Tollermom tops Mount Whitney on a very Long Day Hike
Tahoe to Whitney just received this excellent account of Tollermom's careful approach to hiking Mount Whitney in a day, her planning and preperation, and successful execution of this daring hike.
Mount Whitney in a Day
I am a planner. I read books, studied maps. I poured over trip reports hoping to glean the one obscure tip that would be my salvation. I fretted, obsessed, analyzed and memorized. I watched youtube videos of the trail, did a virtual flyover on Halfmile Maps google earth. I worried over hikers who fell off the trail wondering what tripped them up. I dreamt about things I could not control and wondered if my trail runners were going to be sufficient. I left no stone unturned.
My background: I live at an approx. elevation of 4500' in Carson City, work most days of the week in Tahoe at el 6300' and spend almost every weekend hiking in the Sierra around 8,000'.
My training plan: Hiking uphill when I could (Hobart Reservoir, Mt Rose and Snow Valley Peak) and getting some longer mileage (12 mile hikes) under my feet. The longest previous hike I had ever done was Half Dome last summer and that was about 16-17 miles up and back from my tent cabin aka Hanta Village J.
I did a reconnoiter road trip to Lone Pine the month before to check out the portal during daylight hours and hiked up to Lone Pine Lake and around Horseshow Meadows. The 3 mile hike to Lone Pine Lake normally should have been a piece of cake, but I felt fatigued. Could have been the 5 hr car ride, starting the hike at noon in the 90 degree heat, but it kinda shook my confidence. At that point I gave myself permission that if I could not make the summit bid, it would be okay. In fact, I would consider the trip a success the minute I buckled on my pack and stepped onto the trail. My friend and I made a pact that we would have fun no matter what and that it would be a great adventure - however it turned out.
Two weekends in a row before Whitney, I camped and hiked at around 10,000' at 20 Lakes Basin and Virginia Lakes. I took Ginko Biloba for about 7 days prior after reading antidotal stories how it might help with my oxygen usage. I am not sure it really worked - certainly didn't hurt though.
The Team: Myself (58), my hiking buddy Gina (61) and Dan (a quiet, soft spoken graduate student in his late 20's we met on the Hobart trail a couple months earlier who had been denied his permit try.)
My gear: A lightweight Osprey daypack decorated with prayer flags and with a 100oz hydration bladder, Steripen Ultra, SPOT Gen 3, Garmin GPS, Nikon 9300 point n shoot, iPod, map, compass, whistle, trail notes: milestone distances, switchbacks and water sources, headlamp, extra batteries, first aid supplies (copious amounts of Advil, a hunk of moleskin, duct tape, roll of gauze, sunscreen, antibacterial gel), 2 WAG bags (what if I get a stomach ache from the excitement?) and a gallon ziplock baggie for WAG portage, TP and Wet Naps and a PStyle (which I forgot how to use and ended up peeing down my leg), eyeglasses and sunglasses, emergency Sol bivy, plastic poncho, silver emergency blanket (mostly to wrap around myself in case I had to use the WAG bag out in the open) and Black Diamond Ultra Distance trekking poles.
Clothing On: Brooks Cascadia 8 trail runners, leopard print dirty girl gaiters, Smartwool hiking socks, REI long pants with zip-off legs, two layers of thin performance shirts - one short sleeved, one long sleeved in bright colors - because bright color is energizing and makes me feel good, visor.
Clothing in the bag: A new pair of Incredisock for the trip back down, down jacket, compression tights, buff and gloves, waterproof Tyvek jacket.
Food: Separated into two giant baggies - one for the trip up and one for the trip down because I like to eat!! A custom trail mix blend (Fritos, Chex Party Mix, bacon jerky (yes, BACON! - a kickstarter project I kicked in for), nuts, M&M's, chocolate covered goji berries, Hot Tamale candies, Jolly Rancher gummy chews, wasabi peas), assorted Fig Bars/Trail Bars, some Babybel cheese, Electrolyte/Energy chews, Electrolyte tabs for the water and GU. Lots and lots of GU. Highly recommend the Salted Caramel flavor.
5:30 am July 17: We left Carson City and made a beeline for the Lone Pine wilderness permit station, arriving about 10am. With questions answered, permits and WAG bags safely stashed away, we headed up to the portal for one more look around and to be sure we knew where to park the next morning without getting a ticket. Satisfied we knew what we were doing, we headed down for lunch at the Alabama Hills restaurant and a stroll through town before retiring to our room at the Mt Whitney Hotel & Hostel. Prior to tucking in the for night, we gave RECONN forms (courtesy of High Sierra Topix)with our emergency info/descriptions to Davey at hotel. He knew of our plan to hike as first-timers on Whitney, inquired as to our anticipated return time (mid afternoon I naively said) and assured us he'd keep an eye out for us and would not leave us on the mountain.
6pm July 17: Ankle taped with KT tape, a spray down the throat of SleepWell (lemon, Valerian and Melatonin), earplugs in, eye mask on, lights out.
1am July 18: Beep, beep, beep. Alarm goes off and we jump out of bed. Dressing quickly, I had a quick breakfast consisting of a Red Bull, hard boiled egg and banana bread, then at 1:30 am we piled into two cars for the quick trip up to the portal.
2am July 18: SCORE! Two parking spots very near the trailhead, headlamps donned, my SPOT tracker activated (so my well-wishers back home could follow along and give my family peace of mind) and a group hug and we were off!
Hiking in the dark was a unique experience and made all the more pleasurable because when we stopped to take photos or catch our breath, Dan pointed out the constellations. Just below the Lone Pine Creek log crossing, we paused again to blow into cupped hands, releasing the our breath in the direction of Whitney and whispering Apu - a gift to the spirit of the mountain.
We hiked along, leap frogging a couple groups of hikers and arrived above Mirror Lake just as the sun was beginning to lighten the sky. We removed our headlamps and headed up to Trail Camp. I had thought we'd be AT Trail Camp at sunup, but we were hiking at a moderate pace in order to acclimatize slowly, reaching the camp about 7am.
I expected Constellation Lake to be very near trailside from looking at maps and was surprised it wasn't, so we headed over to the tarn to resupply our water. As we were tucking our filters away, a teenager from LA (a group of whom we had passed earlier while they sat trailside a mile from the portal while two of their group ran down to the parking lot to grab the permits they'd left in their car) approached us asking if she could use our filter. Turns out they had one broken water filter between the six of them. We obliged to the one girl, then the rest of her group lined up - empty bladders in hand, sheepish looks on their faces.
It was almost 7:45 before we left the tarn. I put on my ipod and we headed up to the infamous switchbacks. I heard many horror stories of how gruesomely monotonous they were. Not so the case with me! With some of my favorite sing-a-long tunes in my ears, I literally sang and danced my way up the trail (Steppenwolf's Magic Carpet ride anyone?!), looking back periodically in awe (and to suck on a GU) - camera in hand as I climbed higher and higher.
I was excited to see the cables as I'd also heard the tales and knew they were at about switchback 44 from a chart I saw. Halfway! Our group was hiking pretty much at the same pace - with me in the lead. We'd periodically re-group and check in to see how we were all feeling. My friend Gina and I made a pact after the J. Likely tragedy that we were not going to lose sight of each other.
The rest of the switchbacks left me smiling as I caught my first glimpse of the elusive and rare Sky Pilot--made even more sweet as that is also my dogs name!
10am: When I crested the rise and dropped over to Trail Crest, I was euphoric! I burst out laughing in disbelief that I'd climbed up the front side. I'd survived the switchbacks and felt GREAT! If I had any kind of gymnastic ability, I would have done handstands. The only negative issue we felt at this point was an absolute lack of appetite. The trail bars and trail mix I'd so carefully crafted felt like a mouthful of sawdust. There was no way I was able to swallow any of it. Our partner Dan, whose day-pack weighed in at the portal at 23 pounds, reached in and pulled out a juicy nectarine to share with us. Wet and juicy and quite likely the best thing we had EVER tasted - earning him the trail name of Nectarine God.
After a 15 minute break, we thought it would be a piece of cake to the summit from here. Um. Wrong! The last couple of miles to the summit took over two hours!! Shortly past the Muir junction I was sucking air from my hydration tube and realized my water was gone! GONE!! Oh no. What happened to my water? Could I possibly have drank it all? Did I accidently not fill it up all the way? Did it leak out?? Shoot. My generous hiking partners shared their extra with me so I was able to have enough for the return trip.
I did not find the exposure on the backside to be scary, nor were the windows. Granted, at certain places along the trail as we stepped up and over large pieces of granite that edged the trail, we were careful to make sure we had secure footing--and I certainly didn't tempt fate by getting too close to the window openings when taking pictures.
The last 1/2 mile or so as we made the bend around to the summit were by far the slowest. I'd take 20 steps over rocks and boulders and literally have to pause to collect myself before continuing. It wasn't that I was gasping for air, it was weird though. There just was no air! Hikers coming down gave us encouragement saying we were just 10 minutes away from the summit.
12:20pm: Reaching the top was amazing! I was happily able to breathe again maybe because the uphill was over. There were about 25 people on top and in thinking back, there was not the long Zion train of people heading up the mountain like the naysayers said there'd be.
The weather was PERFECT. It hike up was not cold or hot, there was no wind, and barely a tiny cloud in the sky the whole day. We stayed on top over an hour; signing the log, taking pictures, smiling, laughing, handing out all our spare food to thru hikers and those who looked spent since we had eaten so little of it and no way in hell were we going to carry it all back down the trail again. Thank God for GU and electrolyte chews. Those were my saving grace.
Shortly before 2pm: With a fresh pair of socks on our feet, we headed back down the trail, hiking so fast we barely felt the mountain under our feet.
Just before the rise to Trail Crest, I saw my hiking partner sharing his water with a lady day hiker who, when she saw me zooming up the trail with a grin on my face, she bemoaned "How can you be so happy? I'm so depressed at how much this sucks". All I could do was shrug, offer her a GU and think to myself, what the hell is she doing heading up to the summit now? It was probably 3:15p. No way was she gonna make it off the mountain in the daylight.
We ran into Steve C as we dropped over to the switchbacks and chatted a couple minutes about cuben fiber packs - learning we were both on the forum - earning us immediate camaraderie. We posed for pictures (I am a ham!), he assured us we would be fine going back over the terrain where J Likely disappeared and we waved our good byes and zoomed off.
I LOVED the switchbacks going down. They were hypnotically comforting and I delighted in being able to listen to music for over an hour, uninterrupted!
We saw a couple hikers filling up at the springs/stream on the lower switchbacks so we thought better place than any - and filled ours up once more (me making sure mine was brimming).
We were booking down the mountain at a good clip as we wanted to get to the portal before dark and in my haste,I slipped and fell a couple times on sandy granite. No harm, no foul - and was glad I didn't snap a trekking pole as one time I was completely tangled it them. The hike out from Lone Pine Lake did seem to go on and on. The bottoms of my feet were saying "Ok. You can stop walking on my now" as we got back to the car at just before 8pm.
Happiness is not having to use a WAG bag on the mountain!
As a epilogue, when we did not check back in at the Mt Whitney Hotel & Hostel by 6pm - Davey, true to word, called my emergency number to let my husband know I had not yet checked in. My husband was kinda freaked because he thought the call was referring to my never having even checked into the hotel at all! And he's thinking where the hell is my wife?! Once it was clear that it was from the mountain I had not yet come down from, my husband was able to go to my shared SPOT page where the family was tracking my progress to let Davey know that I was indeed still on the trail but headed to the portal. I have to tell you this was FIRST CLASS treatment from our hoteliers! Davey said if need be, he'd go up and find us!!
Awesome. I will for ever be grateful for that.
Stats: 18 hours from the car back to the car. 10.5 hours to the summit. 6 hours coming back down. My average speed overall was 1.9 mph. Could I do it again? Sure! Would I do it again? I dunno. Everything about this entire trip was perfect. I wasn't tired, didn't get sick, not even a headache, the weather was perfect. Not sure I'd want to spoil a memory so perfect.
The mountain, she was in our favor for sure.