Preparing for a Mount Whitney day trip
Since I live near the Canadian Rockies, I spend most weekends
scrambling up peaks here. Although few Canadian Rockies peaks exceed 11,000 feet, I
keep in good physical shape by doing these lower (but often more technical) summits.
However, I still find higher altitudes like Mount Whitney, Borah Peak, and Long's Peak take
me a day or two of adjustment or else I get headaches. The following preparation routine
worked for me when I did an ascent of Mount Whitney in one day.
- Train. If you don't have local
mountains or hills to climb for practice, you could go cycling, jogging and running up
stairs. Better yet would be walking up stairs with a heavy pack. Cycling and jogging are
great for aerobic capacity, but they don't build muscle needed for walking uphill the way
carrying a pack uphill does. Go for endurance too; Do an aerobic activity for a really
long time once a week if you can, like ride a bike for 4 -6 hours or more; or hike with a
pack for that long or longer. Rollerblade for 30-40 miles or so. The harder you push and
train beforehand, the better your chances of success.
- Shape up. Prior to visiting
Whitney, I also visited Yosemite and did a few day hikes including Halfdome. I slept in my
vehicle at any available high mountain pass whenever I could to aid acclimatization. Tioga
Pass entrance at the east side of Yosemite was one such place, and you can easily hike up
nearby Mount Dana too. I also camped at Minaret Viewpoint near Mammoth Lakes enroute to
Lone Pine for acclimatization.
- Acclimatize. Just north of
Lone Pine, California is the ancient 4000 year old Bristlecone Pine forest (well worth
visiting). Here you can drive to about 11,800 feet and hike around. White Mountain Peak
(14,250 ft) and Bancroft Research Station are near here too. I slept in my van at this
elevation, then hiked to White Mountain the next day for acclimatization. The guidebook, California's
Fourteeners, by Porcella and Burns explains this easy hike. This hike/sleep will help
you acclimatize a lot.
- Rest and do nothing the day
before your ascent. In Lone Pine there isn't much to do except look at pictures of movie
stars who have filmed westerns in the nearby Alabama Hills. Alabama Hills are really neat
weathered rockpiles between Lone Pine and Whitney Portal. Take a cruise through them and
imagine John Wayne sneaking out from behind one, pilgrim. Cool! For supper, eat a big
high-carbohydrate supper like noodles, spaghetti or rice.
- Eat before starting, but don't
eat a huge breakfast. A banana and/or a bagel or bread works well for me. Easy to digest;
quick energy. Then nibble through the day.
- Start early with a headlamp;
the earlier the better. Four a.m.is not too early. The trail is wide and easy to follow,
but you could maybe drive up the day before to verify exactly where it starts so you can
find it in the dark. It is on the right side of the road going straight to the Portal
store, and not far from it either.
- Drink lots of water even before
you leave the car. Try for a quart (litre) or more; This will go a long way towards
avoiding a headache and dehydration. So what if you pee a few extra times!
- Carry water. I carried two
bottles and drank 3.5 liters (3.5 US quarts) just on the way up, using iodine to purify
the available water as I needed it. I added a small amount of ORAL REHYDRATION SALTS to
the water, which fights dehydration. These packets are usually available at sport stores
and/or pharmacies, or add Gatorade crystals. Either way, drink a lot of liquid (but not
alcohol), even if you're not thirsty. Your body will need it.
- Carry snacks to nibble on at
short breaks rather than stop for a big lunch. I used to be a skeptic, but after having
nothing but two Power Bars (plus my banana and bagel breakfast) on this trip, I'm a
believer now. The "Harvest" variety bars are easier to chew in cooler
weather. If you keep'em handy you can nibble often. ( Sounds like a commercial!)
- Go Light. Don't carry too much
weighty stuff; Try to go light, but still be prepared. It's liable to be cold on top, and
it could rain (or snow!) too.
- Go steadily. There is no need
or advantage to "race" on an ascent like this even though it is a long way.
Start really early and go slow and steady. You'll win in the end, and you shouldn't have
any headache to contend with if you've done a few of the acclimatization tricks suggested.
- Don't psyche yourself out
worrying the night before. Hey, it's just a mountain. Even if you don't sleep much, once
you get moving, your body will still perform okay the next day. I have discovered that
several times. Adrenaline and excitement will work their charms and you'll do just fine.
When you get back down, THEN you'll feel tired!
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© All photos copyright by the author 1999.