Being in the Bay area, we had limited access to high altitude hikes. We did several 3K elevation gain hikes with distances ranging from 6-16 miles (short distances with full packs and long distances with daypacks).
Outside of those, we worked out ~5 days a week (running 5-10 miles, HIIT routines) for 6-7 weeks prior to our attempt. We were in pretty reasonable shape physically. The maximum full pack weight we tried was 33 lbs (which was on the lighter side as we discovered later).
We drove to Mammoth Lakes on 7/18 and spent two nights trying to get acclimated to high altitude. We hiked the Crystal Lake trail (upto Crystal Craggs) on 7/19. We also went to Devilâ€™s post pile in the afternoon and did several bunny hikes (tried to keep it light).
We debated about whether to take Diamox or not and settled on not taking it unless we had clear symptoms.
We drove to Lone Pine and picked up baggage tags at the Lone Pine visitor center around noon. Visited Alabama Hills on the way and reached Whitney Port at around 2 PM. Set up tents, checked out the trailhead and ate dinner at the Whitney Portal store.
Didnâ€™t get much sleep due to noises from the road and from people trying to leave early in the AM.
Woke up at around 6 AM, packed up tents and got to the trail head around 8 AM. Both our packs weighed 40 lbs (we had more clothes and food than needed). Discovered that one of our water reservoirs had a leak (oh my!), fortunately the Whitney portal store had some in stock. Finally, we started our hike around 8:30 AM.
We debated whether to spend the night at Outpost camp or Trail camp quite a bit and finally settled for Trail camp. We didnâ€™t train for 40 lbs (most was 33 lbs). It was tough sledding initially. We purposefully decided to go slow to give ourselves ample opportunity to get used to the altitude. We hit Outpost camp by 11:30 AM. We refilled our water here and ate lunch.
Left Outpost camp around 1:15 PM to cover the remaining 2.3 miles to Trail camp. Though most of the trail is very easy to navigate, there are a couple of places it was tricky. From Outpost camp there were 2 paths and no signs. We had AllTrails app with offline maps and that helped us navigate better. It also helped us show how far we walked and how much distance was left. This stretch was brutal due to our heavy packs and took us 2.5 hours. We were very tired and the altitude was catching up to us. We tried to set up our tents but realized we were too fatigued and needed a break. Collected water at the inlet to Trail camp lake, it was great to dip feet into the cold water (carried slippers - luxury item but was worth it). Finally, we set up camp and ate dinner by 7 PM. We took some Ibuprofen and applied CBD muscle cream to our respective sore spots.
We couldnâ€™t get any sleep due to the loud noises from flights echoing at this elevation as well as the high winds that night.
After a lot of tossing and turning, we woke up at 3:30 AM and left at 4:30 AM for the summit. Two sleepless nights later, we were very exhausted even before we started our summit attempt (it is very hard to train for this).
Again, we decided to go slow to give ourselves the best opportunity. We were at Trail Crest at 7 AM. I picked up an abdominal cramp at around switchback 20 that made the trek harder. It continued to bother me all the way upto the summit.
After resting for a few minutes, we pushed on towards the summit. The trail was very narrow and dicey at places (ex: big boulder blocking the path roughly halfway). Fortunately, the dry conditions helped navigate these with ease. These were easily the longest 1.9 miles I ever hiked (Side note: I found it really hard to believe the distances). We made it to the summit around 9:30 AM. The wind was quite strong and dark clouds started to hover around the summit (forecast called for sunny morning). We stayed for an hour, took a lot of pictures and were able to connect with our families (surprised to find a cell phone signal here).
The downhill trek to Trail camp was relatively easier, but my cramp slowed us down. We were back at Trail camp at 1:15 PM. The sun was beating down by this point, we had nowhere to hide from it. Lack of sleep was catching up too. Collecting water, making lunch and taking down the tent took a really long time. Doubts started creeping in about whether we will be able to make it back before dark. We took some Ibuprofen again to deal with muscle soreness. It was 4 PM by the time we started our final descent.
Fortunately, the combination of lunch + descent + Ibuprofen gave us a much needed boost. We went down to Outpost camp in about 2 hours and covered the final 3.7 mile stretch in 1 hour (!!). We measured our packs again and they measured at 38 lbs (with wag bags).
Whitney Portal store was closed for dinner by 6:30 PM. So we couldnâ€™t get dinner there (and Stone IPA). We picked up some merchandise and headed down.
1. Pack wisely. We had too many jackets and too much food. We had too many insurance items that we never used.
2. Consider spending the night before at Outpost camp instead of Whitney Portal for acclimatization. Itâ€™s much quieter there (so you may sleep better), itâ€™s 2.3 less (very hard) miles to carry your full pack.
3. If itâ€™s too much to return all the way to Whitney portal after the ascent, you can consider sleeping an additional night at Outpost camp.
4. If camping at Trail camp, practice how to pitch tents for high winds.
5. Weather is really unpredictable, prepare for the worst case (this goes against 1, but donâ€™t skimp on survival essentials)
6. Man v mountain, mountain always wins. Know your limits and be prepared to turn around (In hindsight, that abdominal cramp should have been taken more seriously).
7. Carry just enough water in your reservoir, there are plenty of water sources. Use your bottle to carry .25 or .5 liter as insurance if you end up drinking more water than expected.
8. Donâ€™t try this alone unless you are a seasoned hiker. There were several instances where one of us was not feeling well and having someone to watch out and help is invaluable. We also saw several other inexperienced hikers struggle, some of them very badly. Itâ€™s not great to get stuck on the mountain.
9. Even though we were in great shape physically, we still underestimated how hard this was going to be. Train hard and then harder!
10. Have fun. Go slow, enjoy the views, take pictures. It slows you down just enough to help with acclimatization