.

I don't expect much quality sleep on Friday night due to the early start and the excitement (and possibly noise from other campers), so I'm trying to be as well rested as possible on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

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#56116 - 08/25/19 08:18 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
Jonathan C Offline


Registered: 03/03/19
Posts: 40
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Protect yourself with an offline map on your phone, especially for those dark hours. Download Alltrails and pay for the subscription. Then go to the "Mount Whitney via Mount Whitney Trail" page and click the "Download" button. Do this now while you are at home. You will then have an offline map you can refer to at any time on the trail and compare to your gps position. Also bring a small external charger and cable.

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#56117 - 08/25/19 09:20 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
bruce Offline


Registered: 09/27/13
Posts: 124
Loc: Novato, CA
Originally Posted By: CouchToWhitney
Originally Posted By: Steve C

So... your AMS plan is excellent. Book a room up at the top of Mammoth-- Mammoth Mtn Inn. It's at 9000 elevation--two nights there plus one at Whitney Portal, and you will be good to go.

I'm kind of waffling between staying at Mammoth Mountain Inn at 9K or at/near the Village at 8K. My main concern is sleep quality. I can't seem to sleep right the first 2-3 days at altitude. On a recent road trip, LA to Flagstaff (7K feet) was perfectly fine, but the next day's drive from Flagstaff to Mountain Village, CO (9.5K feet) left me with very little good sleep that night even though I had a good hotel to stay in.

I don't expect much quality sleep on Friday night due to the early start and the excitement (and possibly noise from other campers), so I'm trying to be as well rested as possible on Wednesday and Thursday nights.


I don't think it much matters if you stay at a hotel at 9k or 8k feet. I normally stay at Mammoth Mountain Inn on my way from the Bay Area, but since my hike this year is on Labor Day, the hotel is already full. So I'm staying at a village hotel this year.

I think it's very important to get a good night's sleep while acclimating the second night from the hike (the night before at the Whitney campground I never sleep much in the tent and besides I get up at 1:30 am), and staying in a hotel with a decent bed is much better than camping out at Horseshoe or Onion Valley, IMO. It's not worth the lost sleep just to hang out 1000 or 2000 feet higher. 8000 or 9000 feet is enough.

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#56119 - 08/26/19 12:01 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: bruce]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7910
Loc: Fresno, CA
I can never sleep well the first night camping or sleeping in my car. I take one or two Benadryl tablets, and maybe a Melatonin tablet. I sleep much better with that. Usually the second night I don't have any trouble.

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#56120 - 08/26/19 06:54 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 61
Loc: Escondido, CA
Originally Posted By: CouchToWhitney

Ouch. Was it altitude sickness or something else (flu, diarrhea, food poisoning, etc.)? If it was altitude sickness, how much acclimation did you have before hiking up?



I don't know if it was AMS or not, but odds are it was. I felt sick to my stomach and had a slight headache.

I acclimated by climbing all the local mountains (Jacinto, Baldy, Gorgonio, San Bernardino) for the few months before my hike. No issues on any of those mountains.

I went up to Horseshoe Meadow campground to hike around for a while the day before. I slept at the Portal campground the night before.

I think if I would have stopped to camp at Outpost Camp instead of Trail Camp it might have helped more.

I have heard that AMS can hit anyone at anytime so you just have to prepare the best you can, but understand that, sometimes, you may need to turn around and try again another day.


Edited by MikeH (08/26/19 06:55 AM)

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#56121 - 08/26/19 08:20 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: MikeH]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7910
Loc: Fresno, CA
MikeH, those climbs in the months before are good for conditioning, but not so much for altitude. On your Whitney hike, you were at altitude for less than 24 hours, and that's about the right amount of time for AMS to just set in.

Couch is going to be at 8k in Mammoth and at Whitney Portal for 3 nights before heading up, so that gives him an extra 48 hours, which is what most people need.

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#56125 - 08/26/19 07:38 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
Pauln Offline


Registered: 08/26/19
Posts: 1
Loc: Newbury Park, Ca.
Couch,
This is my first post but I have summited Whitney three times in the past five years. With plans on an October summit this year. Staying in Mammoth is a great idea. I do not think it is necessary to stay at the Mammoth Mountain Inn. The Inn gets a load of bused in tourist each night. The rooms tend to be warm and the mountain lacks decent dining. You can also book a condo in town for the cost of a room at the Inn as well.
For acclimating hikes, I prefer Little Lakes Valley. The trailhead starts at 10K, the valley is beautiful and the trail is really nice. Also, Virginia Lake is fairly high with nice trails too. In Mammoth go up to George lake and hike the trial out of there to Crystal Lake or do the Duck Pass trail above Lake Mary.
You mentioned the need for a head lamp. On my first summit which was late July, my lights batteries died and it was so dark that I waited until a group of hikers caught up to me so I could follow them down. This was at 8:30 in the evening.
Good luck on your attempt..

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