Monday, September 16, 2019

Mt. Whitney Hike: Part I {Acclimating}

If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably seen a post or ten about the hubby and I tackling the tallest peak in the continental US - Mt. Whitney. (If you don’t follow me, feel free to do so at @CarleeMcDot on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. And if you do follow me but don’t remember seeing my posts, make sure to turn on the notifications on the different platforms so you don’t miss my super amazing content {okay, okay, it might not be ‘that’ awesome, but it’s still decent ;)}

**FYI: The "official" sign at the summit is gone, so I made my own and brought it on the hike.

I thought I'd go into more specifics about the hike for folks considering tackling the beast of a summit themselves or who are just interested in the nitty gritty details. If you are satisfied with “We came. We climbed. We conquered.” feel free to skip this series of posts ;) As always, I have a ton to share (including pictures and videos) so I figured I’d break into into three posts: pre-hike, hike and post-hike. So, without further ado, here’s the first installment of our Mt. Whitney Adventure.


I have had a ‘bucket list’ on my phone for a few years, things I wanted to tackle before I turned 35 years old. Some of them I had already accomplished - like to qualify and run the Boston Marathon, hike Half Dome, run the Grand Canyon, complete an ultra marathon, etc. One that had been alluding me for the past couple years was to hike Mt. Whitney.


The hubby hiked Mt. Whitney with a friend a few years back and ever since I had a twinge of jealousy. At the time I passed on joining them because I was training for a race (but, let’s be real, I’m always training for something, right?!). They got two-day permits, meaning they'd start one day, hike to Trail Camp, camp for the night, then the second day they'd summit and come back down. The benefit of doing a two-day trip is you can split the 22-mile hike (you climb almost 7,000 feet, topping out at 14,505 feet above sea level) over two days. The drawback of a two-day trip is you have to carry everything you need with you (meaning your tent, your sleeping gear, your food {in a bear canister}, your water {and normally a pump or a way to purify it because you'll definitely need to refill on your journey}, your human waste {yup, you're required to pack out your poop}, etc). I believe when the hubby weighed his pack before leaving (there's a scale at the beginning of the trail) it was either 29 or 33 pounds. Oh heck to the no. I told him I'd absolutely want to hike Mt. Whitney, but I would want to do it in a single push so we wouldn't be required to have to carry so much gear on our backs.

Hubby's first time summiting Mt. Whitney.

Last year the hubby and I entered the lottery for day permits for Mt. Whitney. Unfortunately the lottery luck was not in our favor and none of our 20 dates were selected. Once the lottery time period is over, they do release any unclaimed dates. At that point we scooped up a permit, but because the of the later winter there was still snow on the trail which meant we considered our permits “donations to the public lands” because I was not about to climb the tallest peak in the lower 48 with an ice axe and crampons. Later in the year we saw some additional permits became available so we purchased them… and the conditions still weren’t climbable for us (which would make sense as to why the permits were becoming available). When all was said and done I think we bought permits three times in 2018 (thankfully the permit is ‘only’ $30) and weren’t able to use any of them… Hopefully our “donation” went to good use.


I was hoping 2019 would be “our year” so when the lottery opened for permits we jumped on and we both threw our name into the hat (each with 20 possible dates) and we got a big goose egg… Thankfully, this time around when the unclaimed permits became available there were a few later in the season that we were able to jump on. (I learned my lesson and decided we wouldn’t try for anything earlier than mid-August or later than mid-September.)


And, remember said bucket list?! Well, my birthday's September 10th and our permit was for September 8th! PERFECT!


Not only that, but the hubby ended up having a photo shoot for work the week previous (over Labor Day Weekend) and because he had to work two days he normally would've had off (Sunday and Monday), he was able to shift those days to the following week which meant we would have two extra days after our hike to adventure around! WHOOO HOOO!


Okay, so know that we're caught up on the back story (I do think it's important to note, if you're thinking about hiking Mt. Whitney the lottery process is definitely not a guarantee {in 2019 only 34% of people who applied received a permit [and, for comparison, in 2018 the overall success rate was 37%] - obviously the more people who apply, the less likely of a chance you have to score a coveted spot} and that even if permits do become available throughout the season the conditions need to be right to be able to make it happen), it’s finally about dang time to get to the actually trip.


The plan was to leave Oceanside Friday afternoon when the hubby got off work and head to Alabama Hills. (Alabama Hills sits at about 5,350 feet above sea level, so we were hoping one night there before heading up to Whitney Portal would help acclimate us to the elevation a bit.) There's some BLM Land (aka free camping) below Mt. Whitney that we love, so our goal was to hit the road as early as possible (trying to avoid some of the Friday rush hour traffic) and grab a quick dinner on the way (we stopped at Rubio’s because we had a BOGO coupon thanks to my birthday).

As you can see, the sun was already behind the hills so we needed to get our booties moving to get our tent set up.

We made it to Alabama Hills in great time and were even able to set up our tent and get everything situated before the sun set. On the way we started listening to a podcast (The Clearing) so after we got ready for bed we laid under the stars and listened to another episode. (FYI - It’s a little creepy to be in the middle of nowhere and listen to a crime doc… but thankfully I have a big, strong hubby to keep me protected from the bad guys ;))


It was toasty to sleep so I didn't get a ton of rest, but it's not much different than the rest of my life thanks to Fibromyalgia.


When the sun started to come out I finally got out of the tent. The views in Alabama Hills are out of this world. It reminds me of what you might see on a planet in Star Wars or something. The terrain is barren, but rocky and so interesting.

I love this photo. You can see Mt. Whitney just barely getting sun on it in the background and our car and tent in the foreground.

I should probably give early morning selfies a second thought before taking them... but the hills in the background were awesome!

Doesn't the terrain remind you of something out of Star Wars?!

Not a bad place to wake up if I do say so myself!

Trying to be a little "artsy" with my sunrise shot ;) 

I ate a PROBAR BASE bar (if you haven’t been around my corner of the InterWebs for a while you may not know that I’m an ambassador for them - but even if I wasn’t, their products are AMAZEBALLS and I would scarf them down no matter if I was affiliated with them or not) while the hubby had some cereal (we normally camp with the shelf-stable almond milk so we don’t have to worry about keeping it in the cooler while we are off-the-grid).

Yummy, yummy, yummy in my tummy!

Eventually we packed up and made our way to the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center to pick up our hiking permit. The location didn’t open until 8am but there were people already in line when we arrived around 7:30am. I’m assuming they were early, hoping to get a walk-up permit for the following day. When we got there we grabbed a number and took advantage of the bathrooms to brush our teeth and use the potty (one downside to BLM Land is the lack of any type of facilities...).


Once the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center opened we were able to get in the reservation line and wait our turn. It took maybe 20 minutes (there were two groups still ahead of us in the reservation line when our number was called so we were able to go to another ranger and have her help us out) before we were picking up our permit, tags and WAG bags.

You have to keep your permit on you at all times and tag your bags as well. 

Here is a quick video (please forgive the dirty windshield ;)) on the drive up to Portal (you can even see Mt. Whitney at the end). As well as the Lizard Rock we didn't stop at the evening before since the sun was already setting.

I call him a 'rockstar'.... get it?! ;)

The next item on our agenda was to go up to Whitney Portal so we could snag a camping spot (they have walk-up spots for hikers), then hike to Lone Pine Lake to do a little extra acclimating to the elevation and scope out the first couple miles of the trail for the following day (I knew there were a few water crossings and I wasn’t sure how I'd feel about trying them for the first time in the dark, so was able to talk the hubby into the hike on Saturday so I could feel a bit more comfortable).

We snagged spot 12. It was a little further away from the car, but hubby liked hearing the water.

The hike to Lone Pine Lake is about 3 miles (and you gain about 1,700 feet in elevation). We took our time, stopped for pictures and just enjoyed the views (especially since we knew we would be starting before sunrise the following morning and wouldn’t be seeing much of the scenery until our way back down later in the afternoon). The lake itself is gorgeous and definitely a must-stop if you are in the area. (Although, real talk, it's probably about a half mile off the Mt. Whitney trail, so if you are heading to the summit it is hard to add an extra mile onto your trip, so I’d do it as a separate hike.)

Let's do this thang!

Gotta exit the Mt. Whitney Trail and head over to the lake.

The lake is pretty darn fabulous!

He's my favorite!

I'd hike that... but I definitely wouldn't swim in it... IT WAS COLD!

I thought this dead tree was pretty awesome... look at how it was holding the rock at the top!

Walked around to the other side of the lake so you could see the mountains in the background.

We would be climbing up that AND THEN SOME in just about 12 hours!

Forgive me, but I love sign photos ;) 

The water crossings weren’t too bad (the trail is very well maintained and the streams you cross have either log “bridges” or convenient rocks so you can cross somewhat easily), but I was glad to have seen them in the daylight. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have been nervous to cross them in the dark, but it was one less thing to be anxious about for the hike.

One of the many water crossings. This one was at the North Fork Lone Pine Creek.

When the water crossings were larger there were "bridges" added in, instead of just the rock jump.

Once we finished our hike we hung out around Whitney Portal for a while. It is such a fun little spot with quite the assortment of folks. We ate a light lunch, did some people watching and the hubby even fell asleep in the sun for a bit.

Can you see the hubby passed out on a rock behind me?! HA!

After that we went into Lone Pine to peruse some of the shops and get food (normally when we camp we bring our own food, but we decided for this trip that we didn’t want to pack our camp stove, so would do bars/ cereal for breakfast, wraps for lunch and then eat out for dinners). If you’ve read any of my race recaps before, you probably know my go-to carb loading meal is pizza (and that the hubby big puffy heart LOVES pizza), so we hit up Pizza Factory for an early dinner.

#RealTalk - The food was pretty blah (I normally never add red pepper flakes to my pizza, but it was pretty flavorless so I had to do something), but I guess it did it’s job and filled our tummies. PS We tried to shoot to have dinner around 4pm since we knew we’d be waking up around 2:30am and wanted to try and get some sleep before the hike.

Wow those alarms were starting early... 

After dinner we made our way back to camp so we could get settled for the evening. #NoShameInMy6pmBedTimeGame

We filled our hydration packs, got out the gear we'd need for the following morning, put all of our food (anything with a scent - even things like deodorant and toothpaste - are considered “food”) in the bear box and tried to get a little shut eye.

Wow - my #FlatHiker definitely has a lot more than my #FlatRunner pictures normally have... With temps ranging
from below freezing to in the 70s we had to pack gear for all different weather, not to mention #AllTheFood! 

And I guess this is as good of a place as any to stop the first installment of our Mt. Whitney Hike. Hopefully this ‘appetizer’ was helpful. Tune in tomorrow for the main course (the actual hike, don don don…).


**NOTE: Although we live just about as close to sea level as possible, we wanted to try and get acclimated to the higher elevation as best as we could, which is why we stayed in Alabama Hills (5,350 feet above sea level), hiked Lone Pine Lake (gaining approximate 1,785 feet, starting around 8,265 feet above sea level and topping out around 10,050) and stayed another night at Whitney Portal (8,374 feet above sea level). Obviously the longer you can be at higher elevations the more accustom your body will become to the changes (less oxygen, increased water loss, suppresses appetite, etc), but with our schedule this is what we could fit in and thankfully it worked for us. I cannot guarantee if you follow our schedule that you won’t encounter symptoms of altitude sickness (especially since some people’s bodies are just more sensitive to the changes), but for us this acclimation over a couple days seemed to work perfectly.**

Have you ever had any altitude related issues?


marissa.johnson19 said...


I'm hiking Mt whitney Oct 1-3 in just a couple weeks. We're going to do it as a 2 night backpacking trip. I'm contemplating what layers to bring. Obviously its a little too far out to know the weather, but wondering how your layers worked out?

I can't imagine hiking in shorts with the temps getting down to 30 or less at night and I run cold!!! I plan to bring base layer leggings and hiking pants. Were your legs cold??? Or did you warm right up after hiking???
How did you feel with your top layers once you got hiking? My problem is I'm always cold and then get hot once hiking.

SD Mom said...

I am officially now planning my hike to Lone Pine Lake!