Saturday, July 27, 2013

Acclimate: The Final Four Days (Multi-Day Climb)

San Jacinto Peak, Mt Whitney training, Dirty Dozen, acclimatize, acclimation 8,000-meter challenge
Solid high altitude training means climbing high pointy places like this...
 Underestimating altitude and its effects remains the most prevalent mistake made by inexperienced Mt Whitney hopefuls.  Diminished performance in an atmosphere 62 percent of sea level density represents only part of the problem.  Coping with neurological changes, blistering headaches, appetite loss, and nausea while your "engine" gets smaller and smaller complicates matters greatly.

San Jacinto Peak, Mt Whitney training, Dirty Dozen, acclimatize, acclimation 8,000-meter challenge
...looking down 10,200 feet like this...
Yet, a large percentage does almost nothing to prevent symptoms of altitude sickness.  People expect to jump out of the car and summit.  Believing you are the one single soul on Earth capable of 10,000 - 12,000 feet (3048 – 3,658 m) altitude gain in one day (with the the help of your vehicle) and staying there without ill effects is either foolish or arrogant.  The only difference between the two being total ignorance or knowing it's a fool's errand and doing it anyway.

San Jacinto Peak, Mt Whitney training, Dirty Dozen, acclimatize, acclimation 8,000-meter challenge
....hanging out with beautiful people like this...
There is no substitute for altitude training.  Yes, I know not everyone has the opportunity to do so but, if you really want to enjoy a successful climb, you have to make it so.  This will be discussed in the future.  In the meantime, here's an acclimatizing approach to help one "seal the deal" towards a successful, enjoyable multi-day Mt Whitney summit.  For a single-day climb, go here.  This example using a “Monday…Friday” metaphor covers only the last few days before the climb and is not a substitute for solid training at high altitude.

Mt whitney training, California fourteener, Mt whitney, 14er, high sierra enjoy and celebrate awesome places like this.
 Monday:  Arrive at Whitney Portal around 1:00 pm.  That's the earliest time allowed to assume control of a campsite.  Set up camp.  Head up to the Portal Store and check the weather report.  Look at the souvenir T-Shirts to see how tall Mt Whitney is this year. Make supper and hang out.

Alternate:  If Whitney Portal has no availabilities, consider staying at Horseshoe Meadow in the Golden Trout Wilderness.  You'll camp at almost 10,000 feet.  The camping is more primitive but the whole place operates on a first-come-first-serve basis and is rarely full.  Adjust your schedule accordingly for the 31-ish mile trip to the trailhead.

Tuesday:  Head down to the Eastern Sierra Interagency Center and exchange paperwork for the actual Mt Whitney Zone Permit.  You can do this on the way into town on Monday as well because you fall within 48 hours of your Whitney Zone entry date (Wednesday in this example) with a summit on Thursday. However, multi-day-ers have until 10:00 am of your entry date to pick up the permit.  Don’t wait until the last minute.

Hit Joseph’s Bi-Rite Market or Elevation for any forgotten food or gear items. On the way back to Whitney Portal, turn left on Horseshoe Meadow Road all the way to the end at Horseshoe Meadow Camp at almost 10,000 feet (3048 m).  Start hiking up towards Cottonwood Lakes.  Hike as far as you want.  A round trip all the way to the Lakes is 11 miles at 11,500 feet (3,505 m).  We go in about 3 miles (5 km), find a nice spot to eat lunch, and spend quality time.  It's 2 days before The Big One.  You're either in shape by now or you're not.  Return to the Portal for a shower, supper, and a good night's rest.

Horseshoe Meadow, Cottonwood Lakes, Mt Whitney, 10,000 feet, high altitude, lone pine
Good snoozing conditions on the trail to Cottonwood Lakes
 Wednesday:  Park your car in the "Overnight Use" area.  If you're heading to Trail Camp at 12,000 feet (3,658 m), get on the trail by 10:00 am at the absolute latest.  A good level tent site is prime acreage so showing up at Trail Camp by 2:00 pm is a good idea.  Also, arriving early facilitates a hasty exit if anyone feels sick and needs to go back down immediately.  Anyone in that condition must be escorted back by an able-bodied person.  That's the Mountaineering Ethos. Sorry.

If your destination is Outpost Camp at 10,365 feet (3159 m), you can leave up to about 1:00 pm.  Outpost Camp is physically larger, less rocky, and less windswept so there's not the same pressure to find a good spot.  However, be aware darkness comes early to the Eastern Sierra so make sure you leave enough time for setup and supper in daylight.

Alternate:  If you have an extra day or you’re short of high altitude training, consider spending one night at Outpost Camp, then moving up to Trail Camp.

Mt whitney, trail camp, 96 97 99 switchbacks, outpost camp, trail crest, 12,000 feet
Trail Camp from the bottom of the switchbacks
Thursday:  Go out there and take a big bite of 14,508 feet (4,422 m) for yourselves.  Time your start to get off the summit by noon to miss the electrical potential.  A handy yardstick for this trip:  Assume 1.75 miles per hour (2.8 km /hr) plus an extra 30 minutes for every thousand feet (305 m) of elevation gain.

Friday:   If the weather prevents a Thursday summit, take another crack at it if your party has enough extra rations (actually you have 13 more days to try as long as you don’t leave the Zone).  The extra day may bring altitude benefits as well.  Otherwise, break camp and head back down to the Portal for a burger and a beer.  There's a spring scale hanging from the trelliswork at the trailhead.  Weigh each returning pack. The heaviest buys the beer.

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