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06/09/2021 night run to Trail Crest (no summit)
#58827 06/10/21 11:30 PM
Joined: Jun 2021
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J
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J
Joined: Jun 2021
Posts: 6
Likes: 9
Hey there,

First, thanks to everyone for sharing all their knowledge and experiences and the people who maintain the trail. Maybe some minor detail here might prove useful to someone.

----

I picked up a spontaneous day use permit a while ago from a cancellation. As the day approached the summit forecast got worse and worse, calling for 50 mph winds and 7 degree temps (f). Weather was supposed to get worse over the day peaking late day. I decided to go anyway and just make it about having some fun with trying to go fast at night.

Spoiler: the cold got to my fingers and toes by Trail Crest so I turned around.

Weather
Temps seemed as forecast, 50s at the portal going down to 30 up top with the 50mph winds taking it down to 7 degree feel.

Clothes/Pack
I left wearing a long sleeve dry fit upper under a micro windbreaker (hooded) and a running vest over both. I wore full length stretch lower base layer and gore tex running pants the whole time. I run trail distance with double wool socks (toe socks under normal socks), and mid cushion trail running shoes. In my running vest I carried a nano puff, a gore tex upper shell (hooded), a wool balaclava, a pair of heavy duty skiing gloves, emergency bivy, 2 500ml soft flasks full of water, one empty 1l soft flask with a Be Free filter, 10K battery pack, phone, gopro, headlamp, gps watch, charge cables, 8 home made energy gels (2K calories + electrolytes), 4 home made energy bars (2k calories + electrolytes), sunscreen, lip balm, soy and hot sauce packets (emergency cramp relief), wag bag, permit/rules, keys, id.

Timeline

11:00 pm - Portal
I left the portal and weighed my hydration vest on the way out for fun. 10 pounds total carry weight. Looking at distance and elevation, I figured I'd get to the Whitney permit zone at midnight.

12:00 am - Whitney Zone
I got to the Whitney permit zone sign at midnight. That worked out. I got my puff out at this point and put it on between my upper base layer and windbreaker with the vest over both. Trail was easy to read, streams were easy to cross. I felt mostly sheltered from wind before this. I passed one pair of hikers near here. Some point between here and Trail Camp further up, I put on the gloves.

01:30 am - Trail Camp
I felt like suddenly I was at Trail Camp. Moving at night is surreal, big things can change around you while you focus on small things moving beneath your feet in your light cone. Still no surprises, minor bits of ice, some rocky areas with less clear trail but plenty of placed stones visible to read the way without trouble. Stream crossings were low and easy. Wind increased with exposure. I swapped out my cap with the balaclava and put on the gore tex shell over everything including the vest. I passed a second pair of hikers near the bottom of the switchbacks who had camped at Trail Camp.

The Switchbacks
I honestly enjoyed these. I love climbing. I think this section gets a bum rap. There's a surprising amount of runnable ground and there aren't as many big steps as I'd imagined. I felt there were more large steps in other sections on the approach below. The spring was running, some spots had icy bits over them, everything was obvious, easily avoidable without spikes, and the trail was easy to follow even at night. There was a little snowy bit, also avoidable and one small 'snowfield' with a path through it. The cables were clear (felt surreal to first notice them in my peripheral vision). I really loved this entire section. I'd love to see it in the light sometime, the loft must be really impressive. I just geek out marveling at the engineering of these types of trail sections and the time flies.

03:00 am - Trail Crest
I got goose bumps when I saw the Trail Crest sign. Walking around the crest up there to the junction at 3 am completely alone was surreal. We're in new moon phase so it was pitch black darkness. Amazing stars and I could turn all my headlamp lights to full and get spooky glimpses of the granite super fortress around me. I couldn't see the headlamps of the two hikers I'd passed down at the bottom of the switchbacks anymore, and I couldn't see any headlamps down the JMT west side or going up the west slope to the peak. I might have been the only person up there. What a trip, it's just an amazing feeling knowing so much looms around you in the darkness. The wind was strong but not impossible. Some gusts would catch me off balance. The darkness helped remove any vertigo which likely made the wind feel less dangerous.

Choices
For the last half hour approaching Trail Crest my fingers and toes were getting colder to the point of not warming anymore after doing appropriate wriggling waving armpitting massaging etc. I was feeling numbness on my big toes and having grown up with real winter I know early frost bite signs and don't take risks. I knew up front my shoes wouldn't be appropriate for real summit weather if the forecasts were correct. I had hoped the gloves would be adequate (I don't own mitts, I just avoid cold things nowadays). My mentality from the beginning was that I was there on a bad weather (for me) day and I was just going to have some fun and see what happened. I had no expectations or pressure to get to the summit. Based on my time so far (4 hours to Trail Crest / Junction), I estimated at least 2 hours to summit and return to Trail Crest (then more time to descend towards Trail Camp and warmer temps). I decided it was time to move to warmer temperatures now instead of add more time and possible uncertainty.

Returning
Temps warmed up and wind dropped quickly while descending the switchbacks. I ran a lot of it, there's a surprising amount of flat. I shared what I'd experienced with the pair of hikers I'd passed earlier and wished them luck. I started to pass more hikers as I got closer to the lower camps that were starting their early hike. Like always, I wave and stop and give uphill people the right of way. There was a lot of runnable ground. I stopped once to refill my flasks on the way down only. It started getting lighter as I was approaching the Whitney Zone boundary. I was lazily still wearing all my layers even though it wasn't near as cold anymore so with my vest being under my shell I guess it looked like I had no carry. I passed a group of hikers where one called out "where's your backpack?" I thought.. but a ways down the trail I realized they most likely said "where's your wag bag?" I don't know, maybe they were angry at seeing me and assuming I had none because they saw no pack? I just don't know, that kind of thing bothers me, for all they know I have a colostomy bag (I don't). Nearer the bottom of the trail just as the sun was cresting the east valley mountains I happened across a signature Mount Whitney trail deer that stopped to share the sunrise with me. It was nice.

06:00am - Portal
I started passing many groups of hikers starting their day near the very bottom then suddenly I was back at the trailhead. What a fun night!

Takeaways
  • obvious: really amazing place, thankful to spend time there, wow
  • this makes me think maybe I could summit in 5 and get back in 4 if I ever wanted to try a fast go at it again (it's not a race, I'm just curious for me)
  • night time is good for low crowds, as is weekday, as is new moon, I wouldn't run there any other time
  • 50 mph wind and sub 10 degree temps is certainly no go threshold for me (I'm strictly fair weather nowadays)
  • 2 500ml flasks were fine for a night trip, I could start with just one full, there's so much water
  • I'd probably switch to calorie/electrolyte powder in water instead of gels for high intensity effort at high altitude
  • I always carry beyond extra calories for emergency, but I probably only needed ~1K for the time/effort
  • I don't run trail with poles and didn't need them here either
  • switching to liquid calories after noon the day before and moving my bowels in the evening before leaving is fine (I have no issue with using bio bags, but no need if you can plan around it, tmi)
  • a lot of the larger rock spots on the lower trail seem really slick from decades of foot traffic, minor but worth being mindful of


Thanks again for all the info everyone else has shared.

4 members like this: MikeH, Caljoy3, futbol, Snacking Bear
Re: 06/09/2021 night run to Trail Crest (no summit)
John JDS #58828 06/11/21 08:09 AM
Joined: Aug 2011
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Thanks for sharing the conditions and your experience on the mountain.

A special thanks for being a good example of hiking/running smart and sharing your risk assessment process. That is very helpful for both newcomers and experienced folks alike.

I also appreciated your description:

Quote
We're in new moon phase so it was pitch black darkness. Amazing stars and I could turn all my headlamp lights to full and get spooky glimpses of the granite super fortress around me.

Great prose, very evocative.


@jjoshuagregory (Twitter & Instagram) for mainly landscape and mountain photos
Re: 06/09/2021 night run to Trail Crest (no summit)
John JDS #58829 06/11/21 09:10 AM
Joined: Jun 2017
Posts: 113
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Joined: Jun 2017
Posts: 113
Likes: 8
Thanks for the trip report!

Quote
8 home made energy gels (2K calories + electrolytes), 4 home made energy bars (2k calories + electrolytes)

Would you please share the recipe for these?

Re: 06/09/2021 night run to Trail Crest (no summit)
futbol #58830 06/11/21 09:35 AM
Joined: Nov 2009
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That is a super report, both informative and entertaining. Thank you for posting.

Re: 06/09/2021 night run to Trail Crest (no summit)
Snacking Bear #58832 06/11/21 01:03 PM
Joined: Jun 2021
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Originally Posted by Snacking Bear
Thanks for sharing the conditions and your experience on the mountain.

A special thanks for being a good example of hiking/running smart and sharing your risk assessment process. That is very helpful for both newcomers and experienced folks alike.

Thanks, hopefully some bit of info somewhere in there that helps someone's puzzle.

Originally Posted by futbol
Thanks for the trip report!

Quote
8 home made energy gels (2K calories + electrolytes), 4 home made energy bars (2k calories + electrolytes)

Would you please share the recipe for these?

Glad you enjoyed. I'll look into making a recipe post in the chat section maybe or wherever appropriate. Thanks for the encouragement.

Originally Posted by RichardK
That is a super report, both informative and entertaining. Thank you for posting.

Thanks for the feedback. I love reading trip reports but don't see many, then I feel self conscious about writing one because of that.

Re: 06/09/2021 night run to Trail Crest (no summit)
John JDS #58836 06/11/21 06:42 PM
Joined: Jun 2021
Posts: 8
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Posts: 8
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. Like you I got lucky, picked up a permit from a cancellation a couple of weeks ago. I’m getting ready to hike whiteny for the first time. A

Re: 06/09/2021 night run to Trail Crest (no summit)
John JDS #58844 06/13/21 03:09 PM
Joined: Apr 2018
Posts: 122
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Great report. Amazing how quickly you made it to Trail Crest. A testament to your fitness level for sure.

Re: 06/09/2021 night run to Trail Crest (no summit)
MikeH #58849 06/15/21 11:49 AM
Joined: Jun 2021
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Originally Posted by Caljoy3
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. Like you I got lucky, picked up a permit from a cancellation a couple of weeks ago. I’m getting ready to hike whiteny for the first time. A
Enjoy!

Originally Posted by MikeH
Great report. Amazing how quickly you made it to Trail Crest. A testament to your fitness level for sure.
Glad you enjoyed it. I think it's easier when the trail is empty.


UPDATE - 2nd try SUCCESS

I found a last minute cancellation for yesterday (June 14) and jumped on it to clear up some unfinished business. I repeated exactly the same strategy and timing as last time so I didn't want to spam the forum with a near identical trip report but it seemed worth sharing. Not a flex, there are people FAR faster than I can ever go.

Weather
Forecast was for 20mp wind and near 30f with windchill at the coldest. It felt like less wind at the summit, almost none sometimes up there and on the switchbacks. Pretty cold a couple of times when refilling water and I had to stop to warm my fingers after. But nothing really bad and nothing to stop me like last time.

Timing
I repeated my same timing as last time and it worked out.

11pm - left the Portal trailhead
12am - crossed into the Whitney permit zone
4am - on the summit
8am - back at Portal trailhead

Fluids / Fueling
This time I switched from my home made energy gels to my home made drink mix (both are basically just maltodextrin, electrolytes, and amino acids). Using what I learned on my first try, I came up with a hydration/fueling timing plan (how much to fluid drink between each checkpoint and how many calories to consume). I stuck to it like a metronome, sipping constantly and it worked great. I brought 1K calories in drink mix split in 3 portions (also carried 2k emergency extra calories in gels and bars that I didn't touch).

- I filled 2 500ml soft flasks with water and first portion for Portal to 99 Switchback spring
- I refilled flasks with water and second portion at 99 Switchback spring for summit and return
- I refilled flasks with water and third portion at lake by Trail Camp for trip down to Portal

Summit
It was fun being the only person up there. I signed a scrap of paper in the registry (all pages full), then poked around a little to find all the USGS markers, then left. It was pitch black, no light or color on horizon yet.

Return
I first spotted some color and light on the interior basin as I was returning on the back side of trail crest. I could barely start to perceive depth down into the basin and could see faint shadows of the other mountains and lakes below. Passing the first window, I could now see a faint glow on the eastern horizon. When I got back up to the trail crest marker, the horizon was starting to flare. The trip down the switchbacks was phenomenal being in the midst of the alpenglow. Really unforgettable.

Video
I carried a gopro and shot some POV clips along the way up and down. Compiled here, no editing, no commentary, no selfie, no music (I don't mind any of that stuff, but I'm lazy, and I really enjoy watching simple POV trail clips personally).


Happy I returned, for now I'll let others discover cancellation / noshow / walkup permits and maybe look to return at the end of the season or next year to try some other projects.

Last edited by John JDS; 06/15/21 11:52 AM.
1 member likes this: Caljoy3
Re: 06/09/2021 night run to Trail Crest (no summit)
John JDS #58850 06/15/21 03:44 PM
Joined: Jun 2021
Posts: 8
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Omg, that’s amazing!!!🙌and nuts at the same time running in the dark. Awesome video. Thank you for sharing.

Re: 06/09/2021 night run to Trail Crest (no summit)
John JDS #58851 06/16/21 07:54 AM
Joined: Apr 2018
Posts: 122
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Joined: Apr 2018
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That's amazing! Great job.


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