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Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
#57966 08/24/20 11:49 AM
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kkdavis Offline OP
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Hello collective wisdom,

I'll be hiking Mt Whitney for the first time next week and was hoping I could get some feedback from the experienced folks on this forum. I've been backpacking for 3-4 years in the Eastern Sierra, but the 'easy' trails (Cottonwood Lakes, Little Lakes Valley, Lake Sabrina), more fun than strenuous. I've been hiking around LA for the same amount of time, but again--fun hikes (Trail Falls, lots of Griffith Park), not serious endeavors. I only started hiking distances/elevation gain in May, once I got this permit. Since then, I've been doing a circuit of stairs (~500 stairs up) in my neighborhood a few times a week, and longer hikes on the weekends. I did Baldy w/o too much trouble about a month ago, Mt Wilson in early June. I also did Cucamonga. My plan for San Gorgonio and San Bernardino got cancelled due to the fires, and these past weeks have been difficult training-wise bc of heat/fires, though I hiked Baden Powell (9 miles r/t, 2500 ft elevation gain) two weeks ago and it felt like a pleasant stroll in the woods--so hopefully I'm still in good hiking shape. I'm a little overweight, but strong, and have a lot of experience on trails, the right gear and what works for me ironed out. I know I usually feel sick around 12k feet, so I'm acclimating for a few days ahead of time.

That being said, not getting any more hard hiking in before my trip worries me some. I will probably do Baldy again this Friday, fires permitting, and if that goes well I'll feel a lot better.
I only know a few people who have summited and they say I'll be fine. What do you think? I read somewhere on here that one should be hiking 25 miles/week before Whitney, and I'm not there. My current thought is, I can probably do this, but I may be real sore afterwards.

My trip is:
2 days/nights @ Onion Valley with hikes towards Kearsarge Pass & Robinson Lake (9200 ft to 12000 ft)
1 night at backpacker campground @ Portal (8300 ft)
hike with big backpack to Trail Camp, 1 night at TC (12000 ft)
Trail Camp to Summit with small backpack/back to Portal with big backpack


then a nice room at the Dow Villa to sleep for a long time. I do have one specific question about camping at Trail Camp: I heard it's busy (I'm expecting it will be) and crowded, plus marmots. Is it safe to leave my tent up while hiking to the summit? It would be nice to not have to pack it up first thing, but deal with it later when returning. Or, is it better to get out of the way first thing when fresh? For some reason, I always hate packing up camp. Any advice would be great!

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
kkdavis #57967 08/24/20 01:24 PM
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Honestly, your trip and exercise planning looks fine to me. Most definitely more than some people I've watched on youtube who were able to summit.

While I didn't make it past Trail Camp on my attempt (got AMS at trail camp), I didn't find following the trail difficult. It was, for the most part, well marked and easy to follow. The elevation was the biggest issue. Like you, I had hiked San G, San J, Baldy etc, but unless you're doing it consistently for weeks/ months prior, I don't think anything can get you ready for the altitude. Although I would imagine being in better shape overall helps in general.

Just take it slow and I think you'll do fine.

Regarding camping at Trail Camp. The place is HUGE. I had the same concerns. Once I crested the hill, I realized that there was tons of room. Some better than others, but lots of places.

I've heard that you should leave your tent open so the marmots can go in and check things out if they want. My plan was to collapse my tent and put some rocks on it to hold it down in case of wind.

Hopefully others who have more experience will be along shortly to add their notes.

Good luck!

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
MikeH #57968 08/24/20 01:45 PM
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kkdavis Offline OP
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Hi Mike, thanks a million, very helpful.

I expect being in better shape would mean an overall better experience. I just hope I can complete it successfully. I've been above 14k feet only once before and had to take a pack mule most of the way, not a good sign!

Last edited by kkdavis; 08/24/20 01:46 PM.
Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
kkdavis #57974 08/25/20 02:46 PM
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Your acclimation plan sounds good, and based on the peaks you've hiked recently I wouldn't worry about your fitness level, especially if you are splitting the hike up over 2 days. I really like Onion Valley, my only recommendation would be to not overdo it on your warm up hikes. One year I leisurely hiked the Kearsarge Trail to Heart Lake (at about 11,000 feet elevation) and that was perfect, another year I hiked a bit too energetically to Kearsarge Pass and my legs were spent after that and were not fresh on my Mt Whitney hike 2 days later. Make sure to drink a lot of water in the days before your hike...the last times I camped at Onion Valley I drank ~4 liters a day. On your Whitney hike I would recommend electrolyte tablets, and Nuun tablets in particular.

The stairclimbing you've been doing will be really helpful I think. My least favorite part of the hike is after Mirror Lake where there are lots of stairs/steps...my last minute training (I have a day hike permit for 8/31) has been to focus on stairs specifically to prepare for that part of the trail. I've been going to Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook (Culver City Stairs) a couple times a week, and I'm hoping that that will help.

I haven't camped at Trail Camp before, only Outpost Camp, and I left my tent up. No marmot issues there. A friend camped at Trail Camp once, and left his tent open as some recommend, and marmots peed and pooped on his sleeping bag. If I were ever to camp at Trail Camp, I would probably just keep the tent staked, but take the poles down and put some rocks on on top of the tent.

Have fun!

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
kkdavis #57975 08/25/20 06:04 PM
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Camp at Outpost instead of TC!

By doing so you get a nicer and cleaner campsite, better protection from the wind, clean water (yes, people do wash dishes in that pond near TC and most folks don't know how to find the little spring) and little more privacy. Plus, you will hike fewer miles with a heavy pack. When hiking light, the difference between Outpost and TC is almost negligible. I used this strategy a few times while guiding inexperienced friends and it always worked great.

Edit to add: forgot to say that another advantage of Outpost is lower altitude, which means a better chance of having a good night sleep.

Last edited by Anton; 08/25/20 06:06 PM.
Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
Anton #57976 08/25/20 06:38 PM
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And Outpost is still high enough to make a difference. I wholeheartedly second the recommendation to sleep there.

Lots of very sound advice here, and none that I would second guess.

I overnighted at Onion Valley in early July and it was dry--no water supply at all, and all of the faucets were off. Based on the age of the signs, it was not a recent development. There are streams that you can reach, or just grab a whatever jugs you need in LP before heading up like I did.

Have fun!

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
eje67 #57979 08/26/20 08:01 AM
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Thanks! I decided to split it into two days because I am not feeling confident about my fitness level for one day, and don't want a situation where the hike is going on forever and it's dark and late til I get back to the TH. I have a room at the Dow Villa booked for the night I return and I already want that shower.

I agree on not overdoing it, in fact I'll probably do what you said and go to Heart Lake. I hadn't figured out how far I wanted to go yet.

The Baldwin overlook is great training for Sierran steps I would think, it's so rough and unevenly spaced! I do more historical staircases around Hollywood, also sometimes unevenly spaced, but not as rough.

Several others have recommended Outpost > Trail. I'm seriously considering it. My hesitation is the desire to get as many miles in as I can on the first 'easy' day, so I have less to do the summit day. It seems some of the harder climbing is directly after Outpost--and I can understand how it'd be nice to not have my giant heavy backpack for that. I just don't want to regret it on the morning I wake up to summit and now have 2 more extra miles than I could have. What do you think?

Last edited by kkdavis; 08/26/20 08:01 AM.
Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
Goose #57980 08/26/20 08:03 AM
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thanks Goose, I'm wondering about Outpost and if those extra two miles up and back on summit day are going to make me mad. Outpost does seem a much nicer place to camp, but it's less than 4 miles in.

I was at OV over July 4th so I know about the water--thanks! such a beautiful spot though, it's worth lugging water up from town.

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
Anton #57981 08/26/20 08:04 AM
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Thanks Anton, do you really think the difference between Outpost and Trail is negligible on the summit day? It would add 4 miles to summit day hike r/t. I'm really interested in Outpost for the reasons you all have mentioned, but don't want to regret not having done those extra two miles to TC on the 'easy day'.

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
kkdavis #57983 08/26/20 10:08 AM
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If you can tolerate sleeping at 12,000’, you are better off at Trail Camp. You will be more acclimatized. Summit day will be shorter, so you can sleep in later, and hopefully be better rested. On the other hand, if you just can’t sleep at 12,000’, you shouldn’t try. Just sleep at Outpost. Outpost is basically a compromise between Trail Camp and a dayhike.

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
bobpickering #57984 08/26/20 10:12 AM
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Thanks Bob, good advice. I truly don't know how sleep at that elevation would be for me, I've never tried. I will be acclimating/sleeping at 9500 ft for 3 nights prior. I was 100% planning on knocking myself out with Tylenol PM, earplugs and an eye mask to make sure I slept the night on the trail, theoretically Tylenol PM will put me to sleep anywhere. I'm gonna keep thinking about it, but lightening my second day/summit day sounds like a good idea for where I am now.

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
kkdavis #57985 08/26/20 10:43 AM
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> I will be acclimating/sleeping at 9500 ft for 3 nights prior.

Then make the decision whether to stop at Outpost depending on how you feel when you get there. Those 3 nights prior should set you up to feel strong on Whitney.

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
kkdavis #57987 08/26/20 01:38 PM
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Originally Posted by kkdavis
Several others have recommended Outpost > Trail. I'm seriously considering it. My hesitation is the desire to get as many miles in as I can on the first 'easy' day, so I have less to do the summit day. It seems some of the harder climbing is directly after Outpost--and I can understand how it'd be nice to not have my giant heavy backpack for that. I just don't want to regret it on the morning I wake up to summit and now have 2 more extra miles than I could have. What do you think?

Not having camped at Trail Camp before, here are my thoughts on Outpost Camp: it was very comfortable with shade and good privacy for when you need to pee etc. Very relaxing spending the afternoon there before getting to bed early, trying to get a bit of sleep, and waking up early to hike to the summit. On the way back down, Trail Camp was baking and it was nice having some shade at Outpost Camp while breaking down my tent. While Trail Camp has some otherworldly scenery, it seems more exposed to wind and weather, but you would be closer to the summit, and there would be less pressure to start earlier. I like Steve C's idea of playing it by ear once you get there. You should be feeling pretty good after spending 3 nights at altitude and having done one or two light warm up hikes at higher elevation.

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
kkdavis #57988 08/26/20 07:21 PM
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Originally Posted by kkdavis
Thanks Anton, do you really think the difference between Outpost and Trail is negligible on the summit day? It would add 4 miles to summit day hike r/t. I'm really interested in Outpost for the reasons you all have mentioned, but don't want to regret not having done those extra two miles to TC on the 'easy day'.

I don't think you will regret camping at Outpost - it makes the overall experience so much better for several reasons I have mentioned earlier. The populatiry of TC is based on the idea that one should camp as close to the route as possible. This strategy was developed by alpinists who climb challenging technical lines, and it is hardly necessary for your upcoming HIKE on a well-developed trail. To put things into perspective: lots of folks in their 60s and 70s do this hike as a day trip ... I bet even Bob can do it :)) Extra 4 miles RT sounds like a burden, but keep in mind that your total distance will be exactly the same and you will have more energy on the summit day because you will hike less miles with a heavy pack the day before and will likely have better rest.

After all, it is your hike and these are just suggestions. Enjoy!

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
Anton #57989 08/26/20 10:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Anton
Lots of folks in their 60s and 70s do this hike as a day trip ... I bet even Bob can do it smile
I went up last year in April, before the road opened and with lots of snow. I hiked up the Mountaineers' Route, over to Mt. Muir and down the trail. It was a long day, but I could still do it. I'm planning something similar for 2021.

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
bobpickering #57990 08/27/20 09:04 AM
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thank you to everyone for the info and tips!! so helpful. I had thought I could hike to Outpost and see how I feel then and make the decision day of--that's probably what I'll do!!

Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
bobpickering #57995 08/27/20 06:25 PM
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Originally Posted by bobpickering
Originally Posted by Anton
Lots of folks in their 60s and 70s do this hike as a day trip ... I bet even Bob can do it smile
I went up last year in April, before the road opened and with lots of snow. I hiked up the Mountaineers' Route, over to Mt. Muir and down the trail. It was a long day, but I could still do it. I'm planning something similar for 2021.

You are my hero!

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Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
Anton #58055 09/09/20 09:43 AM
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wanted to follow up on this with how it went, which was...poorly. I didn't summit, but attempted twice. My original plan was camp in OV until the 3, then move to Portal, stay one night there and do it in two days on the 4th and 5th. Smoke was much worse as I got further south. Camped at Ravine for that night, very quiet. Backpacker TH campground is closed-- looks like a tree fell down. Ravine was fine, except you do have to hike in and out/up and down about 100 feet each time, which gets annoying after the first couple times. Parked without much issue in the overflow lot, the only place I consistently found parking. I do think it was quieter because of the smoke/fire.

On the 4th I started hiking at 8:30 with a 31 pound pack. I was throwing up almost immediately, partially from altitude (??I guess?), partially because I get super nauseous in the mornings and didn't eat right. Pretty much screwed my day there. I couldn't keep anything down including water, so I turned around before the LP Lake junction *sob*. I was also anxious about the fire, a passing hiker said it was getting worse up ahead. I decided to go down to LP, check into my hotel and take a shower. I ate and slept in the Valley and got up at 3 am to head up to try again for a day hike on the 5th. I had similar results, and the smoke was worse. By the 6th, smoke was so bad I couldn't give it another go, which was a good idea because they closed the Forest the day after.

FWIW I can't wait to try again, when there are no impending wildfires, and I would definitely, definitely do it as a day hike. To me, the benefits of not carrying a heavy pack, even the 3 or 6 miles to one of the overnight camps, is worth it. Next time I would really like to not do it alone, as I think a partner would have helped me through some of my difficulties. Looking forward to getting a permit next summer.

Last edited by kkdavis; 09/09/20 09:44 AM.
Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
kkdavis #58056 09/09/20 09:56 AM
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As someone who also tried and didn't summit before, I can sympathize with you. Sounds like you gave it a valiant effort... twice!

I wonder how much the smoke attributed to you being sick... Definitely couldn't have helped. Perhaps a combination of AMS and the smoke.

Thank you for the information about the backpacker's camp being closed and the info about the Ravine campground. Very helpful to those who might be heading up in the future.

I imagine it was disappointing to not summit but (as they say.. whoever "they" are smile ) the mountain will be there next time.

Last edited by MikeH; 09/09/20 09:56 AM.
Re: Whitney First Timer, advice/tips/encouragement?
MikeH #58057 09/09/20 10:26 AM
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kkdavis Offline OP
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thanks Mike, I am disappointed but I also learned so much that I didn't know going into this experience--so that my next attempt has a greater chance of success. The things I didn't know were things I missed in training--not doing any training with a heavy backpack on, for example. The nausea I've encountered before at all elevations, so for me it's a combo of needing to train myself to eat big breakfasts at an early time, and eating slowly to not upset an already delicate stomach at altitude.


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