Goals and Desires and Preparation
Mountain Climbing to some is just a pleasant way to get outdoors, for others it is an obsession, and yet others a endless addiction. For me, maybe all three. I love the solitude, the views, the feeling that only some experience standing atop the tallest point around. In this particular instance I had the pleasure of standing on the tallest point in the contiguous U.S.A. Ever since I have really started to take a serious liking to Mountain Climbing, I have created goals. Little by little those goals are starting to come to be realities via preparation and determination. One such goal for me is to reach the highest point in all 50 of the United States. So far now, two mountains among that list have been summitted. Mount Hood and Mount Whitney. This site has been indispensible as far as preparing me in what to expect for each climb. Many photos, trip reports, route pages have been closely studied to give me an idea what I will be up against.
With Mount Hood, my biggest concern would be the Crevasses and fumaroles, as I had never done a real snow climb up until that point. On the flip side, I knew that Mount Whitney would be an easy climb as far as technicalities go, but if I didn't prepare for the altitude properly, that I very easily could have been sitting at the bottom a disappointed man.
In order to prepare for this climb, a couple of things had to fall into place.
1. I had to make sure that I could get a permit for the days we wished to climb.
2. I had to be able to get those same days off of work, in order to spend the time needed to climb.
3. I had to physically prepare myself to be able to hike 22 miles in 2 days and survive it.
4. I would have to acclimatize in order to be higher up than I had ever been before.
5. I needed to have proper hydration and nutrition prior to the climb.
Everything fell right into place
1. Permit was approved and time off of work was approved for the same days.
2. Over the course of a couple of months, I started to work out regularly and did several hikes/climbs a week with a pack full of water.
3. When the time came, and we drove to the Sierras, my wife and I camped out a 9200' in order to have a night or two at a high elevation. We hiked up to 10,500' the night before the climb in order to help our bodys adjust. This would come in handy later for me.
4. We ate like pigs, having about 4-5 large steaks in the week or so leading up to the climb. I consumed about 5 liters of water in the 2 days before the climb and 30g of protein the day of the climb. For the climb day itself I consumed about 5 liters of water just getting from the trailhead to Trail Camp (only six miles).
Altogether, the acclimatization and food and water consumption would make this climb pretty comfortable minus the fact of carrying a 30-40 pound pack up the mountain.
And then there were 3
I had originally put in for six permits to climb Mount Whitney. 1 for me, 1 for my wife, 1 for my normal climbing partner, Brett and his wife and 2 for a couple of my coworkers. The coworkers were unable to get time off and Brett's wife stayed to care for their children. That brought us down to only 3 people. I was bound and determined, so I knew that permit would never open up, and Brett was the same way. I posted the 3 remaining permits on the SP forum and two people responded; rangermatt
The week leading up to the climb, I made logistical preparations with Jon and Matt and then spent the rest of the time getting packed and excited. This would be my first of many things. My first 14er, my first high altitude climb if you exclude Mt. Hood, my first highpoint without a guide, my first time that I would use up all of my memory on my 1 Gigabyte memory card for my camera. Needless to say, I enjoyed the scenery and took lots of pictures.
My goal for this day was to reach Trail Camp located six miles closer to the summit than when we started. That goal was accomplished, albeit slowly. When you hit about 10,000' with a 30-40 pound pack on your back to really tend to start feeling the altitude effects.
Brett, Jon and Matt all went ahead of Kenzie and I as we kept a comfortable pace. My wife would end up turning back, but encouraging me to go on for reasons I cannot discuss, but lets just say that I can be an idiot at times. Neatly enough though, she was visiting Death Valley around the same time that I was resting on the summit of Mount Whitney. One at the highest and one at the lowest. I slowly continued on up to trail camp reaching it at around 4pm. About 7 1/2 hours from trailhead to Trail Camp. Not my best time, but there was no rush.
When I arrived at Trail Camp, Matt was kicking back while I learned that Brett and Jon had continued up to summit. They both are definately in better shape than I am. Impressive, but I was content to make it in two. Besides I doubt that I could have made it in one, I'm just not in that type of shape.
So I relaxed and set up camp at a leisurely pace and hung out with Matt while we waited for Jon and Brett to stroll back in to camp. Jon rolled in a little before dusk while Brett rolled in a little after dusk, his headlamp popping on halfway down the switchbacks. Matt and I during our discussion agreed to get a 3 am start to try to make the summit by sunrise or close to sunrise. So with everyone back in camp we rested easy and I slept like a baby.
I woke up around 0130 feeling very well rested, occasionally hearing Brett sound like someone with congestive heart failure. He would cough, and then suddenly sound better again. I later learned that he had blood tinged sputum for a few days after he got down as well as dizziness at some of the highest altitudes. But he continually self-assessed for signs of HACE and HAPE while he was climbing. He didn't suffer any acute symptoms while on the mountain other than some mild altitude sickness which he felt better after drinking more water and a mild headache. The blood in the sputum happened after he got down.
But if you want the definition of Ironman, here it is: IRONMAN=BRETT
1. A grueling 12 hour shift on August 13th followed by a 12 hour drive to reach the trailhead after a short amount of sleep.
2. Starting out on the trail at 0830 and summitting the same day in less than 12 hours. Round trip total on August 15th was 16 miles.
3. Started packing up camp as we were leaving for the summit and he and Jon hiked out, reaching the trailhead in less than 24 hours time from when we all started. Giving them the honor and distinction of climbing Mount Whitney in 1 day.
4. After all of that he drove 12 hours back home and then worked all weekend.
Luckily I had the luxury of a whole extra week off before I had to be back to work.
Matt and I headed up the trail in the dark with our headlamps making easy work of the dreaded 99 switchbacks. What you can't see, can't hurt you. I was absolutely amazed by the views once we reached trail crest. We slowly realized that we weren't going to make the summit by sunrise, but who cares with the views that we had right in front of us. We reached the summit at around 7am and hung out for about an hour. That's about all we could stand of the bone chilling winds that were up there.
We took our time climbing back down and eventually reached the trailhead at about 3:30pm where my beautiful wife was waiting for me. If I do this climb again though, it will be with only a daypack and I will be shooting for less than 24 hours.
More than just the mountain
We only had several days in the Sierras, but there is just so much to see. We could spend a lot of time just in the Alabama Hills. The Sierras make a great backdrop to these wonderful rock formations. Up in the White Mountains we visited the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and the climbing possiblities in the whole area seem endless. All in all this will definately be a place that we will go back and visit again, hopefully sooner than later.