Mount Whitney – We Summited!

On Sunday 7/29 our Aspen vacation ended and we traveled from Aspen via Denver and LAX (where we met up with Adam) then drove to Lone Pine.  A big driving day but uneventful.  We arrived in Lone Pine about 7PM and had a surprisingly excellent dinner at Seasons in Lone Pine.  Lone Pine is a dusty, desolate feeling “one traffic light” town so gourmet Elk in dried cherry sauce with a nice glass of Zinfandel was a pleasant surprise.  The Comfort Inn was, well, reasonably comfortable.

Since Lone Pine is at only about 3500 feet and Adam had not had the benefit of several days in Aspen I thought it would be good for he and I to do a warm-up hike at altitude.  We drove to Whitney Portal, the trail head for the Whitney Trail (8360’).  I also wanted to get a feel for the drive as well as the beginning part of the trail that we would be doing in the dark.  I was glad we would not be doing the lower part of the hike at mid-day as it was quite hot but the trail was well marked.July 31st , the day of our ascent finally arrived. Due to concerns about lightening (20% chance after noon) and not wanting to feel under time pressure we decided to start at 2:00 am rather than our original plan of 4:00.  We were underway close to plan at 2:15. Hiking in the dark with a headlamp was surprisingly easy.  At 90 lumens the headlamp completely lit up the trail.  And the dark meant the trail was pleasantly cool.  We came across several pairs of deers eyes glowingly looking at us.   We took our first break at Lone Pine Lake at the 2.5 mile mark.  After a short snack we resumed.  The sun started coming up between Mirror Lake and Trail Camp. Sunrise was really beautiful and serene.  To this point we had encountered very few people.We took our first major break at Trail Camp – 6 miles up.  We ate breakfast which for me was a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.  Hit the spot.  After resting about ½ hour we started purifying water for the 10 miles roundtrip to the summit.  It was a mistake to start this after our rest.  I bought a Steripen at REI which purifies a liter of water in 90 seconds.  We each started the hike carryng 5 liters of water and to refill needed to process about 10 liters.  Including getting the water from the lake and purifying that many times we spent about another 30 minutes.  Next time we would deal with water during the rest/snack.  Nevertheless we were more than halfway up both in terms of mileage and elevation and feeling pretty good.After Trail Camp comes the infamous “97 switchbacks”.  While climbing the switchbacks you have a real appreciation of the tremendous work that it took to build and maintain the trail.  The switchbacks, while they feel long, turn a steep technical face into a hard but manageable hike.  2.2 miles and 1700 feet later we reached Trail Crest.  Adam and I were feeling a bit out of breath and lightheaded so we took a rest and appreciated the 360 degree views.    Once I caught my breath (took a bit of time as we were at 13,777’) I realized that yes, I would make it to the top.  I could see it and while the last couple of miles were rocky I knew then it was doable.

The last 2.5 miles were slow.  While there is only a “net” 700’ gain left it is actually 1300’ as you gain and lose 300 along the trail.  The trail was rockier than below but always wide enough that the steep drop offs on the sides didn’t bother me too much. We reached the summit at 11:45am.  It was a real head rush – this time emotional when I looked down to the valley and saw what we accomplished.  We took a few pictures and signed the log book outside the shelter.  All together we spent about 45 minutes on top including a lunch break (second PB&J sandwich) an apple, some Anacin for a mild headache and lots of water.As we started down I realized that I had made a tactical error – either the altitude or the apple or the aspirin had made me nauseous.  This persisted until Trail Crest making the first 2 miles of the return the hardest part of the trip for me.   I chewed a couple of Pepto Bismol and finally felt ok by the time we started down the 97 Switchbacks.  I didn’t use them on the ascent but decided to use my hiking poles on the way down and found them quite helpful.  We were all totally out of water by Trail Camp.  This time we set to work purifying water right away.The final 6 miles from Trail Camp to the Portal was uneventful – just long.  By this point in time we were simply in tired achy feet mode.  Fortunately none of us were suffering from anything more acute – no injuries nor, amazingly, even blisters – just tiredness.  We made it to the trail head at 7:45pm – before sunset.  Total time –  17.5 hours.  I still can’t believe how long it took us but I suppose we really didn’t have a time goal, particularly on the descent once we were off the summit.

After we drove back to Lone Pine we stopped in a diner for a quick supper.   We were almost too tired to eat (but we managed) and the guys had milkshakes.  I treated myself to a very large diet coke – quite refreshing.

While the hike was hard I never came close to feeling like I couldn’t do it.  The months of training certainly paid off.  No part of the Whitney Trail was nearly as difficult as the tough parts of Mt. Tallac.  Between Tallac and easily completing the 16 miles of Static Peak at 13k feet I felt prepared.   During the drive home the three of us chatted about if we would want to do it again.  I could see going back to Whitney but might opt to do it over 2 days and camp at Trail Camp.  I think it would be more enjoyable if divided up.   I took about 85 pictures – far fewer than I planned.  For a good part of the hike down I think we just wanted to be done rather than appreciating the scenery – next time I’d like to be in a more observational mode.  I suppose the fact that we were even entertaining another visit after such a long day goes to show what a great experience it was.  Certainly a memorable one.

Training Hike – Black Mountain Trail

As part of our training for Mt. Whitney I’ve been working out regularly during the week – typically 5 miles before work – but we really need to get in some longer hikes to prepare.

Looking at the various Bay Area Hiker websites we found a great hike close to home called Black Mountain Trail.  It is 9.7 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 2420 feet.  By way of comparison – Whitney is 22 miles and about 6000 feet gain (and at altitude).  This hike has gorgeous views of Los Altos Hills in the beginning then the entire south bay area for the end of the hike.  The last mile, in particular, when out of the Oak tree area and in the chaparal has wide open incredible views – today you could see from downtown San Jose up to San Francisco. Near the peak is a set of tv/radio/cell towers.   At the peak you can also see west to the Pacific but today it was obscured by clouds.

We’re also trying out and getting used to our gear – day pack with 3+ liters of water in a Camelback and hiking boots.  My pack was very comfortable – my boots not so much.  No blisters, just achy feet – kind of like after skiing.  Unfortunately I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to better my situation.  I tried a bunch of boots from REI and Zappos (many don’t come in my size since my foot is a 5.5 but none were better.  I plan to also bring my running shoes and wear those for part of the hike.  I tried hiking with poles a couple of weeks ago – I found them sort of a nuisance – but based on many recommendations to use them I will give them another try.

In terms of muscle fatigue and aerobic capacity – I felt pretty good at the end of the hike – could have gone longer except for my feet.  Next weekend we’re going to go up to Kirkwood to do a 15 mile hike – that one will be at altitude.  Not as high as Whitney Portal but close – that should give us a much better sense of how ready we are.

Back to my weekday routine tomorrow – I will try to add in some evening bike rides – with the late sunset I might actually get out of work on time to do that.

Training for Mt. Whitney

I’ve blogged in the past about my morning workout – hiking with friends outdoors.  And now that we’re in the nice summer weather it’s been great to spend more time outdoors.

I wanted to have a goal in my exercise program and inspired by a lecture given by Alison Levine  my husband Steve and I decided to set our goal as summitting Mt. Whitney.  A little bit about Mt Whitney is here.  It is of course the highest peak in the contiguous US at  14,500 feet.  Interestingly, during the summer months, when the snow is melted, it is considered not to be a “technical climb”.  Trail head to summit is 11 miles each way with an elevation gain of about 6000 feet.

As much as I like hiking, my Great Neck (Jewish American Princess HQ) origin didn’t lead me to be big on camping.  Hike hard outside during the day then sleep/shower indoors is my preference.  It turns out that Mt. Whitney can be done as an extreme day hike lasting about 18 hours.  It is easier to get permits doing the day hike and the whole process is simpler in terms of gear and supplies.  So that’s our plan.  Getting permits is actually a democratic lottery system.  We applied and got our second choice date – July 31 – very lucky.  We particularly wanted this date as it directly follows our family vacation where we will be in Colorado for a week.

Now that the wedding has passed we are training more seriously – trying to step up our regular workout schedule.  Adam will be joining us for the hike – he of course has the advantage of youth and is in the midst of summer football workouts.  All three of us need to increase the duration of our workouts and find some opportunities to workout at altitude.  My normal weekday morning hike is 3-5 miles and weekend is 6-7.  I’m trying to increase the weekday amount (more challenging with work schedules) and do at least one 10-12 mile hike each weekend.  One of our favorite weekend hikes is Windy Hill.  That trail is 6 miles and 2000 feet gain – usually takes us a little less than 2 hours.  Steve figured out that if we can do that 3 times in a row – it is a similar length and elevation to Whitney – though of course much easier by being at sea level.

Weight lifting twice a week is part of the routine.  My trainer Matt MacNamara at SterlingWins has me doing a fairly traditional set of strength exercises.  I’m trying to push this harder but mostly be more consistent. I’m not a huge road biking fan but to break up the hiking I’m trying to do one ride per week – we have a great 20 mile loop through Menlo Park/Portola Valley/Woodside that I enjoy.

I’ve always liked hiking in the hills near my home and in the mountains when I travel.  In future blog posts I’ll talk more about the specifics.  I’m really excited about this challenge.