Mt Whitney Webcam
Mt Williamson Webcam
Feature Topics
Who's Online
0 registered (), 6 Guests and 11 Spiders online.
Key: Admin, Global Mod, Mod
Forum Stats
4014 Members
10 Forums
5843 Topics
52545 Posts

Max Online: 1443 @ 07/29/19 08:40 AM
Topic Options
#56513 - 10/30/19 11:02 AM Solo Mt. Whitney Dec
Mike133 Offline


Registered: 10/30/19
Posts: 2
Loc: Pittsburgh, PA
Hello all,

I just joined this forum to ask the following question: how feasible would a solo Mt. Whitney summit hike be between 12/7/19 and 12/15/19? How risky would such a venture be? I know this is heavily dependent on experience and weather, but please try to explain the various scenarios one would face on such a solo trip.

Short background: just got back from 2.5 weeks in PNW and NorCal, had a blast, hiked Lassen Peak (I realize Lassen and Whitney are totally different animals), got the itch, went to Sequoia, saw Whitney, and now I wanna climb it. Have a trip to SoCal planned in Dec, and wondering if Whitney is possible on that trip. I am a member of a local adventure club that puts on an annual mountaineering school, and last year their graduation trip was a winter summit of Whitney, so I have first hand accounts which increase my desire further.

I am trying to temper my excitement and desire with does of reality from all of you. I am no beginner, but I am not a technical mountaineer either. I have some technical skills, and all the gear, sans crampons and axes, both of which I can borrow from my club, and receive instruction in using. I haven’t taken my clubs mountaineering school yet either. I am a pilot, so I feel comfortable with moderate altitudes, but I haven’t engaged in hard physical activity above 12k in my life before (and again, I know sitting in a cockpit, and hiking a mountain are two different animals).

I’ve seen a couple solo Dec reports on this board, and it seems like early Dec can be cooperative weather-wise, so I am hopeful of an attempt if I feel that it safely falls within my ability range, however, I will defer to all of your folks’ better judgement.

Thank you.

Top
#56514 - 10/30/19 12:46 PM Re: Solo Mt. Whitney Dec [Re: Mike133]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7947
Loc: Fresno, CA
Mike133, welcome.

There is a guy (Richard P) who hiked Whitney every week over a year's time. ...only he almost died his last trip, caught near the summit, overnight, in a storm.

That said, it all depends on the type of winter weather we are having. In a wet year, forget it. You could be breaking through several feet of snow, while trying to stay on the trail. Or going up the mountaineers route, doing a steep ascent against several feet of snow that could cut loose in an avalanche.

In a dry year, like the guy who hiked every week, you have a fair chance. But if there is more than a 6" covering of snow, which is highly likely, December and January are pretty much out of the question. The energy level required to break trail through snow like that, on top of the distance and elevation, makes the effort super-human. However, currently there has only been a dusting of snow, so people are making it to the summit so far this fall.

I am assuming your adventure club hired a local guide service (SMI comes to mind), or else some in the group were highly skilled winter mountaineers. You should contact a guide service if you are serious. But even the guides call a trip if weather or conditions are not good.

Given your experience, you would be better to wait until next year. Guides take people up the MR in March and April. In May, you need a permit, and snow covers the trail, so going up that is more difficult. But by then, snow is consolidated and melting, so people make it if they camp overnight part way up. Once the snow melts enough so that the cables section is manageable, (usually sometime in June), it becomes a day hike possibility. But you need to get a permit -- lottery starts in February -- or try for an online grab of a cancelled or no-show permit.

Climbing Mt Whitney is a great experience -- don't let your enthusiasm fade. You can do it, just maybe not in December. Good luck!!

Top
#56516 - 10/30/19 03:29 PM Re: Solo Mt. Whitney Dec [Re: Mike133]
bobpickering Online


Registered: 02/07/10
Posts: 458
Loc: Reno, Nevada
Mike, Steve and I are on the same page. Yes, people (including me) have climbed Whitney in all months of the year. But it’s pretty hard, and I’ve never heard of anyone without a ton of experience pulling it off. It’s best to do a bunch of climbing and hiking, go on several backpacking trips in the winter, make sure that you tolerate altitude well, and take the mountaineering school first. Then you can wait for at least mostly good conditions, and go for it in the winter. Better to show up over prepared than have a bad experience or maybe get mentioned on the evening news. Ordinary people can do this, but do your homework first.

Of course, you can go with a guide if you’re long on fitness but short on experience. SMI isn’t the only guide service in town, but they are definitely good. I did a private trip with one of their guides (Simon Moore) in 2018, and was very satisfied.

BTW, if you tolerate high altitude while sitting quietly in your plane, you should tolerate even higher altitude when hiking at a moderate pace. On the other hand, sleeping at high altitude can be a problem. My guess is that you’ll do fine.

Hope this helps.

Top
#56518 - 10/30/19 05:05 PM Re: Solo Mt. Whitney Dec [Re: bobpickering]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 1029
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
It was Dec 2012 that the guy Steve mentioned barely survived a five-jacket night under a rock near the Whitney Summit. Doug and I were still talking about him this past August when I was at the Whitney Portal Store.

Mike is honest in admitting a lack of experience with equipment, altitude, etc for doing this in December and Bob and Steve have articulated well what the better option would be.

Bob, just for clarification....there is no medical or physiological comparison between sitting in an airplane at moderate altitude and working hard in inclement conditions on Whitney. The workload and other environmental factors worsen the effect of any degree of hypoxia alone, and vice versa. By the way, commercial pressurized aircraft have an equivalent altitude of 8,000 ft, although the newer, stronger "plastic" plane is more like 6,000 - 7,000. It is thought by aircraft medical departments that some travelers symptoms of fatigue, nausea and headache are actually altitude illness, especially on long haul flights. If Mike is a general aviation pilot and flying an unpressurized aircraft, then he may have been exposed to higher altitudes (lower pressure)than on commercial flights, but sedentary is just not the same. Bad decisions can leave either mountaineer or pilot on the mountain forever.
Harvey

Top
#56523 - 10/30/19 11:07 PM Re: Solo Mt. Whitney Dec [Re: Harvey Lankford]
bobpickering Online


Registered: 02/07/10
Posts: 458
Loc: Reno, Nevada
Originally Posted By: Harvey Lankford
there is no medical or physiological comparison between sitting in an airplane at moderate altitude and working hard in inclement conditions on Whitney.

First, I said “hiking at a moderate pace”, not “working hard”. Second, I said, “wait for at least mostly good conditions”, which rules out “inclement conditions”. Third, I said “high altitude” in your plane, not “moderate altitude”. (And “high altitude” is meaningless in a pressurized plane.) In all three cases, you implied that I said something else.

An un-acclimatized person may not breathe enough after ascending to a higher altitude. This can result in the usual AMS symptoms or Cheyne-Stokes breathing. When that same person engages in moderate exercise at the same elevation or even a higher one, he will naturally breathe harder, so symptoms are less likely. On my 1995 Denali trip, nobody had symptoms while climbing (except on summit day), but almost everybody had Cheyne-Stokes or other symptoms at least once while sleeping. This was true, even though we often hauled loads higher than our sleeping altitude.

It seems to me that sitting around, whether at Trail Camp or in a plane, allows one’s breathing to slow, possibly bringing on Cheyne-Stokes. It’s my understanding that moderate exercise, even at a higher altitude, should help acclimatization. This is the rationale behind “Climb high, sleep low.”

Top
#56525 - 10/31/19 07:10 AM Re: Solo Mt. Whitney Dec [Re: bobpickering]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 1029
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
Bob, the point of our discussion is that things can go bad up there especially in winter. As you know, a good weather day can turn into storm in a hurry, and a moderately paced hike can turn into a fight for your life. So yes, I may have extrapolated your comments to a worse condition but that is exactly the problem. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. We all agree that being inexperienced, ill-equipped, not acclimatized, unable to make the right decisions (experienced or not), and having no altitude experience other than sitting quietly in a plane (that the poster did not specify height), and a major change in conditions, will all aggravate the risk.

We all often blur the lines of "high" altitude. As for the technicalities, 8,000 -12,000 ft is the official definition of high altitude. Very high altitude is 12,000- 18,000, and over 18,000 is extreme altitude. A pressurized plane is only partially so. Therefore in the cabin at an equivalent of 8,000 ft the passengers are in the high altitude zone. For most healthy passengers this is not long enough to bother them in the sedentary state. But their status is not predictive of their performance with boots on. Take them directly to 8,000 ft, say in Mammoth, and many do notice the effects of that altitude when hiking. Study ALL of them on a treadmill, and the lower oxygen pressure will show reduced performance. Acclimatization will get them only part way back toward THEIR sea level performance. This is true for any altitude and any extent of acclimatization.

Furthermore, 8,000 ft is the medical threshold for the diagnosis of altitude illnesses AMS, HAPE and HACE. Cheyne Stokes-type breathing (now called periodic breathing) was REMOVED in 2018 from the Lake Louise Consensus Criteria for definition of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Periodic breathing is a direct effect of increased altitude (lower pressure) that can occur with or without AMS, and it persists to varying degrees even with acclimatization, so that is why it was removed. It is still a problem (not just for climbers but high altitude residents) but is now just looked at a bit differently.

Much of this is not the thrust of the discussion for Mike. I wonder if he will chime back in and let us know, for curiosity sake, what altitudes he has flown at, and pressurized or not. Harvey

Top
#56526 - 10/31/19 08:02 AM Re: Solo Mt. Whitney Dec [Re: Harvey Lankford]
RenoFrank Offline


Registered: 08/06/11
Posts: 439
Loc: Reno, NV
Originally Posted By: Harvey Lankford
Periodic breathing is a direct effect of increased altitude (lower pressure) that can occur with or without AMS, and it persists to varying degrees even with acclimatization, so that is why it was removed. It is still a problem (not just for climbers but high altitude residents) but is now just looked at a bit differently.



Does Diamox decrease "periodic breathing"? It seems to work for me but maybe I'm just kidding myself.

Top
#56528 - 10/31/19 11:16 AM Re: Solo Mt. Whitney Dec [Re: RenoFrank]
bobpickering Online


Registered: 02/07/10
Posts: 458
Loc: Reno, Nevada
Originally Posted By: Harvey Lankford
Bob, the point of our discussion is that things can go bad up there especially in winter.

No, Harvey. That wasn’t the point I was discussing at all. I made a statement about acclimatization. You apparently didn’t understand my point, “extrapolated” what I said, and “clarified” by basically saying that I was wrong. My second post explains my thinking in more detail. Your second post adds more information, but doesn’t really refute anything I have said. I stand by everything I have said here.

Originally Posted By: RenoFrank
Does Diamox decrease "periodic breathing"?

Yes. I had Cheyne Stokes breathing at 14,700’ on Denali. I woke up several times gasping for breath. Half of a 250mg tablet (and a quarter of a tablet every 12 hours after that) eliminated my symptoms for the rest of the trip. Most of the others had a similar experience at 12,800’.

Top
#56532 - 10/31/19 12:46 PM Re: Solo Mt. Whitney Dec [Re: bobpickering]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 1029
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
Diamox (acetazolamide or AZ) has been a favorite topic here on WZ years.

It works great at altitude for some, partially for others, and little or none for others. . And some have side effects or become allergic to it. Plenty of people have climbed to extreme altitude without it.

Respiratory control "sensors" are disturbed upon ascent. By stimulating involuntary breathing (while asleep) AZ can decrease periodic breathing that mainly occurs at night at altitude. Bob and Frank have described the symptoms and good response for them. Some people have periodic breathing and do not wake up. Others alternate stopped breathing and gasping. Folks vary. Daytime is far less of a problem because breathing is voluntarily increased and controlled. AZ and acclimatization can both both reduce periodic breathing, making it less clinically apparent or seemingly absent to the user, but not totally gone. That led to the "rule change" I mentioned.

If anyone wants more information on this, the International Hypoxia Symposium is held in Lake Louise, Alberta, hence the name of the altitude illness scoring system. Periodic breathing was NOT removed from being a fact at higher altitudes. It IS a fact. It was only removed from the scoring system for AMS.

Top
#56544 - 11/02/19 01:59 PM Re: Solo Mt. Whitney Dec [Re: Mike133]
Bob_J Offline


Registered: 11/02/19
Posts: 1
Loc: CA
Lots of good advice already posted in regards to snow cover on the normal trail route. Several spots on the switchbacks to Trail Crest accumulate hard water ice in October-November and could be very tricky in early December. Watch the reports from those climbing the peak in the next few weeks; it will be a serious undertaking. Mid-late winter the "chute" to the right of the switchbacks can go if you are competent on steep snow and mindful of avalanche conditions.

Top
#56567 - Today at 06:49 PM Re: Solo Mt. Whitney Dec [Re: Mike133]
Mike133 Offline


Registered: 10/30/19
Posts: 2
Loc: Pittsburgh, PA
I really appreciate everyone's honest advice. This seems to be a great forum, with a lot of helpful and knowledgeable folks.

Upon considering all of your advice, I have decided to shelve a Whitney attempt for some point in the future when I have more experience, and during a season in which weather will be more favorable. I did consult with the guide service mentioned, and the gentleman I spoke with made it sound like a great outfit, should I decide to go guided at a later date.

I did want to chime back in and answer some of the questions you have raised during this discussion.

So far as my local adventure club is concerned, I am very lucky to be a member of such a great organization, in such an unlikely place as Pittsburgh. The club has been in existence since 1947, and has put on the mountaineering school annually for a quite a long time, so there are a plethora of experienced winter mountaineers able to take each year's class on graduation trips to various summits without the aid of professional guides. Some of the more serious individuals, have bagged difficult summits in the Alps and the Himalaya, so there is no shortage of very experienced folks willing to donate their time and knowledge. I don't wish to sound too arrogant about my club, as I myself am nothing special among these giants, but we have many club members who have since moved from Pittsburgh to go out west, and they all say they have been unable to find anything like the club we have here back home. So, I am very lucky indeed.

Speaking of former club members who moved out west, I am in communication with an individual now living in Los Angeles, about a possible Mt. Baldy attempt for my trip. He warns that although it has been dry recently, that if there is much snow, Mt. Baldy would also require a full alpine kit and relevant experience in using it. So, I definitely have some more research and weather watching to do for that potentiality.

As to my aviation experience and previous exposure to altitude, all of the flying I have done as a pilot, has been in unpressurized general aviation aircraft. The highest altitude I can remember being at (uh-oh), was a cross-country instrument flight in which I filed for 9,000 ft MSL, and en-route, requested that I bump up to 10,000 ft. FAA regulations state for unpressurized aircraft, that at altitudes between 10,000-12,000 ft MSL, a pilot must use supplemental oxygen if flight is to occur within that range for longer than 30 minutes. Above 12,000 ft MSL, the pilot must continuously be on supplemental oxygen. None of the planes I have ever flown had supplemental oxygen, and all of their service ceilings would have been near the 10,000-12,000 ft mark anyway.

I haven't strained or physically exerted my body at altitudes above 12,000 ft before, although if it's worth anything, I have never experienced any significant or very noticeable negative effects from the altitudes I have been at. I can always notice that something is somehow different with the air, deep breaths aren't nearly as satisfying and restoring, I see how I become winded more quickly, and how my performance isn't nearly as great as it would be at home, at a much lower altitude. However, I have been lucky to avoid some of the symptoms I have seen with my friends on trips between 8-11,000ft, which include splitting headaches, nausea, and lethargy. I do not allow this fact to let me discount the serious nature with which hypoxia and altitude sickness should always be treated however, as my pilot training taught me well.


"The Freedom of the Hills" is my new Bible, so I am on the path. I thank you all again for all your thoughtful advice, and I look forward to lurking in this great forum, until the day when maybe I can offer some mountaineering advice of my own.

All the best,

Mike

Top