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#56132 - 08/28/19 11:09 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
bobpickering Offline


Registered: 02/07/10
Posts: 441
Loc: Reno, Nevada
Be aware that some people just handle altitude better than others. You might do just fine, or maybe not. Go give it a try, but be prepared to turn around if AMS decides to kick your butt. Good luck!

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#56168 - 09/01/19 02:02 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
CouchToWhitney Offline


Registered: 08/24/19
Posts: 11
Loc: Los Angeles
I finally got back from my adventure! Here's how the last few days went:

Wednesday night - Drove up to Mammoth after work, ate dinner in Bishop, and checked into my hotel at 11:30 PM. I saw some wildfire smoke near Owens Lake, but fortunately, it was a non-issue during the hike.

Thursday - Drove up the epic dirt road to Patriarch Grove (11,000') for some sightseeing and a warmup hike. Due to forecasted clear skies and a new moon, there were quite a few people car camping there for the night and hoping to get a clear view of the sky. I stayed there long enough to see the Milky Way and then headed back to Mammoth.

Friday - Picked up my permit, hiked the first two miles of the trail, and went back down to camp in Whitney Portal. I chatted with some folks there to get an idea of the weather (excellent) and trail conditions (also excellent). I got some tips on finding my way in the dark, which pretty much boiled down to scanning the perimeter and looking for anything man-made (steps carved into the granite, rock cairns, tree notches, wet footprints near water crossings, etc.). As a sidenote, there were quite a few military jets flying over the area that day. I wonder whether that's common.

Friday night - This is when things started going downhill. I tried to sleep right at sunset but couldn't, probably because I slept late the previous nights and wasn't used to going to bed that early. I tossed and turned for the next few hours and started hiking at 2 AM. I don't know whether I got any sleep that night.

The first 2-3 miles were uneventful, and I had no difficulties in finding the trail in the dark. I got passed by a few people but didn't follow them since they were going too fast for me to keep up. The water crossings were low enough where you could step on the rocks and not get your feet wet.

A few minutes after Outpost Camp, I met a couple who were going about the same speed as me, and I followed them for the next mile and a half. We got lost near Trailside Meadows but found the trail after checking the GPS on our phones. Soon after, I saw the alpenglow near Trail Camp in the distance and noticed a line of headlamps heading up the switchbacks.

I reached Trail Camp at 6:25, just in time to catch the sunrise. I left at 7 AM after filtering water and getting some snacks. From then on, it was one long slog up the switchbacks. I had to stop every 100 yards to take a rest, which soon turned into a stop every 50 yards. I started counting the switchbacks to gauge my progress but soon gave up and judged my progress by seeing how far above/below I was from the top of Wotan's Throne. After reaching the cables, it seemed that I asked every hiker on their way down how far it was until Trail Crest. I was also worried after seeing all of the snow in the area, but fortunately, none of it was on the trail.

The Whitney hut was soon visible to the north, and I could see people walking on the summit when I zoomed in with my phone's camera. To the west, I heard the sounds of people cheering at around 10:30 AM, and I knew that the switchbacks were almost over. I reached Trail Crest at 10:43, nearly 4 hours after I left Trail Camp. Those 2.2 miles up the switchbacks were the longest 2.2 miles I've done in my life, but the views there made the whole thing worth the effort.

I took a snack and water break there and soaked in the views. But here I was faced with a critical decision - keep going on, or turn back? It was still relatively early in the day, the weather and trail conditions were great, and I had no AMS symptoms aside from some minor tingling and swelling in my hands. But it had taken me a considerable amount of time to get through those switchbacks, and I was almost completely drained out from the lack of sleep, the altitude, and the amount of effort needed to reach that point. I did not know whether my legs and body could hold up for another few hours, as I had never done any hikes or runs that had anywhere near that distance, duration, or elevation gain. And then I saw the trail going down to the JMT junction. I thought (and still think) that I could make it to the summit. But would it end up being a one-way trip?

It was a tough decision to make, but I reluctantly took those few steps back down the switchbacks at 11:13 and headed to the Portal. It was cool to see all of the scenery I missed while going up in the dark, and I took quite a few pictures on the way down.

Fortunately, I didn't get lost, but things started getting miserable the further down I went. I was too exhausted to take the short detour to Lone Pine Lake on the way back, and I was a hallucinating zombie the last 1.5 miles or so with no thoughts other than getting back to the parking lot. I saw animals and man-made structures further down the trail, which turned out to be tree branches and rocks when I got closer. On one occasion, I thought I heard someone say "the trail turns right after this" (which it did), but there was no one around me when I looked around. I finally got back at 6:30 PM and was as excited to see the parking lot as I was to see the view at Trail Crest.

So, should I have turned back at that point? I've spent some time questioning that decision given the great weather and my lack of significant AMS symptoms, but I also remember how brutal that last mile and a half was. My whole body is sore today, and I don't know if/when I'll be back. But I do know that you can make it a long way up the Whitney Trail without much training if the conditions are good, and there are some incredible views along the way even if you don't make it to the top.

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#56171 - 09/01/19 03:25 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 61
Loc: Escondido, CA
Good job for making it to Trail Crest! That's quite the accomplishment. Sounds to me like you made the right decision. From what I understand, that last 1.9 miles to the summit is tough.

The mountain isn't going anywhere (except up, I suppose). It'll still be there if you decide to go again. like!

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#56173 - 09/01/19 03:43 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
WanderingJim Offline


Registered: 02/09/15
Posts: 282
Loc: California
Originally Posted By: CouchToWhitney
As a sidenote, there were quite a few military jets flying over the area that day. I wonder whether that's common.


Yes, there's an Air Force base near China Lake and I heard a lot of fly overs by them during my time up at Shepherd Pass last week.

In fact, during a previous hike to the top of Whitney, a couple of fighter jets flew by the summit just to the north. Seemed very close.
_________________________

http://wandering.earth

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#56178 - 09/01/19 10:33 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
Well, as it was, you were on the trail for 16 hours, and hallucinating near the end. You were smart turning back. Going your speed, it could have taken at least 3 more to get to the summit. Who knows how long to get back!

Good for you trying! Maybe next time try sleeping at Horseshoe Meadows one night and then at Whitney Portal the next. First night camping out is always tough for me -- I take benadryl to help me sleep on that first night.

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#56188 - 09/03/19 03:17 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: Steve C]
StorminMatt Offline


Registered: 06/20/19
Posts: 33
Loc: Norcal
Originally Posted By: Steve C
Maybe next time try sleeping at Horseshoe Meadows one night and then at Whitney Portal the next. First night camping out is always tough for me -- I take benadryl to help me sleep on that first night.


Honestly, I donít think this sleeplessness was caused by the first night camping. Rather, I think it was more of an issue of trying to force upon yourself an earlier sleep schedule that is not normal for you. This never works particularly well, especially if you are already nervous about the climb. Honestly, I see little reason to start climbing Whitney at 2:00AM, especially if you are in the clear on weather (ie the weather is not in an active monsoon pattern). I know that what I am about to say goes against what EVERYBODY says and does. But maybe starting your hike later next time might work better for you. I myself have NEVER gotten anything close to an alpine start on Whitney. Hell, I have never started before 8:00AM. And I have never turned into a pumpkin as a result. But I CAN tell you that I always felt well-rested and enjoyed an uncrowded summit.


Edited by StorminMatt (09/03/19 03:19 AM)

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#56191 - 09/03/19 07:33 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: StorminMatt]
bruce Offline


Registered: 09/27/13
Posts: 124
Loc: Novato, CA
You definitely made the right decision. The last two miles to the summit are arguably even more difficult than the switchbacks. Considering your condition, it's unlikely you would have made and you would have put yourself at risk of AMS.

But getting to Trail Crest is an accomplishment in itself. Topping out at 13,600 feet and 5300 feet of climbing is nothing to sneeze at!

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#56193 - 09/03/19 07:53 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: Steve C]
bruce Offline


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


Good for you trying! Maybe next time try sleeping at Horseshoe Meadows one night and then at Whitney Portal the next. First night camping out is always tough for me -- I take benadryl to help me sleep on that first night.


It looks like he stay two night at a Mammoth hotel. I would think he'd get much better sleep there at 8000+ feet than at Horseshoe Meadows. IMO unless you can sleep well two nights before the hike, it's not worth the acclimation effort.

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#56194 - 09/03/19 08:05 AM 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

Friday night - This is when things started going downhill. I tried to sleep right at sunset but couldn't, probably because I slept late the previous nights and wasn't used to going to bed that early. I tossed and turned for the next few hours and started hiking at 2 AM. I don't know whether I got any sleep that night.


Did you sleep well at the Mammoth hotel? I never sleep much at the campground either. I think that is normal. I wouldn't worry about getting much sleep the night before Whitney. It's the night(s) before that which matter more. That's why I stay at Mammoth myself. I can sleep good at altitude if it's on a hotel bed.

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#56195 - 09/03/19 09:23 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: bruce]
CouchToWhitney Offline


Registered: 08/24/19
Posts: 11
Loc: Los Angeles
I got a great night's sleep at Mammoth, but it was late. I slept from midnight to 8:15 AM on both nights (first night because I drove there from LA in the evening, second night because I stayed in Patriarch Grove until 9 PM to watch the moonless night sky and to spend more time at 11K altitude).

My sleep quality was really good too, as I stayed in the comfy but pricey Westin hotel.


Edited by CouchToWhitney (09/03/19 09:23 AM)

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#56197 - 09/03/19 09:43 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
Originally Posted By: Steve C
Maybe next time try sleeping at Horseshoe Meadows one night and then at Whitney Portal the next. First night camping out is always tough for me -- I take benadryl to help me sleep on that first night.


Honestly, I donít think this sleeplessness was caused by the first night camping. Rather, I think it was more of an issue of trying to force upon yourself an earlier sleep schedule that is not normal for you. This never works particularly well, especially if you are already nervous about the climb. Honestly, I see little reason to start climbing Whitney at 2:00AM, especially if you are in the clear on weather (ie the weather is not in an active monsoon pattern). I know that what I am about to say goes against what EVERYBODY says and does. But maybe starting your hike later next time might work better for you. I myself have NEVER gotten anything close to an alpine start on Whitney. Hell, I have never started before 8:00AM. And I have never turned into a pumpkin as a result. But I CAN tell you that I always felt well-rested and enjoyed an uncrowded summit.

I checked the weather quite often that week and knew it was good enough for an afternoon summit, so I considered sleeping in a hotel in Lone Pine Friday night and starting at 7 AM. But I decided against it because I thought that staying in the Portal would be better for acclimation.

Looking back at it, I still don't know whether staying in Lone Pine would have been better. I would definitely have gotten much better sleep, but would staying at 3700' cause me to lose some of the acclimation I got in Mammoth?

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#56198 - 09/03/19 09:45 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
bruce Offline


Registered: 09/27/13
Posts: 124
Loc: Novato, CA
Really nothing you could have done differently that would have improved your chances, given the time frame (Wed-Sat). You got a really good combination of sleep and acclimization. Not sleeping at the campground is par for the course and leaving at 2:00 was the right call because you're probably just going to lie awake all night in the tent anyway, and besides you needed the extra time to do the hike in case something went wrong (it would be no fun to try to get down in the dark being totally exhaused).

What really went wrong is probably just your lack of experience and conditioning. The effects of altitude are not nearly as strong when you are conditioned as your heart rate is much lower so you don't need as much oxygen.

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#56199 - 09/03/19 09:53 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: bruce]
CouchToWhitney Offline


Registered: 08/24/19
Posts: 11
Loc: Los Angeles
Originally Posted By: bruce
You definitely made the right decision. The last two miles to the summit are arguably even more difficult than the switchbacks. Considering your condition, it's unlikely you would have made and you would have put yourself at risk of AMS.

But getting to Trail Crest is an accomplishment in itself. Topping out at 13,600 feet and 5300 feet of climbing is nothing to sneeze at!

Thanks! It was tough turning back at that stage not just because the weather was good, but because I was close enough to see the summit hut and knew that I had less than 1000' of elevation gain to go. But my progress had pretty much slowed to a crawl on the switchbacks, so I didn't think I'd make it back if I went much further.

Oh well, I guess I can try it again next year.

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#56200 - 09/03/19 10:31 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
bruce Offline


Registered: 09/27/13
Posts: 124
Loc: Novato, CA
There are some downhill sections on the last part (particularly right after Trail Crest), which add about 400 feet of climbing. So probably a good 1300 feet of uphill from Trail Crest to the summit. And much of the trail is really technical and nasty.

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#56203 - 09/03/19 12:25 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
I checked the weather quite often that week and knew it was good enough for an afternoon summit, so I considered sleeping in a hotel in Lone Pine Friday night and starting at 7 AM. But I decided against it because I thought that staying in the Portal would be better for acclimation.

Looking back at it, I still don't know whether staying in Lone Pine would have been better. I would definitely have gotten much better sleep, but would staying at 3700' cause me to lose some of the acclimation I got in Mammoth?


Iím not sure how quickly altitude acclimation is lost with time. But I can say that spending a night at 3700ft would not have helped matters. In any case, what I think would have been better is camping at the Portal and getting a later start. I think that WAYYYYY too many people get into that mindset that getting a super dooper early start is the ONLY way to safely climb Whitney (and many other summits) ever. This in and of itself can make the hike both less safe and enjoyable by essentially making you hike as a zombie.

I DO agree with others here that TRAINING was probably a bigger issue than sleep. Regardless of what you decide to do in terms of sleeping arrangement or start time, it would probably be a good idea to get in some decent training hikes before attempting Whitney again. You already made it to Trail Crest with basically nothing. The summit is virtually guaranteed if you properly train for it. Consider your summit attempt to be your forst serious training hike!

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#56207 - 09/03/19 02:16 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: StorminMatt]
timisimaginary Offline


Registered: 12/13/18
Posts: 11
Loc: MD
Originally Posted By: StorminMatt
Originally Posted By: Steve C
Maybe next time try sleeping at Horseshoe Meadows one night and then at Whitney Portal the next. First night camping out is always tough for me -- I take benadryl to help me sleep on that first night.


Honestly, I donít think this sleeplessness was caused by the first night camping. Rather, I think it was more of an issue of trying to force upon yourself an earlier sleep schedule that is not normal for you. This never works particularly well, especially if you are already nervous about the climb. Honestly, I see little reason to start climbing Whitney at 2:00AM, especially if you are in the clear on weather (ie the weather is not in an active monsoon pattern). I know that what I am about to say goes against what EVERYBODY says and does. But maybe starting your hike later next time might work better for you. I myself have NEVER gotten anything close to an alpine start on Whitney. Hell, I have never started before 8:00AM. And I have never turned into a pumpkin as a result. But I CAN tell you that I always felt well-rested and enjoyed an uncrowded summit.


getting a later start is fine as long as you are experienced enough to already know your hiking pace for a trail of this length and elevation gain and you know you can get to the summit and back down in a reasonable time-frame. with no training and very little experience, there's no way the OP could possibly estimate their pace accurately in advance, so a super-early start was probably the only way they could have any chance of success.

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#56241 - 09/08/19 12:14 AM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
Kascadia Offline


Registered: 07/23/18
Posts: 22
Loc: PNW - Cascade Foothills
The sleep issue is an odd one to me as I've always found that vigorous exercise gets rid of lack of sleep yuckiness. There's been many a climb where we've gotten a 2 or 3:00 start, and sure, you start out feeling like your head is full of cotton, etc., but over the course of an hour or so, everything is fine. I've always assumed that exercise clears whatever toxins, etc. are causing that feeling. Perhaps it is an individualist thing.

I will say that the next night's sleep is usually outstanding!

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#56285 - 09/14/19 05:54 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
CouchToWhitney Offline


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

I was too exhausted to take the short detour to Lone Pine Lake on the way back, and I was a hallucinating zombie the last 1.5 miles or so with no thoughts other than getting back to the parking lot.

I scratched that itch yesterday and did the hike to Lone Pine Lake. I barely carried anything, so I felt like a superhuman and moved really fast. It took me just an hour and five minutes to touch the sign saying that permits are required beyond that point, which was at least half an hour faster than my summit attempt two weeks ago.

The lake was quiet, calm, and soothing, and the only other person there was a couple who was camping there for the night. The hike was also nice, since I did that part in the dark on my way up last time, and I was too tired to look at or enjoy the views on my way down.

Originally Posted By: John Sims
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.

On my way back from Lone Pine Lake, I caught up with a group that took the Old Trail down, so it was a good opportunity to check out the trail. There are short sections where it's a little steep and slightly overgrown, but there were generally minimal issues in taking the trail down. The hardest part was finding where the trail branched off from the main trail. IIRC, I heard someone say last night that it was 17 paces downhill of the "Hiker Notice" sign.

It actually avoids two creek crossings, not one - the Main Trail crosses Carillon Creek and the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, while the Old Trail has no creek crossings at all.

Originally Posted By: Kascadia
The sleep issue is an odd one to me as I've always found that vigorous exercise gets rid of lack of sleep yuckiness. There's been many a climb where we've gotten a 2 or 3:00 start, and sure, you start out feeling like your head is full of cotton, etc., but over the course of an hour or so, everything is fine. I've always assumed that exercise clears whatever toxins, etc. are causing that feeling. Perhaps it is an individualist thing.

I felt fatigued, sleepy, and a very tiny bit lightheaded and dizzy shortly after leaving Trail Camp, at around 7:10 AM. At first I thought that it might be AMS, but that doesn't seem to be the case since it went away when I climbed higher up.

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#56286 - 09/14/19 07:48 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
Originally Posted By: CouchToWhitney
I scratched that itch yesterday and did the hike to Lone Pine Lake. I barely carried anything, so I felt like a superhuman and moved really fast. It took me just an hour and five minutes to touch the sign saying that permits are required beyond that point, which was at least half an hour faster than my summit attempt two weeks ago.


Yep. You went faster, probably for several reasons. Lighter weight is one, but being familiar with a trail gives you more confidence, so you walk faster. And your hike two weeks ago got your body working, so you just might be in better hiking shape.

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#56287 - 09/15/19 05:52 PM Re: Going up Whitney on a whim with minimal hiking experience [Re: CouchToWhitney]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 1025
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
Originally Posted By: CouchToWhitney
[quote=CouchToWhitney]

I felt fatigued, sleepy, and a very tiny bit lightheaded and dizzy shortly after leaving Trail Camp, at around 7:10 AM. At first I thought that it might be AMS, but that doesn't seem to be the case since it went away when I climbed higher up.

But after an hour or so of slogging along the brain awakens to a sense of responsibility to the body, and I gradually begin to take an interest in my surroundings.
British mountaineer and author Frank Smythe,
Climbs and Ski Runs (1930)

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