Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Mt. Whitney Hike: Part II {The Hike}

If you are just finding this post and didn’t read Part I of our adventure, feel free to check it out HERE. It shares all about how the hubby and I did our best to acclimate to the higher elevations we'd be encountering on our hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney, which is the tallest peak in the continental US, topping out at approximately 14,505 feet above sea level.

We hiked to Lone Pine Lake, which sits at 10,050 feet above sea level the day before to help acclimate and get a lay of the land.

And, if you read the previous post, you know I pressed pause when we were hitting the hay (or the camp pads) early Saturday evening in preparation for our Sunday morning hike. Our plan was to wake up around 2:30am so we could be on the trail by 3. (It takes us about 15 minutes to roll up sleeping bags, deflate our sleeping mats, take down the tent, pack everything in the car, etc, so that'd give us another 15 minutes to change, eat breakfast and use the potty before hitting the trail.) It seems as though most people tend to hit the trail between midnight and 2am if they're doing a single day hike, but the hubby and I were hoping to be faster than the average bear and didn’t think we'd need to leave ‘that’ early. (We did notice headlamps start shining around midnight in the campground, though, so we can attest that folks do head out early.)

Let's get this party started!

Dark pictures rarely come out crisp, but I'll share them anyway because it's a memory! 

Stoked to tackle this mountain!

We didn’t have a goal for the hike, we just wanted to enjoy it (and conquer something that most people wouldn’t even dream of doing). I knew slow and steady would win the race get us to the summit and back down so planned to take our time, stop when we needed to, make sure to fuel every two-ish hours, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, etc.

Our first fuel stop about 2 hours into the hike. PROBAR BOLT Chews are my JAM!

Of course we don’t have a ton of pictures for the first few hours of the hike because it was pitch black out. Well, that’s not entirely true. The sky was clear so the stars were out in full force. It is crazy how bright and brilliant they are when there is no ambient light around to drowned them out. It was hard not to look up and get lost in the sky every so often.


I have some friends who recently hiked Mt. Whitney so I had been picking their brains as to what to wear for the trek. The weather looked like it was going to be pretty perfect {when we were getting our permit we heard one of the rangers saying this was probably the last weekend before the freezing temperatures rolled in for the rest of the year}, so the hubby and I both decided on shorts (with our long PRO Compression socks), along with a couple layers on top (normally if I get cold it isn’t my knees/ quads that are chilly, so I figured my legs would be okay with less layers, especially since I knew it would get warm in the afternoon sun and I would be thankful I wasn’t wearing pants later in the day).

We kept an eye on the weather from multiple sites. Mountain Forecast and National Weather Service were both helpful!

Obviously weather at high altitudes can change drastically at a moments notice, so we were sure to pack Mylar blankets and other "just in case" items but thankfully we didn’t need any of our emergency equipment on the hike.

I’d say probably an hour or two into the hike I actually started getting a little too warm (on top I had a muscle tank, a long sleeve running shirt and my Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket) so unzipped my coat (but still kept it on because I figured it'd be a hassle to take it off with my hydration vest on and figured I’d get cold again soon enough anyway). I'd say I didn’t start getting chilly until we got closer to Trail Camp, but thankfully around that time the sun was coming up so that helped a bit.

There were some wildfires in the valley and you could see the smoke once the sun started to rise.

I thought this water looked like it was the shape of a heart.

Looking back at Trail Camp with the sun rising in the background (you can see the hazy smoke on the horizon)

Can you tell we are excited the sun is making its presence known?!

If you know much about Mt. Whitney, you’ve probably heard of the “99 Switchbacks”. There is a section of the trail, after you hit Trail Camp (where most people who have two-day permits will camp the first night), that is literally 99 switchbacks back and forth across the face of the mountain. The switchbacks help so you aren’t climbing quite as vertical, but man can they be monotonous. Anywho, because we left before the sun came out and because there is free flowing water on the mountain (due to snow melt, lakes, waterfalls, etc) some of the switchbacks were covered in ice. There was actually one section where we had to “skip” a switchback or two and climb off trail because it was safer to go around the slick ice than to slide off the mountain. (I know this might sound a little dramatic, but it was sketchy. I actually had doubts that we were going to make it... but thankfully the ice didn’t last for too long. There were even folks at this point in the hike who decided to abort the mission and turn around because they did not feel comfortable pushing on.) (Note: I do my best to stay on designated trails 99.99% of the time {you never want to impact the environment by crushing the brush, effecting nature, etc}, but this was one instance where I felt like it was better to be off the trail than it was to be on it. Not to mention, we were above the tree-line at this point so there was no nature we were hurting... just a different rock path we were taking.)

The hubby dislikes this photo because his glasses and headlamp are under his beanie, but
I think he looks like an explorer and love the way the sun is shining behind him. 

The higher we got, the colder it got (uh... duh). I was thankful to have my gloves, but probably could have done with an even thicker pair. Once we got past the 99 switchbacks and you have to go on the “backside” of the mountain it got extra windy and chilly (I would say I wasn’t nervous about getting blown off, but the wind definitely had a cut-you-to-your-core chill to it). I brought hand warmers with me and they were definitely put to good use on this section of the hike. (The hubby didn’t have any hand warmers, but did have extra buffs around his wrists he used sort of like mittens to cover his hands.)

Buffs are a must have when you're hiking!

Oh yeah, in case you were wondering about fueling/ food, let me mention it before I forget. The hubby and I tried to eat every 2-ish hours. The first fueling stop we had a serving of PROBAR BOLT Chews (I love the Pink Lemonade flavor and the hubby prefers the Berry Blast, especially since it has caffeine in it). Around four hours in we each had an Uncrustable (the Peanut Butter and Honey on Wheat is my go-to during relay races and ultras!). Six hours in we had the second serving of our chews (each package has two servings, so we just finished our own pack). Eight hours in (we were on our way down at this point) we had some trail mix. Then around the ten hour mark (I know, I know, seems like such a long day, right?!) we munched on dried pineapple. I find it helpful to switch up the types of foods and flavors I am eating throughout long hikes/ runs. Sometimes I do your traditional “fuel”, other times I do “real food”. Sometimes my body craves salty, other times my body needs sweet. I try to listen to what my body is saying, and I always tend to bring way more food than I need because I never know what I will feel like in the moment.

Get in my belly!

After we came aground the backside of the mountain we ran into some friends (how awesome is it to see a friendly face at 14,000 feet above sea level?!)! It was great getting to chat for a few minutes, although we didn’t want to linger long because it was chilly and we wanted to get to the summit (they had started at midnight and were already on their way down at this point). They did give us a heads up on the “snow crossing” we would be coming to… WHAT THE WHAT?! I mean, I remember my friends who did the hike a month or so before mention a sketchy snow pass towards the top, but I was hoping that it had melted in the meantime... Apparently it had not... The hubby got a picture on the way down, after I had already gone across it (TWICE - once on the way up and once on the way down), and it is hard to tell from the photo, but it was fairly sketchy. Because the sun was up at this point, it seemed like the top layer was now ice, which made it slippery and I was freaking the frick out. There were some little grooves that you could make your way across, and thankfully I had trekking poles to plunge into the snow to try and stabilize myself, but man I was pretty nervous.

Like I said, the snow may not look that crazy in the background, but I was freaked out!

Thankfully once we made it past the treacherous snow (okay, again, it might sound dramatic, and maybe it wasn’t a big deal to some folks, but I just kept pictured myself sliding off the side of the mountain and honestly thought maybe I came that far to only come that far) it was smooth sailing to the summit. Well, maybe that's a little wishful thinking. The winds were howling and you sort of had to hunker down a bit when the gusts would blow, but eventually we made it to the hut!


We jumped into the hut for a few minutes to warm ourselves before making our way to the tippy top to snap a few photos.

Trying not to get blown off the edge ;) 

The smoke from the wildfires made the views less than perfect, but I don't care!

(FYI: There is no official sign at the top of the peak {I believe it has been stolen and not replaced}, so I made my own on a piece of cardboard {thank you, Amazon Prime box} and packed it in my hydration vest to bring with us on the climb.)

After we got our pictures it was time to hit the trail again. Don’t get me wrong, I would've loved to stay up on the summit to soak in the moment longer, but the cold (it was probably 25* and 50mph wind gusts) played a role in our quick departure.


Originally the hubby wanted to run some of the downhill, but I told him I think I would prefer to hike. My thought was that I had everything to lose and nothing to gain. You see, for me, it didn’t matter if we finished the hike in 10 hours or 14 hours, but I didn’t want to potentially injure myself and not be able to run my fall goal marathon. He was a little disappointed because he loves bombing downhill, but I think he understood (and eventually enjoyed the extra time with his wife ;)).

I loved seeing the snow patches pop up along the trail. 

It was great getting to see everything we “missed” in the dark (not to mention when the sun came out it definitely helped to warm up the temps!). We even saw a couple marmots at Trail Camp (the ranger who was checking us in the previous day said they have been getting so bold that it has been reported that when people sit down to take a break, they’ll actually climb on a hiker’s bag WHILE THEY ARE STILL WEARING IT to see if they can get food out of it!).

They're like giant squirrels... 

The views are pretty spectacular on the hike (although during the 99 switchbacks it can feel like you are sort of on the moon, with all the barren rock and lack of much around). I know some people say that when you day hike Mt. Whitney you are missing the views because you are doing some of the journey in the dark, but I definitely didn’t feel like I missed anything since we were able to see everything on the way back down the mountain in the daylight.

Looking down at Lone Pine Lake.

Also, once the sun came out, it started melting the ice on the trail, which meant it was more like slush and made it much more walkable so we didn’t have to veer off the trail again. We were even able to de-layer around the switchbacks!

We appreciated when the sun came out and started to warm us up.

We saw that with taking our time and even without running (we didn’t push the pace and took as many stop breaks to either catch our breath or just enjoy the views as we wanted) we would probably finish right around 12 hours - SCORE!


The stream looks like mud, but it was so clear and gorgeous!

Can you believe I was up on this peaks in the background just a couple hours before?!

Again, we didn’t have any time goals, but we were pretty proud of keeping it around a 33 minute per mile pace. (Side note: My COROS APEX Watch had us at 21 miles {and I had to walk around the parking lot a bit to even hit that} while the hubby’s Garmin Fenix had us closer to 23.5 miles. The official info says 22 miles, so I guess we split the difference ;))

We started just before 3am, finished just after 3pm, got in 21 miles (on my watch... 23.5 miles on the
hubby's), climbed close to 7,000 feet in elevation and crossed a major item off my bucket list! 

By the time we were getting close to the end, the hubby was spent (more from being on his feet for 12 hours than anything else), but surprisingly I felt great. I’m not sure if it was the acclimation to the elevation, my cardio base or just the luck of the day - but I was pleasantly surprised my body held up as well as it did. (FYI: I used CBD salve on my lower back and took caffeinated acetaminophen before we started, but did not need to use any additional “aid” throughout the hike.)


WHOOOO HOOOO! We did it! I don’t think I ever questioned whether or not we would actually finish it once we started (although there were a few hairy moments on the ice and snow), but I was more worried how I'd feel during the journey. It was amazing to have the hubby along with me for every step. I couldn’t have picked a better {life} partner if I tried ;)


Once we clicked our watches off, it was time to grab our goodies from the bear box, take off our shoes and revel in our accomplishment for a moment. It definitely felt great to sit down for a minute. We each cracked open a Local Roots Kombucha to celebrate (#RealTalk - we normally would have enjoyed the “hard” kombucha, but because we didn’t have a ton of food in our stomachs we thought it might be best to save those for after we had a real meal.).


And, because I am sure a ton of you are wondering (just kidding, but there might be one or two of you), neither of us needed to use our WAG bags while on the hike. Thankfully we were each able to “relieve” ourselves in the restrooms before we set out for the morning and were able to ‘just urinate’ on the side of the trail throughout the day.


Oh yeah, and the last thing to mention, because this is also important - water. The hubby and I both had 2 liter bladders in our hydration vests, as well as two 20 ounce soft flasks in our front pockets. We were able to “get away” with not having to refill on the trail, but I think that's because we weren’t drinking a ton in the morning when it was still cooler and dark. We did pack iodine tablets to purify water (enough for each of us to refill our bladders and extra bottles), but didn’t need to use them. There's water along the trail (streams and lakes) to refill and although some of it looks like it could be pristine enough to drink from, I'd definitely recommend treating it in case it has become contaminated by inconsiderate hikers.


Hopefully my excitement for crossing off this HUGE accomplishment from my bucket list comes across in this post - if not, let me tell you I am STOKED to have been able to tackle my first fourteener and do it with my bestest friend by my side.


I am surprised to say this, but the hike was actually not as difficult as I was expecting, but I believe that had to do with my fitness level, taking it slowly, listening to our bodies, fueling and hydrating properly and acclimating to the elevation as best as we could ahead of time. If you’re considering hiking Mt. Whitney, I would absolutely recommend it - but make sure to prepare for it ahead of time! (I say go the single day route if at all possible - it might make for a longer day, but the benefit of not having to carry so much with you far outweighs the inconvenience of extended time on your feet, at least in my opinion.) This is definitely not a hike to be taken lightly (especially with the weather, trail conditions, etc) - you must train for and respect the mountain, but the accomplishment is pretty amazing if you are able to conquer it!


What is the last thing you crossed off your bucket list?

1 comment:

Virjinia @ With Purpose and Kindness said...

That's so cool that you were able to enjoy that hike with your husband! It's amazing that you were able to knock it out in a day, too!