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#56216 - 09/04/19 06:37 PM Day hike MWT starting times
sumptimwong Offline


Registered: 03/15/19
Posts: 35
Loc: Bay Area, CA
Hey all, I conducted a poll over on the Whitney FB group about starting times and I thought the results were interesting:



These results were captured after the first 100 votes. I was surprised to see so many starting before midnight (15%). This does not take into consideration the season nor hiking speed, which could be an interesting follow-up.

Common arguments in favor of the alpine start:
- get off summit & switchbacks before afternoon thunderstorms
- long day on trail, early start gives you more time
- allows for more leisurely ascent which may help with AMS
- hike in the cooler/less sunny parts of the day

Common arguments in favor of a later start (minority):
- see more of your surroundings on your ascent
- more sleep = more energy = more enjoyment
- if you are reasonably certain you can finish the hike in ~12hrs, spend more of your time hiking with good visibility
- safer water crossings in the morning
- thunderstorms are less of a risk in late-season trips

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#56217 - 09/04/19 07:46 PM Re: Day hike MWT starting times [Re: sumptimwong]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7952
Loc: Fresno, CA
Wow! Thanks for posting that.

I would have expected to see the most after 3 AM.

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#56221 - 09/04/19 08:44 PM Re: Day hike MWT starting times [Re: Steve C]
bruce Offline


Registered: 09/27/13
Posts: 130
Loc: Novato, CA
The trend seems to be people starting earlier than in years past. Social media and the internet have helped that along I think.

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#56222 - 09/04/19 08:58 PM Re: Day hike MWT starting times [Re: sumptimwong]
Jonathan C Offline


Registered: 03/03/19
Posts: 45
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
There's probably also a strong correlation between people with the wherewithal to join the Whitney FB group (or a forum like this) and "prudent" behavior such as leaving early. Would be interesting to compare this to the actual spread of start times of all hikers, if someone were to hypothetically measure them at the trailhead.

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#56227 - 09/05/19 11:39 AM Re: Day hike MWT starting times [Re: Jonathan C]
StorminMatt Offline


Registered: 06/20/19
Posts: 46
Loc: Norcal
Iím sure the internet has something to do with this. Pretty much everywhere you look, you hear that a predawn start is an absolute must. Itís drilled into peopleís heads to the point that they believe a late start means certain death from a thunderstorm or other unforetold event. One of my favorite arguments in favor of an alpine start? You avoid hiking in the dark after the sun goes down (like itís not dark before the sun comes up).

This is different from the past, where word of mouth and maybe a few publications were the only ways this sort of thing could get around. These were easier to avoid or otherwise pass up, which left people more on their own to make their own decisions. Not a problem for late starters like myself, as we end up often having the summit to ourselves these days.


Edited by StorminMatt (09/05/19 11:41 AM)

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#56228 - 09/05/19 02:09 PM Re: Day hike MWT starting times [Re: StorminMatt]
sumptimwong Offline


Registered: 03/15/19
Posts: 35
Loc: Bay Area, CA
I think you're right about internet/social media perpetuating the sense of necessity for an alpine start. Although I will say that the argument about not needing to hike after the sun goes down actually can be valid. Length of day is about 13 hours this time of year, which I think is just a bit faster than most people take to hike the main trail.

Hypothetical example, not taking into account weather: if I was planning to spend 15 hours on the trail, personally I'd rather have the 2 dark hours in the morning on fresh legs rather than at the end of the day when I'm just trying to drag my sorry self back to the car. Note that most tumbles on trails in general usually occur on the descent.

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#56229 - 09/05/19 02:41 PM Re: Day hike MWT starting times [Re: sumptimwong]
StorminMatt Offline


Registered: 06/20/19
Posts: 46
Loc: Norcal
Originally Posted By: sumptimwong
I think you're right about internet/social media perpetuating the sense of necessity for an alpine start. Although I will say that the argument about not needing to hike after the sun goes down actually can be valid. Length of day is about 13 hours this time of year, which I think is just a bit faster than most people take to hike the main trail.

Hypothetical example, not taking into account weather: if I was planning to spend 15 hours on the trail, personally I'd rather have the 2 dark hours in the morning on fresh legs rather than at the end of the day when I'm just trying to drag my sorry self back to the car. Note that most tumbles on trails in general usually occur on the descent.


This can be a personal preference thing as well. I myself find that I am a whole lot more excited about the hike when I start than when I am coming down: the descent is a little anticlimactic. For this reason, I prefer being able to enjoy the scenery going up rather than coming down (at which point I am less in tune with things).

As for falling, this can be an issue. But compared to many other hikes, the Whitney trail is a whole lot sketchy in terms of grade and slipperiness. Falling is less likely on Whitney than, say, South Sister. Also headlamps are pretty good today (especially 18650 headlamps). When you can literally strap the lighting power of an automotive headlamp to your forehead, having daylight is less critical.

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#56231 - 09/05/19 03:13 PM Re: Day hike MWT starting times [Re: Jonathan C]
StorminMatt Offline


Registered: 06/20/19
Posts: 46
Loc: Norcal
Originally Posted By: Jonathan C
There's probably also a strong correlation between people with the wherewithal to join the Whitney FB group (or a forum like this) and "prudent" behavior such as leaving early. Would be interesting to compare this to the actual spread of start times of all hikers, if someone were to hypothetically measure them at the trailhead.


This is very true. When you join any kind of group, there is a tendency to (1) base your decision to join on how Ďlike mindedí you are, and (2) feel like you need to agree with the general thoughts and beliefs of the group (even if you donít follow them in real life). I, for instance, know that I am not the only one to start hikes late. I have seen this PLENTY of times in the real world. But if you go by what you HEAR, you would think NOBODY does it.

Of course, you also need to take into consideration the fact that people tend to answer polls in a way that they think they should. Itís kind of similar to the way that it seems like there are a whole lot more smokers than statistics suggest. People donít want to admit that they do something that is generally frowned upon.


Edited by StorminMatt (09/06/19 12:55 AM)

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#56236 - 09/06/19 12:05 AM Re: Day hike MWT starting times [Re: sumptimwong]
Kascadia Offline


Registered: 07/23/18
Posts: 24
Loc: PNW - Cascade Foothills
Back in the day (30 years ago!), we often left hours "behind" the pack because we were pretty quick. Not so much anymore. . . one of the reasons for the alpine start that is applicable to Whitney is that IF you get in trouble, it gives SAR a chance to get in before dark (or someone the opportunity to go out for help in the daylight, not so relevant these days). And it also gives the party in trouble an opportunity to look for a solution/cope with accident site before darkness.


Edited by Kascadia (09/06/19 12:06 AM)

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