Mad Dogg’s COO climbs Mt. Whitney in a day
August 31, 2013, Lone Pine, California. Mt. Whitney towers over the Owen’s Valley in California, reaching a height of 14,494 ft. above sea level, and is the highest point in the lower 48 states and the premier peak in the infamous Sierra Nevada mountain range. It keeps close company with other “fourteeners”, Mt. Russell to the north at 14,088, and directly to the south is Mt. Muir at 14,018, and a little further to the south sits Mt. Langley at 14,026.
Mt. Whitney was named after the State Geologist of California, Josiah Whitney in 1864 who had commissioned the Geological Survey of the mountain and surrounding areas. Residents of the local town of Lone Pine financed the building of the now famous Mt. Whitney Trail, completing it in July of 1904. Just four days after the completion of the trail, Bryd Surby was struck and killed by lightening on the exposed summit; a sobering reminder even for today’s hiker’s that mountain conditions can change rapidly.
We had five hikers in our group attempting to summit via the Mt. Whitney trail, two of us are veterans on the mountain including myself, as this was my 27th climb/hike up the mountain. My first was at the tender age of 16, hiking with a high school backpacking class we took the southwest route over a 5 day period and climbed Whitney from the western side on our last day. Now at age 54, making the round trip in one day avoids the heavy packs, and seems a little less body bruising. Each hiking party is required to obtain a day use permit from the National Park Service in order to enter the Mt. Whitney zone. These are issued in a lottery system in the spring of each year, and then on a first come first serve basis thereafter.
Getting to Mt. Whitney is straight forward being a 3 ½ hour drive from Los Angeles. We spent the prior day acclimating at Horseshoe Meadow (10,000 ft.) to the south of Mt. Whitney, beginning the body’s natural adjustment process to the higher elevation. After pack/gear checks on the evening of August 30th, the hike team got a few hours of restless sleep before driving up to the trail head, and starting the hike at 3:00am on the 31st. Leaving early allows for an early summit, and avoiding the typical summer monsoon storms that form in the afternoon. This year it was cloudy and stormy the entire trip.
We split the 11.5 mile hike up into 4 segments, two of which we covered in just over 3 hours arriving at a flat patch of ground called Trail Camp at 12,000 ft. and 6 miles up the trail around 6:00am. This was our second stop as we filtered water and consumed a quick breakfast consisting of coffee, tea, oatmeal, and breakfast bars. We were back on the trail an hour later and tackled the infamous 100 switchbacks arriving at Trail Crest (13,400 ft.) in time to see the western Sierra disappear into a thick cloud cover.
The final push to the summit is 3 miles and can be the most challenging as you are scrambling over loose rock and gravel with some pretty interesting exposed drops on either side. The team summited around 9:30am, and as the video shows, not much of a view (bummer). After celebrating on top for 30 minutes, we made a hasty descent as the weather made a turn for the worse in a matter of minutes and we found ourselves in rain and hail most of the way back to Trail Camp, including some ominous lightening claps just to the north, but close enough to encourage a 2 mile run down the super-exposed switchbacks.
Training for a 22 mile hike generally is best done by preparing the body with 3 months of hiking, running, and cycling if possible. My training was exclusively on my road bike and Spinning classes here at Mad Dogg. The ascent was fine as I had plenty of cardio conditioning and cycling leg strength. Heart rates are in the 160 – 175 bpm range while ascending the upper part of the mountain, and in the 135 – 145 range on the descent. However, it is the eccentric contractions that kill the legs on the downhill – and resulted in me having a bad case of the “Whitney waddle” for about 4 days following the climb.
If you want a real physical and mental challenge, Mt. Whitney provides just that. If you are interested in learning more about hiking Mt. Whitney, Sharon Baker-Salony wrote a great book called, “How to Climb Mount Whitney in One Day.” It is still available on Amazon. Until next year….Rick Wallace