Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mount Whitney

I Mount Whitney

About a month ago I hiked the tallest mountain in Arizona, Mount Humphreys.  It stands at about 12,637 feet.  I had done this hike a few times and I started to wonder….what other mountains should I hike?

I googled “highest mountain in America” 
The first ten highest mountains were in Alaska.  Number eleven was Mount Whitney.  I thought to myself… “Mount Whitney is  in California? I will be in California in a couple weeks! I should hike Mount Whitney while I’m there!”
I searched the web for blogs, I ordered a book from Amazon,  asked my facebook friends if it was do able.  My husband brought my crazy idea to work.  The guys he worked with said I was “crazy”. “You can’t hike Mt. Whitney in a day”, they told him! 
If you search the internet hard enough you’ll find a crazy group of Ultra runners who do the Badwater Marathon.  A 139 mile race from sea level to the Whitney portal . Even I will admit that’s crazy but they attempt it in one shot!  I bet I could go to California  for my fall break vacation, drive 5 hours from San Diego to Mt. Whitney and hike that mountain!
I convinced my son he should do it with me.  We just needed PERMITS. My book said permits are nearly impossible to get May-September.  You have to enter a lottery and hope you get in.  LUCKILY it was October.  I got on the website and there was 85 permits available.  They give out 100 a day.  This should’ve been my first clue. One of the most hiked mountains in America and only 15 people wanted to do a day hike in  mid- October?!   Nope, I just thought…”AWESOME, I’m going to hike the tallest mountain in the lower 48!”
About a week before the hike my son was SICK. He’d come home from school and crash.  I’m smart enough to know I shouldn’t do it alone so I thought I might need to put my 3 week long dream on hold.  We got to San Diego and he wasn’t feeling any better.  My 15 year old daughter said “fine, I’ll do your hike with you if he can’t go.”
My husband told me this isn’t a good time, go do it with your girlfriends, just relax and enjoy your vacation.   It was Sunday night. I needed to decide by Monday. 
At the beach on Monday I thought… I should check when I need to get to Lone Pine to pick up my permit.  4:30!! It was 10:30 and we had a 5 hour drive!  I said …”you guys, lets go hike that mountain!”  My son thought he was feeling better and my daughter just decided “eh, why not”.  So we loaded everything we could find in the car and started the drive.
We decided we’d sleep in the Tahoe so we could start early.  My book said you could do a day hike in about 12 hours.  We’d get up at 3:00 am be done by 4:00pm at the latest and have time for dinner and to drive home. PERFECT PLAN.

We got to the ranger station and he told me I had forfeited my permits ( that I paid $36 for)  You have to check in by NOON the day before or you lose your permits.  If they just so happen to have extra permits the day before then you can get them for FREE. They did, 87 available permits.   This would be important knowledge for someone doing the hike May-September, know the permit process.  All 3 of us got permits. 
Ranger- How have you prepared for this hike?  Do you know there is 3 feet of snow on the top of the mountain?
Myself- Well, I read this book. I bought those spikey things to go on our shoes.  We have our snowboarding jackets.
Ranger- Crampons they are called, you will need those its icy.  Theres also a storm front moving in. I want you to get off that mountain quick if you see storm clouds.
Myself- Sweet, I’ve got it!  If I just so happen to need a few more things is there a store in town? 
Ranger- Yes, Elevation is the store. Good guys. There’s one stop light in Lone Pine, that where it is.  ( side note, Lone Pine seems a lot like the town in the  show Wayward Pines)

ELEVATION- 30 year old skinny guy in a ski bum shirt welcomes us. “You guys hiking Whitney?! Awesome, let me show you some pics of my friend who did it last week- theres tons of snow! You’re going to need some gear!
The gear is WAY expensive! We buy a $40 backpack for my daughter and rent some walking poles. $85 total. 
Across the street is the grocery store. We spend another $60 on snacks for the hike.  Tacos food truck for dinner and up the mountain we go.

ALTITUDE SICKNESS-  The last time I did Humphreys my friend got REALLY sick.  Level 2 altitude sickness, she had to be rescued from the mountain.  I’ve been researching it a lot since then. 
-My kids had ZERO altitude training and that’s the #1 recommendation to help you adjust. I felt OK about it because I’d been hiking. 
- Proper hydration is very important. We all drank 2 bottles of water the night before and a lot during the hike. Electrolyte packets would’ve been smart too.
- Proper nutrition- We ate a lot.  Probably 4000 calories during the hike.  We stopped every hour to drink and eat. Nuts, seeds, dried fruit, peanut butter and honey sandwichs, fresh fruit.
-Good nights sleep- my kids slept on the drive up but I was going to be hurting. 
-Drugs- We took 2 Ibuprophen at 10 that night, 2 before the hike and alternated between Excedrin and Ibuprofen every 2-3 hours during the hike.  We also took a homeopathic remedy – Arnica to prevent soreness and muscle swelling.   I’m going to say this drug regimen saved us.  Healthy?  Not sure but it got us to the top with very little altitude training.

Base of the trail. There are campgrounds that are usually full.  A little store that closes when it wants, to sits at the base of the mountain.

Pretty stream runs through the whole area.

The drive up the mountain was very quite, not many cars on the road.  We ended up in a parking lot that says “ night hikers”.  We figured this is where we would  sleep in our car.  There are bear containers.  The ranger tells us bears don’t hibernate on Whitney and they will rip your car door off if they smell food. One bear ripped the top off a Jeep Cherokee!
Mom-OK kids, try on your spikes for the ice.
Kids- Mom, are we supposed to wear them with Nike Frees?  The spikes might move and stab us through our shoe.
Mom- Uh, hiking boots probably would’ve been better but I bet they are exaggerating about the snow on the mountain, we probably won’t need them.
Kids- Mom, we bought the wrong size batteries for the head lamps. We only have 1 head lamp and 1 flashlight.
Mom- OK, I guess we’ll have to stick together and hope we get down before its dark.
We figured if we were asleep by 10 pm we can get up at 2:40am and be on the trail by 3am.  I got the driver’s seat- so comfy.   Trake in the middle row, he’s 6’2”  and Brynly the back row on top of the folded down seats.   We basically woke up every hour.

The rocks crossing over the stream
Logs that form a long bridge over a bigger stream.

THE HIKE- Part 1. First 4 miles.
We were excited to get on the trail. The weather was nice 65 degrees. The beginning of the trail is very interesting. I highly suggest hiking to Whitney Portal, its about 4 miles up the trail and you don’t need a permit.  You cross over streams and waterfalls on boulders, stepping stones, and even a long bridge made of logs.  The scenery is beautiful.  Of course, I’m just telling you my impression of it from the view of the headlamp. 
Have you seen Wayward Pines? This part of the hike was like a scene from Wayward Pines.  The people in the show are stuck in a town surrounded by really high mountains. They try and escape the town at night by getting over the mountain.   The escape is stopped by  freaky looking alien creatures that come out of the shadows with sharp  teeth and tear them up!  That’s basically what I was telling the kids as we hiked.  It kept them entertained.

PART 2- Throughout the first 4 miles we occasionally ran into a guy who was hiking alone.  He’d stop where we stopped and chat a little bit.  He was 60 years old and had both of his knees replaced from his hiking adventures.  Throughout the hike we’d come to learn that he hiked Mt. Rainer 28 times and was a mountaineering guide for the mountain.    He had hiked the Himalayas with his own personal Sherpa many times. Did you know those Sherpas only make a $1 a day?  If they make a Westerner friend the Westerner finds them a job in the states during the winter and then keep them busy with Himalayan adventures during the summers.  His Sherpa was a cook in Boulder, Colorado making $150 a day.  He could cook sushi at 15,000 feet when leading groups in the Himalayas!  
He told us he has no desire to hike Everest because its to commercialized.  There are many mountains over 20,000 feet in the Himalayas you could hike and be the only one out there, unlike the lines of people on Everest.  I decided this guy was probably pretty wealthy.

 Snow started to appear along the trail for the next 2 miles.  Being from Arizona we thought this was pretty exciting. We climbed out of the tree line in time for the sunrise.   There were a lot of cool rocks, mountains, streams, waterfalls and 2 lakes.  I enjoyed starting the hike in the dark and then watching the sun rise because it gave us something to look forward to—seeing things.  If you ask my kids they will tell you that you shouldn’t hike in the dark because it’s ….dark.

BASE CAMP- If people opt for a 2 day hike they camp here.  There were 3 tents, surrounded by snow.  It was 7:30 am, people weren’t venturing out of those tents yet.
Our hiking friend told us we were at 11,000 feet, he had a little gadget that told him. This is where the snow started.   We couldn’t see a trail anywhere.  I’m guessing our friend hadn’t hiked Whitney in 20 years and his memory was a little foggy.    He told us we should probably just go STRAIGHT UP the mountain rather than try and find the 99 switchbacks. It would be a calf burner but who knows where those switchbacks are!
Luckily I had TWO pairs of spikes. I was a nice mom and gave them to my kids.
At 12,000 feet we could take maybe 10 steps and then need a break.
Halfway up the "make our own trail" we decided it was a dumb idea to follow a guy that thought Everest was a joke....even if he was 60 years old. 

This is when this “hike” got stupid.  Or maybe we were just stupid to do it in Nike Frees. Kick your toe in the snow, plant your pole and take a step. We did that for about 2 hours. I think we went 2,000 feet higher and probably a mile. It was HARD. We were tired. If we had not met our hiking friend we probably would’ve looked at the mountain and used common sense.  We kept thinking- “this guy is 60, we can keep up with him! We can do this!”  We didn’t think that   in a cheerful way though, it was more like if he can do it we WILL do it. We were being quite stubborn. 

FINALLY we made it to the trail crest.
It was noon. If we could get to the top in a hour we'd be OK.  

This trail was on the edge  of the mountain.  It you took one little step off the side ......down, down, down you'd go.  IN FACT, we had  passed our tour guide at this point and when he met us at the top later he told us he had fallen and hurt his knee pretty bad (again).

I don't even remember very much of this part. It was REALLY long and the few people we passed said "you're  not almost there." or "this trail never ends" or "no its that really far away peak".

SUPPOSEDLY it was 1.9 miles but it took us 2 hours to do so I'm thinking whoever keeps logs of mileage on mountains must be a little short on air/brain cells. 

My daughter was tired. Shes super stubborn though, she was going to make it to the top.  I walked slow and stayed with her.

My son had a headache for the last hour. I figured he was getting altitude sickness.  I told him to go ahead of us. He'd get ahead  and then rest and wait for us.  
The tops of high mountains always look barren. We had to get way up there.  

We couldn't find the trail once we got to Whitney peak so we climbed over a bunch of rocks to get to the hut at the top.
My daughter said "isnt this good enough? We are at the top!" 
 I told her we had to get a picture with the sign.
Dads friends and my facebook friends didn't think we could do this! We need a picture with that sign! 
I yelled to the guys in front of us if they knew where they were going and they didn't. 
ARG!! When was this mountain going to end!! 
Our shoes were soaked, we were SO TIRED and we still had to go down the mountain! 

 Our smiles are totally fake. Don't be fooled.

FINALLY  The hut!  the Smithsonian Institute put it up there.  
Not sure who the crazy people were who hauled up the supplies! 

Beautiful views!

 The guys watching us thought this was a little risky on our shakey legs!

And then THE SIGN!!

Top of the world!  Sorry should've cleaned the lens. Daughter carried that nice camera the WHOLE hike.

The way down was rough.  My son felt like he was going to throw up.  We had been over 13,600 feet for over 2 hours.  I knew from my friends incident that if he started throwing up we'd be in trouble.  He needed to get to lower elevation.  I sent him ahead while I stayed with my daughter.  

The route we took straight up looked pretty dangerous, more visible rocks to fall on.  We managed to find the trail for the 99 switchbacks but it looked dreadfully slow, especially in wet running shoes. 

We cut through a fair amount of them sliding on our butts. Thank heavens the predicted storm didn't come in, the weather was pretty nice. It helped to dry our spandex faster!
My son was waiting for us at the base camp and seemed to feel better. 
It had taken us 6 hours to get up to this point, hopefully down would be faster.
My son gave us good advice.
"Just figure this trail will never end and we will be walking ALL NIGHT".
It was good advice because it never seems to end.
Everyone I talked to about hiking Mt. Whitney said.."It is the longest hike ever. It never ends."
In good weather the trail is really well maintained and easy to see. If you had the endurance to just keep walking you could make it up just fine.  ( In good weather).

Our one headlamp and one flashlight stayed on through the whole hike. It wasn't quite enough light to prevent a few falls though. I was glad none of the falls were bad enough that I'd have to carry someone out of there.  It slowed us down though.

When you can see the parking lot, don't get too excited you still have 6 really long switchbacks before you actually get down. 
We were so tired.
I pricelined a hotel in a nearby town. Lone Pine is pricey.
It was the hardest athletic thing I've ever done. My son said his decathlon was harder.  My daughter was pretty proud of herself.  She'll tell you her mom is crazy though and use this story to prove it. 

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