Friday, August 12, 2011

Mt. Relentless

Mt. Whitney – One Day Hike

This is a killer hike! - A must for the extreme day hiker. With some careful planning, some conditioning, and the right mental attitude this can be a successful day and an unforgettable experience. Mt. Whitney is a 22 miles round trip hike, has an elevation climb of over 6000 feet, and is one of the most famous extreme day hikes.

The Trail: It averages about 550 feet elevation gain per mile, an easy slope. There are a few shallow stream crossings with a couple of slippery logs and rocks. The trail surface is smooth in most places with some rocks up at the higher elevations. Even in the summer time small patches of snow/ice can often be found on a couple of the 97 switchbacks above Trail Camp.

How Long Does it Take? The ascent time for a day hike up Mt. Whitney is a fast pace of 5 hours, a moderate time of 7-8 hours, and a slow hike of 10 hours.  Going down is about 2-3 hours quicker than going up. Therefore, if you are a beginner and/or not in top physical shape it is easy to spend up to 18 hours on this "day hike." So if you want to return to Whitney Portal before dusk (about 8pm in the summertime), a very early start is recommended if you are in the two slower categories.

The first mile started at 2:48am and was 26:43. It was really nice out and we had some moon glow as we started up the switchbacks to the Whitney Zone. I was feeling really good because I did a good taper and I had a good group instead of going solo like I did the year before. All four were Whitney virgins (Well Denni did do a preview hike to Trail Camp a few weeks ago) and no big fans of the dark so I lead.

Despite staying out the really nice Whitney Hostel, we did not sleep much at all. So at best we got a couple hours before we got up at 1am and left the hostel at 2am to take the 13 mile drive to the Whitney Portal.
Stephen & I
Right from the start, we had the company of other day hikers and one solo hiker who later on became a great asset. By the time, we made it to the North Fork Lone Pine Creek (8810 feet / 0.8 miles), it was time for many to remove their jackets and adjust their packs. The other group was at this crossing as well. The water level was not bad and the rocks kept you dry.
I did mile 2 in 28:38 and mile 3 in 35:13. Mile 3 is where you enter the Whitney Zone and  go from Lone Pine Lake (9960/2.7) to Bighorn Park (10340/3.5) . There was also flood damage in this area as well. There were a lot more rocks on the trail and more sand too.
Overlooking Bighorn

When we got to Bighorn Park (10340/3.50 the sun was starting to come up and we enjoyed the flat stretch. The creeks were running high near the Outpost Camp (10360/4.3) so it was good to have a little more natural light. Sadly this easy part was short lived because we had to hike up to Mirror Lake (10640/4.3). Those 16 switchbacks are never fun and there was quite a bit of flood damage at the bottom and finding the trail tool a bit of time.

My 4 mile split was 35:23 and the 5 mile was 38:05. The Whitebark Stump is at the 4.8 mile mark and the 16 switchbacks are tough especially since some of the trail was covered by some snow. I felt really good on the section and pulled away from my fellow hikers and did not realize they were that far behind me. Fortunately Tom helped them through this section and we all regrouped at trail camp.
Tom rescuing the Lost Girls.
I always feel the 2 miles from Mirror Lake (10640/4.30 to Trail Camp (12039/6.3) is one of the hardest parts of the hike especially when you are coming down. My 5 mile split was 38:05 and the 6 mile was 47:34. I did  not stay very long at Trail Camp because I was feeling good and wanted to catch up to my trail Angel Lester.
Denni, the Beaver and Norma at Trail Camp.

Lester at Trails Crest.
Trail Camp (12039/6.3) to Trail Crest (13777/8.5) is 2.2 miles of switchback fun (96 to 99 demanding on who is counting) and miles 7 took me 53:29 and mile 8 took 53:27. I still felt pretty good and the altitude did not bother like it had in the past. It make things harder but I did not have any altitude sickness symptoms at all through out the day. I got to Trail Crest with Lester at 9:30am which was the same time I got there in 2010. But in 2010 it took 4 hours longer to get there!

As I sat at Trail Crest with Lester, he told me about his bear incident. At 2:30am, he put his pack on his car and walked over to the bear locker and Yogi ran up and took his pack!
Lester chased after the  miscreant and the bear gave up the pack but took Lester's Slim Jims and Power Bars. He left the GUs (Smart bear because those things are nasty.) so poor Lester started with little food. So I gave him some of mine. Then sadly it was time to go downhill (Boo!).

You have to drop down 300 feet to the John Muir Trail (13480/9) junction and mile 9 took me 62:43, mile 10 was 64:29 and mile 11 was 59:40. These miles are brutal and I hate Rocks!. I can not believe that from the John Muir Trail (13480/9) to the Summit (14496/11) you have to climb a thousand feet in 2 miles! Plus it is not just one big climb like the switchbacks. You go up you down and you go up. It is unreal.

Then to make things even uglier, the trail midway up Whitney is covered in snow.
Becky was another Trail Angel out there.
But before you got the privilege of slipping in the snow, you had to cross over the rocks. I was on all fours.
I Hate Rocks!
I hate to be on the ground and avoid it at all costs but here I am at 14,000 plus feet trying get across this rock field. 240 pound men do not like to crawl because it is like bench pressing 240 pounds, squatting 240 pounds and doing who knows what with all that weight. This killed me and when I exited the snow I was wiped out.I had trained hard to walk forever up and down but doing a killer weight workout was not expected.

Plus the thought of going back through that was not appealing. But now I was almost to the top. Lester tried to pace me but I was on auto-pilot and barely moving. Then my Super Trail Angels appeared.
Norma & Denni to the rescue!
I was dead in the water but they waited for me and helped me get to the top where I basically leaned on the side of the hut and did nothing for about 5 minutes trying to recover. Then I got in line to sign the book.
My poles and pack are on bottom left where I leaned on the wall for a long time.
We were 25, 26 & 30 for the day.
After eating some food and getting some food for Lester, we headed back down the mountain. I have often read about the let down after you summit and this is very true. The goal has been attained and now you face 11 miles of punishing hiking to the trailhead. I felt okay but was not looking forward to all the downhill because of my size.

From the summit to the John Muir trail, mile 12 took 61:17 and mile 13 took 54:00. Going through the snow and crossing the rocks again was very taxing and I was moving slowly. Lester took off and i did these two miles by myself and had a few pass me on the way. I also saw quite a few very late summit attempts by people who had no business being that high up there that late in the day. I got to the top before noon and it was now 2pm.

When I got to the John Muir Trail (13480/13) I was dreading the last climb to Trail Crest (13777/13.5) , that 300 foot climb is murder and this is where Denni and Norma passed me and disappeared on the other side.
Norma leading Denni.

This is also where I made a bone head mistake. As I started up the last hill, I realized I left one of my poles. I usually hike with one so off I went. Even though I only went a hundred feet at most, I seriously felt like leaving it but I went and got it and head to Trail Crest. At TC, I got phone reception and tried to text that we made it to the top. It did not go through but the break was nice and I picked up another trail angel.
Trail Crest Hell

This angel, I saw earlier in the day at Trail Crest, when she was sending one of her friends back down the mountain and helping another up the mountain. Becky from Bishop was super fit and very helpful. Before I hooked up with her I was plodding down the switchbacks at 40 plus minutes per mile and she helped me get below 40 minutes a mile.

Top of Switchbacks with my marmot friend.

Mile 14 took me 55:59 but 15 took 39:53 and 16 took 37:20. The switchbacks are a long drag but we had a great conversation going down them so it went by quicker then if I had been solo. When I got to Trail Camp (12039), I was glad to see Denni and Norma again. I was low on water and morale and they had both for me.

The cables on the switchbacks.

So I used Norma's Steripen and got some water and then it was time to do the Trail Camp (12039/16) to Mirror Lake (10640/18) section. This section is hard because the trail is all uneven rocks for the most part and your legs take a beating descending 1500 feet in a mile or two. Mile 17 took 41:24 and mile 18 took 38:07 and billy goat Denni lead the way.

Overlooking Mirror Lake and Bighorn.
Once you get to Mirror Lake the technical part of the hike is done. It is still slow going but at least the trail is a trail instead of a rock fest. There are a couple creeks to cross near Outpost Camp and Big Horn Park but they do not involve getting wet. Mile 19 took 32:56 and the end was near for us.

Once you get to Lone Pine Lake, you are no longer in the Whitney zone and the switchbacks are long and seem to never end.

My mile splits:

19. 3256
20. 2815
21. 2514
22. 2500
23. 1737

But at last you get to the trailhead and lucky for us it was still daylight. When I finished I was tired but also relieved because I had finally got the Whitney monkey of my back. it too me three tries and i finally did it. Then it was time for a Whitney Portal burger and fry!