Mt Whitney Zone
Posted By: katrina Seeking advice: Aug 24/25 trip - 07/08/21 04:52 PM
Hello! I have a group of 6 with overnight passes on Aug 24th. 2/6 have attempted to summit before, but the rest of us our new to the mountain. I’ve been reading a lot of trip reports but am finding minimal information on overnight trips, so I apologize if this has been put out there before and I just missed it. We plan on camping at Trail Camp on our way up, but what I’m curious about is timing. What time would you start the hike to get to trail camp, and what time would you wake up to (attempt) summit the next day? Additionally, thoughts on diamox? The potential side effects seem unappealing, obviously AMS is worse, but I'm curious to hear general thoughts on it! Thanks in advance!
Posted By: Snacking Bear Re: Seeking advice: Aug 24/25 trip - 07/08/21 05:50 PM
Timing: This will primarily depend on your level of fitness and to a lesser extent your pack weight, acclimatization, and the weather. But I have always been an advocate of early bird starts, say 5-6 AM to give myself plenty of time.

If you want to calculate your time and avoid an unnecessarily early start, your fitness is the biggest indicator of when to leave. Trail Camp is (only) 6 miles in, but 3,700 feet of elevation gain is nothing to scoff at. I'd first ask how long would it take you to climb 6 miles and 3,700K then add time for carrying an overnight pack and slowing due to altitude. I've personally found that I can add 25% more time to my day-hike time when I am carrying an overnight load. This time covers additional breaks and my slower pace. I would probably double that if I was not acclimatized. However, your experience will likely be different than mine, but the smart bet is to leave as early as possible.

If the weather looks like rain (but not dangerous), you may even want to leave even earlier in order to get to camp, get your camp prepped, and get inside before typical Sierra afternoon showers begin. If the weather is hot you will also want to get an earlier start.

I know some folks like to grab Portal store breakfast or drive in from LA and those mid-morning starts aren't too terrible for a lot of folks so long as you are giving yourself ample time based on fitness/weather/acclimatization. The kind of hiker you want to avoid being is the one leaving the Portal after 2 PM and stumble into TC after dark. In the best-case scenario, these folks are just ill-prepared, but in the worst-case scenario, they are putting themselves in risky situations.

Unless you are a fit hiker with relevant hiking experience and a dialed-in understanding of your pace/performance at altitude, you'll want to get started sometime between 5 AM-10 AM to set yourself up for success getting to TC.

Summit Day: It is very common for folks to get an Alpine Start (start hiking by headlamp around 3:00 AM) on summit day! If you choose to do an Alpine Start but are unfamiliar with the trail, I'd highly recommend scoping out the trail through TC to the base of the 97-102 Switchbacks in the daylight after you set up your camp. This will help you get on track in the dark.

Alpine Starts are great because you get to see the sunrise while you are high-up on the mountain. They also get you back to TC early enough to pack up and hike out the same day as your summit day. Note: when timing your descents, a general rule of thumb is that descents take 70% of the time it took you to ascend the same route.

If you are doing two nights in TC and have an entire day to summit, feel free to do a later start... though I'd still recommend a 4-6 AM start. Summer thunderstorms can pop up out of nowhere and the summit ridge is the last place you'd want to be in the early afternoon.

Diamox: I have never used it, but I believe Steve C. is a regular user. I've heard it can dehydrate you if you aren't diligent about staying hydrated, but so long as you drink well, and consult your regular physician first it has been known to be a useful resource.

I hope that this is helpful! Good luck!
Posted By: katrina Re: Seeking advice: Aug 24/25 trip - 07/08/21 06:08 PM
This is super helpful, thank you so much!

We are a relatively fit group, always hiking on weekends and weight training during the week, but 4/6 of us at San Diego sea level. We just finished San Jacinto in about 7 hours with our full packs and some nice breaks. We plan on doing Cucuamonga peak this weekend, so that will give us a good feel on the ~4k altitude timing. I've noticed with my pack my trips take about an extra 2 hours than what I'd normally do. We rented an airbnb in Lone Pine for about 3 days before to get in some additional practice hikes and so we don't have to drive in from far the morning of the trip. With all that being said, I think your 5-6AM advice is what we'll end up doing! That's a great tip on getting familiar with the trail in the daytime before a 3AM start. Thank again!!
Posted By: Harvey Lankford Re: Seeking advice: Aug 24/25 trip - 07/08/21 06:37 PM
You stated an overnight at Trailcamp.
This makes a big difference in the advice

Here are some real world times.

I did it that way 2012 with my son when I was 62 yo and orthopedically challenged

11:00 am start at Whitney Portal Storeto Trailcamp
with 2 hr delay hanging around Outpost Camp waiting for rain and lightning to settle down, arrived at Trailcamp 6:30pm
Overnight at TC

Summit Day and down
Up at 5:15 am. Left tent there.
Did not leave until 6:15am so we could watch the rose-cinnamon alpenglow from morning sun on the East Face
6:15 to 9:40 am climb to summit.
9:40 to 11:30 stayed on summit
11:30am - 2:35 pm back to Trail Camp, broke down tent and headed down
2:35- 6:22 pm Whitney Portal Store and burger. Son was way ahead of me. I am only a little faster down than up.
Posted By: katrina Re: Seeking advice: Aug 24/25 trip - 07/08/21 07:46 PM
Thanks, Harvey. I appreciate this insight. Sounds like a wonderful trip with you Son!
Posted By: Steve C Re: Seeking advice: Aug 24/25 trip - 07/08/21 08:00 PM
katrina, the advice above is good. Regarding Diamox -- you need a prescription from a doctor. I've always used the minimum dose: half a 125 mg tablet twice a day, starting the morning before the hike to Trail Camp. I always sleep one night at 10,000' elevation Horseshoe Meadows before heading up the trail.

Your 3 days in Lone Pine give you the opportunity to head up to Horseshoe Meadows and hike around. Two days before, maybe hike all the way to Cottonwood Lakes and back. The day before, do the shorter hike to Trail Peak, south west of HM. By spending those two days at and above 10k, everyone should get a decent level of acclimatization. It's the people who drive from their low-elevation home directly to Whitney Portal and then hike up to Trail Camp all in the same day are the ones who wake up the next day with headaches and nausea.
Posted By: Snacking Bear Re: Seeking advice: Aug 24/25 trip - 07/08/21 09:02 PM
I echo Steve's advice for hiking around Horseshoe Meadows to trigger the acclimatization process.

Which route up to San J did you take?

Cucamonga is a good analog for an ascent to TC short of the altitude being some 4K lower.

When I've been in my average hiking shape I've taken 2.5-3 hours to reach TC on day hikes with little acclimation. I'd have estimated an overnight load would have taken me about 4 hours. The latest I'd be comfortable starting would be 8 AM.

The longest time I ever took going up Whitney as a 5 hour slog to TC. I turned back at Keeler Needle that trip. That one took me 16 hours in total. If I had had an overnight load that day would have taken me 6.5-8 hours to get to TC.

YMMV though.
Posted By: katrina Re: Seeking advice: Aug 24/25 trip - 07/09/21 04:31 PM
Originally Posted by Snacking Bear
Which route up to San J did you take?

We took the tram and hiked it from there. It sounds like there's no harm in getting to TC early in the day if we decide to start at 5AM, and that even starting at that time it might take us longer than expected due to weather and/or breaks. Thank you, Steve C for the Horseshoe Meadows and diamox tips!
Posted By: Anton Re: Seeking advice: Aug 24/25 trip - 07/09/21 06:47 PM
Here is what I would do on my overnight trip with first-timer friends:

1) Leave San Diego at 3-3:30 AM on a day of hike (alternatively, leave one day earlier to get more sleep)
2) Arrive to Lone Pine before 8:00 AM, collect permits at the ranger station
3) Have breakfast at the Alabama Hills Cafe (failure to do so significantly decreases the chances of reaching the top)
4) Start hiking from the Portal no later than 10:00 AM
5) Arrive to the Outpost Camp in early afternoon
6) CAMP at Outpost (more on that below)
7) Have early dinner, bed time by 7-8 PM
8) Start a summit bid from the Outpost Camp at 2-3 AM
9) Summit before lunch time at a relaxed pace
10) Return to camp and celebrate, spend another night there (you don't want to drive home after a long day in the mountains)
11) Descend in the morning, have a yummy brunch at Alabama Hills Cafe, and drive home.

The advantages of camping at Outpost instead of the Trail Camp are 4-fold:

1) Lower Elevation = better sleep = (arguably) better acclimation
2) Instant access to excellent water, as opposed to filthy pond at the Trail camp where people wash their dishes. There is running water at TC, but it will be much harder to find in August after a dry winter
3) Less traveling with a heavy pack
4) More privacy and protection from trees

These advantages outweigh the disadvantage of adding a few extra miles on a summit day. Over the past 12 years, I had a chance to compare how first-timer friends and climbing partners perform on Whitney in all fours seasons, on different routes, and on different itineraries. Overnight trips with camping at Outpost have always been successful and enjoyable.

Another piece of advice: consider splitting your group of 6 into 2-3 semi-independent teams on a summit day, unless you already have a firm agreement that everyone will stick together. Because smaller teams are inherently faster and more efficient, this strategy will increase the chances of success. Also, there will be less frustration due to differences in pace and frequent delays.

Have a great time!
Posted By: Steve C Re: Seeking advice: Aug 24/25 trip - 07/09/21 11:20 PM
Anton's advice of camping at Outpost camp is recommended by several I know. It DOES help with acclimatization, as sleeping at 12k Trail Camp can bring on symptoms that wouldn't occur lower down. There is also some significance to hiking from there, getting to the top and back down to 10k in short-enough time that AMS will not set in as strongly. Sleeping at 12k means people are more susceptible.

On the other hand, this group is planning to spend several days before the hike doing light hikes at elevation, which tends alleviate the jolt to the system that climbing to Trail Camp causes.

Katrina: beware of people opting to join your group late (not spending the days before at Lone Pine). If anyone does that, the Outpost Camp option is a way better idea.
Posted By: jaym Re: Seeking advice: Aug 24/25 trip - 07/10/21 08:51 PM
Mt. Whitney (Mt. Vomitorium) Pukers Club Member here (I am so bad I get nauseated looking at Whitney through the Zone's Webcam at sealevel!) so take my advice with a grain of salt.

I find Diamox helpful especially for sleeping at altitude (otherwise awake all night), but it is not anywhere near an altitude sickness (AMS) slam dunk (i.e. you can't pop some Diamox and parachute to the top of Everest and not die from AMS in minutes). For me, altitude plus high level activity with insufficient acclimitization even with Diamox equals tummy AMS.

I myself would stay at Trail Camp as the final summiting camp because 10.5K Outpost camp is 4000 feet below the summit, even Trail Camp is too low at 2500 feet below. But I am a poster boy for "increase altitude no more than 1000 feet per day" official recommendation. Plus, I feel I could more easily get equivalent acclimitization car camping at Horseshoe Meadows (10K) if it is open. Aside: there are some out of the way sites at Trail Camp so it is not all bad but it still sucks compared to Outpost Camp (No trees, No waterfall).

Also, you can book as many days as you want at Trail Camp "Express" even if you don't use them. If I forgot to "book" them, I would still use them anyway. Obviously, late afternoon arrival at Trail Camp and an alpine start means very little acclimitization time! Two nights (arrival and alpine start) at Trail Camp would be the minimum for me without significant off mountain acclimitization. I personally would not leave Trail Camp without feeling pretty good the day before because I would be going up the 99 switchbacks and then miles of hiking at over 14000 feet, i.e. not a quick up/down foray into higher altitude. Super fast hikers/runners can probably get away with it though.

Staying extra nights requires packing extra food because the Portal Store do not "drone" up hot meals and beer. Boo!
Posted By: katrina Re: Seeking advice: Aug 24/25 trip - 07/13/21 12:34 AM
Wow! Went backpacking at Cucamonga peak and came back to a lot of great advice. Thank you all so much, you've all given me lots to think about. Appreciate all of the tips. I think I might get some diamox even staying at Lone Pine with some Horseshoe meadows hikes. "Whitney (Mt. Vomitorium) Pukers Club Member here" made me actually LOL.
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