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Last updated on 03-03-2010
Copyright, 2010. Jeffrey Johnson, All rights reserved

High Points in the United States
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California - Mount Whitney (14,505)

Mt Whitney Trail Journal 2006

At first, I really did not want to do Mt Whitney again. My first attempt hiking Mt Whitney in 1994 was a successful one. At first, I really did not want to do Mt Whitney again. The last 2 times, although adventuresome and with great company, were incomplete accomplishments. This is due to many factors including fatigue during a moonlight ascent, dehydration and altitude sickness. However, the idea of doing Whitney again grew on me and several friends wanted to give it a go for their first time. We applied for the permit and got our second choice of dates. September 9, 2006 was the big day.

We got our permits in February. Our group of 4 included me, Alan and Mindy and my wife Jennifer. Then we found out Jennifer was pregnant. That changed things. We sought another partner and a coworker of Alan's agreed to join us. In the end it was a very compatible hiking team. It turns out Neal hiked Whitney this past June 2006.

My training for this hike began early on. The training included our annual PCT section hike of 30+ miles, a vacation in Yosemite with a backpacking trip, various day hikes around San Diego County and bike riding. We also did San Gorgonio in early August as a final training event.

I have tried to incorporate interval training to bring my heart rate lower and minimize accessive breathing. These are new concepts I learned in my recent research. In the weeks leading up to the big day, I forsook most of the street walking and began hiking Cowles Mtn and Iron Mtn after work. I found that certain sections on these mountains were at an ascent per minute greater than what I would be doing on Whitney. 

One of my best aids for training has been the discovery of the Whitney Portal Store message board. Some excellent posts and discussions. Not the usual light fair but really focused, informed and helpful. 

I did encounter some set backs in my preparation. On 2 occasions, I worked my knee too hard carrying a heavy pack and ended up with several bouts of knee pain and the inability to hike downhill without pain. I eased off the hiking, began icing my knee, and pursued a gradual regime that brought my knee back into strength.

On various pre-Whitney days hikes, I experimented with different powdered drink mixes and energy bars.

As I entered my last few days before the hike, I was excited. I have done all I can to increase the margin of success up to this point. The only point for concern, is how well I will rest the night before and 2 nights before as we drive up late.

I have spent a lot of time training for this hike. I have become in better physical shape and my mental outlook has improved. I have had more energy for each day. The down side is that I have missed several dinners with my family and I have been very focused in weeks leading up to the hike. For the time I have spent, I have a bit of regret about the reduced quality time with my family. I really cannot justify this trip other than I so enjoy hiking the sierras. It is my passion. I love the adventure and I am establishing plans for doing much of this with my sons in future years. I am grateful for the wife I have and for her loving support.  Her day is coming soon with the birth of our new son. She will be the object of my next round of focused attention and she deserves it.

As we began our goal we drove up the 395 and acclimated Thursday at Horsehoe Meadows. We had a reservation for Onion Valley trailhead campground but after so many positive Horsehoe Meadows postings on the message board, we opted to try H.M. instead. A better choice for sure. On Friday we picked our permits and slept at the Portal campground and got up Saturday at 3:30am. This was great as the portal campground creek drowned out a lot of noise and we slept well.

Began MMWT hike at 4:05am. We started with headlamps in the dark. Nothing like crossing a stream on a slippery log in the dark. We saw many hikers all day long. Some groups we leap-frogged with. The sunrise was spectacular and melted the frost.  We kept a slow steady pace. Our training was paying off with very little heavy respiratory exertion. Weather was cool but clear. Frost at 10,000 feet and 4 inch icicles at the switchback cables. By afternoon on our way back down it was all melted.

We summited at 11:30am. We made better time than expected and were pleased. After 70 minutes on top, we hiked down. The hike down became pretty hard on our weary knees. Lows were low 30s and the summit temp was low 50s. Passed 3 Rangers. Since we had the visible permits no other questions were asked.

We reached the portal at 5:40pm. Once we got back to the trailhead, we then enjoyed a hamburger at the portal store and it hit the spot.

Clearly, after two previous incomplete attempts years ago, I studied all I could to increase the margins of success.  It was a great day and a great hike.

What I did right: A slow steady pace was key. We walked brisk but never too fast to get winded. Although I am not a big fan of medications, I took 2 tums and 2 exedrin as preventative measures during the hike. This increased my functionality and trip pleasure during the 13k+ sections. We filtered water and saved a lot of weight. My pack weighed 12 lbs total including clothes, filter, 2.5 L of water and food. A lot of training hikes before hand is key. Our team of 4 was compatible in many hiking capability areas and we kept together as a group and that increased the pleasure of the hike.

What would I do different: I took too much food. I only ended eating a powerbar, a few bagels and candy for the sugar. I would start a bit earlier to be on the switchbacks to see the sunrise. I used too much of the powder drinks with Vit C in them. It made me pee way too often. Next time, I would vary the powder drinks a bit.

Trail Stats

Whitney Portal Trailhead: 4:05am at 8,300
Mountainers Trail junction: 4:28 at 8,953
John Muir Wilderness Turnoff: 4:30 8,980
Lone Pine Lake: 5:20 10,154
Mirror Lake: 6:07  10,784
Trailside Meadow 6:45 11388 left 7:06 11,417
    Excedrin, pump water, Rolaid
Trail Camp 7:51 12,031
Switchback Cables 8:32 12,661
Trailcrest 9:25 13,547
Crabtree junction 9:45 13,412
Summit 11:34am 14,364

Left Summit at 12:38 14,406 (re-calibrated altimeter to match summit)
Trailcrest 1:40 13,661
Cables 2:18 12,785
Trailcamp 2:47 12,113
Trailside Meadow 3:15 11,519
Mirror Lake 4:03 10,886
Outpost Camp 4:16 10,568
Lone Pine Lake 4:41 10,226
Trailhead 5:42 8,661

Adventure ~ Distance ~ Goals ~ Altitude

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