Monday, August 3, 2015

Climb Mt Whitney In 2015 - Good Dates Still Available

October 1 is a fine time to climb Mt Whitney but keep a weather eye to the sky
Just took a look at remaining Mt Whitney availabilities. As of August 2, 2015, 44 people can still sign up for a single-day climb on Thursday, October 1. While the weekends are still booked solid, early October has tons of weekday availabilities. However, the weather can be extremely changeable.  Any precipitation will be frozen above 9,000 feet or so. Having said that, bluebird days are not unknown in October so there's potential for beautifully clear, cool conditions as well. Extra clothing and proper footwear are a must, just in case.

To check availabilities, go to  Enter "Mt Whitney" in the search box. Choose 'Day Use" under "Permits and Wilderness" Hit "Enter Date" on the next screen. In the "Permit Availability" box enter a date and group size. Don't be too fine with the date. Once in, you can slide the calender in two week increments either way.

If October 1 doesn't float your boat, keep checking back and refreshing the screen occasionally. Someone might return all or part of their permit more than 48 hours before their climb date, thereby creating a possibility for an earlier slot. Be ready to pounce, though. Others are lurking over the permit calender as well. That open slot might close in a few minutes.

As for multi-day trips up the Main Trail, the earliest opening is currently mid-October.  However, the same basic rules apply so check often for an earlier opportunity.

Don't forget to reserve space at Whitney Portal for some pre-climb acclimation and post-climb slumber.

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Mount Whitney Dirty Dozen Dirty Deed

View of the Lake Fire from space (Jeff Schmaltz/ NASA's LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response)

 Breaking news: As of July 16, 2015, Forsee Creek, San Bernardino Peak, Momyer, and Vivian Creek trails are now OPEN.  Any trail or road in the burn area (see last burn map marked "July 6" below) remains closed.  Hike 10 (San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek Trail) and 11 (San Bernardino Peak out of Angelus Oaks) of the Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen are now available.  Please stay out of the burn areas and be watchful for firefighters and apparatus on the roads.  Heavy fines levied for individuals or groups who do not heed the closures.


The Lake Fire still smolders in some places but has moved into recovery phase.   More information about recovery and the aftermath along with photos of the burn area can be found here

Those of us based in Southern California are following the sad news regarding the Lake Fire. To date, the fire has now stalled at 31,359 acres of pine forest, understory, and an iconic aspen grove in the Fish Creek area. The fire is now relegated to smoldering in some areas. There is some chance of mud flows in heavily burned areas. Hazardous conditions remain due to smoldering, stump holes, and other unstable ground.  Cause of the fire deemed "human activity" by USFS investigators.  However, no one can say for sure whether that activity was intentional or an accident.

For prospective Mt Whitney climbers, Hikes 10 and 11 of the Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen are now officially closed until at least October 1, 2015.  See closure map near the end with training alternatives..

Compare this burn map from June 18 with the later ones below (courtesy inciweb)

June 20. Note the relative positions of the Vivian Creek and San Bernardino Peak trails to the burn area.
June 23. The bold black line at the top of the burn is the containment line.  More than 50 percent of the South Fork route to San Gorgonio is gone.
June 26. Uh-oh
June 29.  Note increases in containment line and the fire's advance At the southernmost point
July 2. 70 percent containment.  No advance
July 6.  90 percent contained.  Only the most rugged areas have no fire line

The Vivian Creek route (hike 10) straddles the south slope of San Gorgonio while the fire blackened the north side pretty much up to the treeline. The fire did not effect the trail directly but the most recent map showed the flames jumping the ridge and burning east of the Vivian Creek trail.  The San Bernardino Peak route out of Angelus Oaks (Hike 11) lies farther to the west and completely unaffected as the flames spread east and south from the origin point near a summer camp off Jenks Lake Road. All trail routes through the San Gorgonio Wilderness are closed (CA Route 38, the trailhead access route, has been reopened).  Closures will be in effect until at least October 1, 2015.

Map showing extent of forest closure until at least October 1

Training alternatives:  

 If you want to complete your Dirty Dozen training, there is an alternative:  Climbing San Jacinto via the old pre-tramway route from the west side. The town of Idyllwild is the jump-off area. Heading out via Humber Park or Deer Springs trailhead will result in climbs of  about 17 miles round trip (though Harrison maps show them as longer) while gaining about 5,600 vertical feet. Both trailheads are good stiff tests that will augment your stamina buildup and leave you in good stead for your date with Mt Whitney. However, the loss of 800 vertical feet from San Gorgonio's 11,503 elevation means your immediate pre-Whitney acclimation routine for single-day or multi-day climbs will be even more important.

Start your climb early, as the lower elevations near town will heat up as the sun rises and swings over to the western slopes.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen Hike 2: Mt Lukens

Mt Lukens, aka Sister Elsie Peak is the highest point within Los Angeles city limits at 5,075 feet (1,547 m). It's not a particularly tall mountain, nor is it a pretty climb. The city flattened the summit area to make more room for antennas and haze often obscures the view. So why are we climbing it?

There are two reasons. First would be bagging the highest point in LA. However, we're climbing it because it rises 800 feet per mile for four miles without much altitude effect. It's a great early step for those training with higher aspirations. If this hike leaves your legs quivering, you have a lot of work to do before you're Whitney-ready.

There are two principal routes. A fire road climbs out of Deukmejian Wilderness Park in Glendale. This route is boring, dusty, and incendiary as it climbs the south-facing slope. Our route is mostly single-track ascending the peak's north side. People lose the thread after crossing Big Tujunga Creek so follow along with our photo-gravure as we decipher the clues to a day filled with sun, sweat, and satisfaction for your hard work.

The trailhead lies at the western terminus of Stonyvale Road just off Big Tujunga Canyon Road. Actually, parking at Wildwood Picnic Grounds off Doske Road is closer but the Forest Service closes the gate at sunset. Or not. Rather than deal with the nebulous gate closing schedule, let's take the sure bet and turn off Big Tujunga Canyon Road here at Stonyvale in the picture. It's a right turn clearly seen coming from the west but it comes up quickly driving from the east

The road descends and lands at a T-intersection facing the sign. Turn right toward Vogel Flat. 

The day we shot the pics, this roadblock barred our way. Erected by an in-holding homeowner, she emerged from the house and asked our business when we stopped and parked. When assured we did not mean to drink, carouse, and/or debauch, she cheerfully took the roadblock down but followed us as we made our way on foot to the trailhead.

The road is a public right-of-way and the homeowner does not have the right to block it. However, let's all play nice and avoid entering into a heated debate about who has the God-given right to do what. After all, you're leaving your car behind for a few hours. It's another 330 yards (300 m) to the trailhead from here.
If the block isn't up, park your car at the end of the road. Note the trailhead on the berm to the left of the "END" sign.

Once over the berm, continue along what used to be Stonyvale Road before a bygone flood washed it out. Big Tujunga Creek runs to your left.

The view to the south from the trail. Note the dirt tracks. This land may or may not be private down to the streambed running left to right through the middle of the photo. Treat everything off the road or trail up to this point as private and respect it.
Once past these girders, everything is public.

 just past the girders you'll find a small rockfall. Look south-southwest from the rockfall and find this dead tree.  Note the trail to the left of it partially obscured by the chaparral and the foliage from the creek.
That dead tree is on the left side of this stony drainage from which Stone Canyon gets it's name. Keep going to the northwest away from the dead tree.
A closer view of the river rock. The trail runs up the left side following the rift. You're still walking northwest while the canyon rises to the south.
When aligned with the center-right of the canyon from your perspective, start looking for the path to the creekbed as seen below. Follow to the creek.
This year (early April 2015), Big Tujunga Creek is a simple rock hop. As recently as 2010, it has been a raging torrent at certain times of the year.  Do not cross unless it's safe. You may have to choose an alternate place to cross. If you have any doubts, call it a day or climb nearby Condor Peak instead.
Once across, clamber up this bank and watch for the trail bending left.
Now on the other side of Big Tujunga Creek, keep walking southeastward
The dead tree from the trail east of it. you can see the trail now.
If you see the stanchion from the old trail registry, you're on the right track.
The trail hangs a 90-degree right and starts climbing.
Up the trail a bit, looking back the way you came. Find the little rock fall on the left-right trail beneath the rock cut where you first spied the dead tree.
To the northwest is the Wildwood Picnic Area parking lot. Looks temptingly close. It won't seem so close if the NFS decides to lock the gate.
Keep heading straight up-canyon while keeping your eyes peeled to the left. The trail will leave the canyon, sweep left, and start switchbacking up a rib. The grade does not relent until you reach a small plain below the summit mound. At that point, follow the fire road heading towards the antennas.

Start this one early. A hat, sunscreen, and at least three liters of water are a must. The entire area except the summit plain burned in the 2009 Station Fire. The trail was closed for two years. Maybe a foot of shade exists on the whole trail now. Poison oak abounds all along the route so identify it and do your best to avoid it. An immediate hot soapy shower and clothes wash will prevent a breakout. Load the washer first, then shower in case your clothes have the oily residue on them. 

There are many areas overgrown with new scrub oak and chaparral on the trail's upper third. Climbers must contend with a few washouts as well. Use your very best judgement on this climb. However, if anything I've written thus far dissuades you from from attempting it, then your Mt Whitney aspirations may be wobbly as well.  This is an early test of your mental commitment and your physical conditioning. Just remember you're entering a national forest, not an amusement park. Be aware at all times. Take pride in this early victory. Build from it.

Learn about the origin of the peak's original name, Sister Elsie. Judge for yourself whether she existed or not. If you believe she did, tell her we said hi

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Playing the Mount Whitney Lottery Part II: Timeline, Tips, and Lottery FAQ

The map on the floor of the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor's Center.  Note the position of San Francisco.  Perhaps the consequences of awarding contracts to the lowest bidder?

2015 Mt Whitney Permit Important Dates

February 1, 12:00 am EST – Mt Whitney Lottery begins.  Set up your free account at  You can choose as many  as 15 dates.  The date you choose is the date you enter the Whitney Zone / John Muir Wilderness.  Everything goes into the hopper and drawn randomly at the end of the lottery so being first doesn’t mean anything. You will owe a $6.00 non-refundable transaction fee at this time.  9:00 pm PST start on January 31 for West Coasters.

You need a multi-day permit to camp at Lone Pine Lake (Charles Hirsch photo)

March 15, 11:59 pm EST – Lottery closes.  That would be 8:59 pm Pacific.

March 23 – Results are in.  Check your account to see your dates.  You have from this date until April 1 to look at your dates, see what else might be available, and finalize your permit size. The results are "frozen" until April 1. Costs will be $15.00 per person on the permit. You can alter the size of your original permit downward without penalty but no alterations can be made upward until April 1 and only if there are availabilities.

April 1 – All permitting functions thaw out and become operational. will publish a “calendar” of all remaining availabilities including those generated by permit alterations up to this time.  This is also the time you can revise your permit upward if available.  Each addition person costs $15.00.  Do not accept your date until you know your permit size. Once accepted, any up or down movement in permit size will cost you.

April 30 – Last day to accept or decline.  You have until 9:00 pm Pacific to hit the “ACCEPT” button.  Don't white-knuckle this thing to the very last minute.  If the web slows down or you're looking for your credit card when the cutoff point arrives, the system locks and you lose your place.  This is also the last day to revise your permit downward without penalty.  Make sure you alter the permit size if necessary before accepting.  After hitting "ACCEPT," any downward revisions mean forfeiting the dropout's per-person fee.

May 1 – All unaccepted dates are released.  They become part of the availability calendar.  Note:  The calendar is “dynamic” i.e. availabilities can go down and up within a 24-hour period.  You may find no extra availabilities for your intended date, then manually refreshing the screen ten minutes later shows availabilities added.  Check often.

14 days before Whitney Zone entry date -You may receive an email reminding you once again to confirm your date.  This should happen whether you went through the lottery or not.  Tip:  There was a problem with this in the past so check your account two weeks before your date.

2 – 14 days before Whitney Zone entry date - Reconfirm as explained above.  Verify your group size or alter it as required.  Doing so allows freed-up space to hit the calendar as soon as possible so someone else can use it.  The USFS thanks you in advance.  Print out the confirmation and bring it with you when you pick up your permit at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center on the southern end of Lone Pine.  Throughout the process, follow all instructions on any correspondence to the letter.

48 hours to noon the day before Whitney Zone entry date for single-day permits - Pick up your permit.  Only the trip leader or alternate leader(s) can pick up.  Otherwise, your permit will be reassigned by lottery to a walk-up candidate by 2:00 pm.

48 hours to 10:00 am the day of John Muir Wilderness entry date for overnight permits - Pick up your permit.  Only trip leader or alternate leader(s) can pick up.  Otherwise, your permit will be reassigned by lottery to a walk-up candidate by 11:00 am.

Note:  Permitting and info – Inyo National Forest (760) 873-2483

Location map for permit pickup at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center

Frequently Asked Lottery Questions

Note:  New questions will be added to the list on an ongoing basis.

What are the Mount Whitney daily permit quotas?  160 people per day get to summit Mt Whitney by starting at Whitney Portal, the main jump-off point.  60 people get a multi-day permit, 100 people can climb on a single-day permit.  Single-day climbs via the Mountaineer's Route are part of the 100 per day quota but multi-day trips via the Mountaineer's Route are not part of the lottery at all.  10 people can climb Mt Whitney via a multi-day trip on the Mountaineer's Route which is part of the normal backcountry permit program.  See for details.

It's March 5.  The lottery started back on February 1.  Am I already shut out of my first date choice?  Nope. Since the Mount Whitney Lottery went computerized, it does not matter how early or late you are in making your application.  Everyone has an equal chance at their first date choice.  Nothing is tabulated ahead of time.  Once the lottery closes on March 15, the USFS takes a few days to check the integrity of the data, dump any obvious hoarders, bots, and other pests, certifies the results, runs their date assignment program, and sends out congratulatory notices to applicants.

What if everyone in my party applies separately?  Does that enhance our chances for success?  Quite the opposite.  According to the USFS, they filter actively now for duplicate or even similar applications for the same dates and alternates, even if each has a different name.  They were not clear on whether they allow one to go through or reject all of them entirely. The USFS wants everyone to get at least one shot to climb Mt Whitney.  So multiple applications will result in a waste of money and possibly no date at all.

Don't forget to make reservations at Whitney Portal when you know your permit dates
What are my odds of landing Labor Day weekend for my summit attempt?  About the same as winning Powerball while being bitten by a shark.  According to sources within the USFS, about half of the permit applications list Labor Day weekend as either a preferred or alternate date.  Tip:  Do yourself a favor and climb on a Thursday.  It's the least requested day followed by Wednesday, Tuesday, Friday, Monday, Sunday, and Saturday.  Weekend days are tough.

When I get my acceptance letter, I'm good to go, right?  Unfortunately, no.  Check the important dates above. You still have to pay $15.00 per person.  You have to accept your date.  You have to indicate no less than two weeks to two days in advance you and your party still intend to show up.  Then you get a confirmation letter good for a permit.  Take the confirmation letter to pick up your permit from the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center as outlined above.  Tip:  Don't be a sport and pay everyone's fee in your group. They'll be less apt to show up when the time comes.  People will move heaven and earth to get their $15.00 worth if they pay themselves.

Do I have to go through the permit process to climb Mt Whitney?  No. There are two ways to circumvent the process.  First, you can log into on April 1 and start watching the rejected dates come back.  If someone you know has space on a permit where someone dropped out, you can latch on with them. By May 1, all unaccepted dates are released.  Some availabilities will trickle in after that if people are nice enough to give up slots ahead of time that won't be used.  Tip:  Check out the exclusive USFS study documents below regarding early cancellation numbers to get a feel for when they might occur.

Regardless, availabilities usually exist in May and October. May and June will usually require an ice ax and crampons because the trail will be covered in snow above about 11,000 feet. Occasionally the road to Whitney Portal will be closed in May due to snow.  The road has been closed into June as well.  October features very short days and cold nights with a chance of snow every day. If trained and prepared for the conditions, these are the times to climb in some solitude.

The second non-lottery scenario is cooling your heels at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center either the day before you want to make your summit bid (single day trip) or the day of entry into the John Muir Wilderness adjacent to the Mt Whitney Zone (multi-day trip).  Unclaimed permits get released to the public so it's possible to do an impromptu trip with a bit of luck.

EXCLUSIVE TO MT WHITNEY QUEST:  Check out the data on these two USFS-generated studies showing last year's cancellation and no-show patterns for both single-day and multi-day trips.  There were as many as 36 no-shows for one day during prime September climbing time so an impromptu trip is possible:

Day Use               Overnight 

What are the best months to climb Mount Whitney?  The last half of July, all of August, and all of September.  There's less snow, less bugs, and more stable weather.  Summit before noon if you can.  Otherwise the afternoon electrical storm / hail /blizzard will catch you in a potentially dangerous
situation on top of the highest point for 1,630 miles.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Playing the Mount Whitney Lottery: Part I

Revision for 2016:

 Due to scheduled construction work on Whitney Portal Road, the "walk-in" permit program may be heavily curtailed or cancelled entirely if parking becomes an issue.  Otherwise, all other aspects of the permit process remain as described in this 2015 post.  Call the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center for more details as the summer progresses.  Now to our regularly scheduled post already in progress...

Don't forget your Whitney Portal campsite reservation if base camping at altitude is part of your plan (and it should be)

To climb Mt Whitney from the traditional eastern approaches, one must submit oneself to that little piece of paradise we like to call the Mount Whitney Lottery.  For most people wishing to climb the most typical routes, the lottery is the surest bet to having a permit reserved for their party.

The Lottery was created a while back as a fair method for limiting the amount of environmental damage caused by the mostly well-meaning hoards unwittingly loving the place to death.  The campsites were in danger of becoming high altitude cesspools, the marmot population exploded, and some marmots themselves actually exploded after gorging on junk food stolen from unsuspecting backpackers.

Bear can requirements helped control the marmots (not to mention the bears) but something had to be done about spreading out the folks who wished to climb.  Before the lottery, 90 percent of the climbers showed up on weekends.  It was a bit of a madhouse.  A very trashy madhouse at that.  So the lottery not only limits use, it spreads the usage out evenly across the whole week.

The Lottery permit period starts on February 1 at midnight EST.  Subtract an hour for every subsequent western time zone.  That means 9:00 pm by the time we arrive at PST.  The period ends at 11:59 pm on March 15.  Again subtract an hour for every time zone going west.  That means everyone has the same start and finish time no matter where they reside.  Here's the blow-by-blow:

All Mount Whitney climbing reservations get handled at  One can also use this website to reserve a campground at most national parks and forests.  The site takes reservations for backcountry permits as well.  If you love the outdoors, chances are you already set up your free account.  If you don't have one, spend five minutes and you will.  Split your screen into two windows and pull up Mt Whitney Quest again so you can click on the above screenshot in one window and get a good look while reading these instructions in the other one.

Shown above is the homepage.  Once signed in, enter "Mt Whitney" into the white search box.  You'll see some pre-selected results drop down from the search box.  Choose "Mt Whitney, Inyo National Forest" from the results then select "Permits & Wilderness"  from the drop-down "Interested In" menu.

Just above the "Check Availability" button in the first result marked "A," find the two links for "DAY USE of Mt Whitney Zone" and "Mt Whitney Trail Overnight Permit."  Click the appropriate link.  If you're not sure about your trip type, find the blog posts comparing single-day and multi-day trips.  One caveat:  The lottery is cobbled together from their normal website code which is cobbled together from God knows what.  Clicking as directed will get you where you're going.  If you stray off the path here, you may be lost forever.

If taking a single-day trip, you'll get the result shown above.  You multi-day-ers hang on.  We'll get to you in a sec.  Click on "Mt Whitney Zone - Day Use All Routes"

The two screen shots above are actually the same page.  The lower shot is a scroll-down from the upper. Start by using the first two drop-downs and seeing the results as above.  Next, add your permit entry date.  Note:  The date on your permit is the date you plan to enter the Mt Whitney Zone and summit Mt Whitney.  Set your permit size.  No more than 15 people can be grouped together regardless of the number of permits. Set your exit point as above.

Note the box marked "Alternative Choice 1." Fill out an alternative date and finish as with the first box.  When done, click on the link below it called, "Add Alternate Choice (You can add up to 15 choices)."  Fill in as many choices as you can before you're choiced out.

Moving to the lower shot, fill in your trip itinerary using the drop-down box.  Indicate "Mt Whitney Trail" (the main route).  Choose "North fork of Lone Pine Creek" if taking a one-day trip up and down the Mountaineer's Route.  Note:  Multi-day trips up the Mountaineers Route are a completely different permit setup.  This is for single-day attempts only.

Next, indicate your alternate leaders.  This is extremely important.  If you can't make the trip due to illness or whatever, and you don't appoint alternate leaders, then your permit is dead.  Only leaders or alternate leaders can pick up permits from the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center in Lone Pine.

Check the Terms of Use box.  Then go back and make sure everything is in order before continuing to the shopping cart.  If you miss, you'll get a warning and have to go back to complete the application properly.  Failure to do so either scrubs out all your info or double bills you as you resubmit.  Also, check your preferred entry date because it occasionally defaults to May.  Whatever you do, don't hit the "back" button.  You will cause the Earth to wobble on its axis and be catapulted into space. There is a place to clean up your bill before paying without causing global catastrophe. Look for  "Remove Marked Items" in the green bar below the words "Shopping Cart."  Click on it only after checking off the duplicates.

Your final application should look like this.  It won't show all your alternate dates.  At this point, all you owe is the $6.00 non-refundable application fee.  You do not pay $15.00 per person until you accept your date assignments.

 I know you guys can take it on home from here.  Now let's see how the multi-day trip differs:

After clicking on the "Mt Whitney Trail Overnight Permit" link from the search results page, it should look like this.  Click on "Mt Whitney Trail JM 35."

On a multi-day trip, the date listed is the day you plan to enter the John Muir Wilderness (about .9 mile from the trailhead), not the Mount Whitney Zone which starts about a hundred yards up the trail from Lone Pine Lake.  Camping at Lone Pine Lake also requires a multi-day permit, hence the difference in boundaries from the single-day permit.  The application looks pretty much the same except for the size of the exit-point drop-down menu.  Since this is a multi-day trip, the options aren't just limited to different days.  You can vary the exit points as well.

If you're taking the standard trip in and out, select "Mt Whitney Trail JM35" as both entry and exit points.  Also, indicate your exit day (hidden behind the drop-down) With a multi-day permit, you have as many as 13 more days in the Mt Whitney Zone but you must declare your intention to do so.

If your multi-day trip begins anywhere other than The Mt Whitney Trail, that's a different permit altogether. You will not be part of the lottery.  You will be part of the normal backcountry permit system, which allows applications for permits six months to the day in advance of their trips.

Planning a south-to north trip on the John Muir Trail?  Not only is your backcountry ingress regulated (via the Mount Whitney Lottery), your egress at Yosemite now has a quota as well.  Could be a drag if they don't let you stop. Check with the Yosemite authorities for information.

Do everything correctly and the above page is your reward.  If you had to go back to re-do something, the application fee may be double. Find the link called "Remove Marked Items" in the green bar just below the words "Shopping Cart."  Click on it after you put a check mark next to the duplicate entries.

Need more info?  These fine folks at Inyo National Forest can help. (760) 873-2483.

 Check out Part II of "Playing the Mount Whitney Lottery" where we discuss strategy, facts figures, and other need-to-knows.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mt Whitney for the Sedentary

Or:  Thank You Lord Baden-Powell

Public domain photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Father of Scouting.  Unwitting Re-Animator of the Sedentary
Many aspiring Mt Whitney climbers must first climb off the couch or make the transition from light exercise to the type of training necessary for increasing their odds of a successful climb.  My own enforced idleness got me thinking about a strategy for helping others in the same boat.  This is where we thank Lord Robert Baden-Powell, father of the Scouting movement.

Last April, I started running again after being forced to lay off for 11 months due to a really painful case of plantar fascitis.  To prevent injury, I started easily, running a mere one mile a day.  After having worked up to two miles, I pulled my calf muscle.  Then I pulled it again.  Then I pulled it again.

"Try fast walking instead of running to rehab the calf," I thought.  So I did.  Then I pulled a hamstring.  While walking. Total humiliation.  Despite my 40-plus running years, I learned one cannot jump-start a 58-year-old bod from zero and expect to be back in shape in a week.

Actually, I did know that.  However, I am still surprised over how long everything takes at this age.  It doesn't matter how many years I ran.  When I'm forced to lay off and start from scratch it's like I never ran a step in my life.

Back in my day, (am I old enough to use that phrase?), our Scout Handbooks discussed Boy Scout Pace.  The idea was to alternate running 50 paces (a pace being two strides) with walking 50 more.  Good practitioners could travel 12 minutes a mile or five miles per hour for quite a long time.  In a past article I wrote the minimum cardiovascular fitness for a successful, safe Mt Whitney climb was running a minimum of five miles in an hour for the month before the trip.  That's not a coincidence.

Photo by Charles Hirsch, Consultation Lake
Consultation Lake, Arc Pass, Mt McAdie, and Louie Malvaez (Charles Hirsch photo)

By applying the principle behind Boy Scout Pace, I fiendishly devised a method for returning sedentary bodies back from the dead.  The walking interval lowers the running intensity so the body can adapt at its own pace.

In practice there are a few different ways to apply the method.  After awhile, counting paces drives me nuts.  How about counting telephone poles instead? Or light poles? Or trees planted along a street?  Or houses?  What if you started by running two poles, then walking two?  Then three and three?  Then four and two?  You can use the principle to put together larger and larger blocks of solid running.

Boy Scout pace also allows the trainee to stay out longer initially but with less intensity.  So that one mile of running turns into a mile of running and a mile of walking broken into smaller parts.  Eventually, you will run the whole distance, having strengthened your tendons and ligaments slowly instead of falling into a train-and-injury pattern.

I used this method to allow everything to get used to moving in concert again.  I weaned myself off the walking parts slowly until I could run three or four miles (5 to 6.6 km) solidly.  If I can run that far, I can run six miles (10 km)-plus. Eventually.

Thanks, Lord Bobby.  Hello to the wife.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen Hike 1: Malibu Creek - Backbone Trail "Walkabout"

In my never-ending quest to provide you, dear reader, with all the information you need to succeed, I hereby provide these hike "spotlights" on certain Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen hikes that you, dear reader, ask about repeatedly.

A lot of folks write or ask me at clinics about Hike #1.  They can't find the trailhead or it's hard to follow the trail itself.  The guidebooks are a little vague on the particulars as well so my wife Robin (our photographer du jour unless otherwise credited) and I headed out to document the hike's beginning.  Or the end, if you decide to do it counter-clockwise.

I'm a rebel...

 Personally, I like to hike this loop clockwise.  The trail climbs more precipitously but I'd rather go up more steeply than down.  Hiking counter-clockwise means more total miles climbing but at an easier grade.  I just like the way it plays out better clockwise.  Plus, you're not staring into the sun while traveling on top of the ridge
(Natalie Moore photo)
However, it is easier to start counter-clockwise by parking in the main lot and following the "Backcountry Trails" signs.  After those, follow the signs for the old M*A*S*H TV show set (now somewhat restored).  A guidebook can take you the rest of the way. Towards the end, consult the pics below and follow the directions backwards.

If you want to do it my way, follow along as Robin and I get you started on a grand day out in the beautifully sublime Santa Monica Mountains.  You'll be gawking at the most expensive real estate in the world as well.

(Natalie Moore photo)
The main entrance to Malibu Creek State Park lies just south of the Las Virgenes Road - Mulholland Highway intersection.

First obstacle to negotiate is the entrance kiosk where your wallet will be lightened to the tune of 12 bucks for parking.  Try convincing the ranger you're a senior for a one-dollar discount.  Using words like "World-Wide Web," "MySpace," or "Flip-Phone" will probably work.

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 You can choose to park in the main lot and hike this road  to the trailhead or stay in the car for a short minute and park next to it.  The hike ends at the main parking area so take your pick.  If going counter-clockwise, follow this crosswalk, then the signs indicating the trail.
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  Driving or walking, do not miss this right turn.  Follow the sign toward the group camping area.
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Follow the now-dirt road to this parking lot.  Park here or cross the lot to the far (northeast) corner to the gap in the railing.  That's the trailhead.
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Close-up of the trailhead.  Don't know if the spigot in the center works.  Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat on this one.  This hike will burn you even on a cloudy day.
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You are now on the Tapia Spur Trail in the oak-and-grass country covering large areas of CA.

First glimpse of Camp Gonzales, a juvenile detention center.

Closer in, one can make out the walls, fences, and razor wire.

Welcome to the Backbone Trail.

The trail forks past the detention center after some descent.  The left fork is prettier, the right fork more direct.

Left-forkers will find this footbridge.  Turn right on the road after the bridge.

The trails converge at the gated entrance to Tapia Park.  Skip the road and pass between the two yellow posts to walk the trail paralleling the road.
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A good time to work on our poison oak identification.  Robin's photo shows three manifestations of the same plant.  It's active no matter what color or how glossy.  Leaflets three, let it be.

Leave the trail and regain the now-dirt road for an area I call the Tunnel of Trees.  Oak trees inhabit the left side of the road, sycamores on the right (creek) side

Upon reaching this gate, do not follow the paved road.  Stay to the right instead.

Look for a small picnic grove next to the paved road and a small parking area.  These two picnic tables are the only ones of their type in this small grove.  Pass to the left of the two tables and follow the trail to Las Virgenes Road.  Or, for a more scenic route, pass to the right of the two tables and follow the trail to a tee intersection.  Turn left and head towards the auto bridge.  Pass under the bridge and follow the trail until it reaches Piuma Road.

If you went left, cross this intersection and cross the bridge behind the guardrail on the left-hand side.  Right-goers come into the picture from the left side of the parking lot pictured, having already crossed under the bridge.  Avoid crossing the bridge in the right-hand lane.  There is no protection from cars going 50-60 miles per hour.

Re-cross the road again (end up on the right side) to enter this parking lot not too far from the other side of the bridge.  The next trail section starts in the middle of the lot.

Just outside the photo on the right side is a sign that reads "Trail" with an arrow pointing directly at the Port-A-John.  I assure you nothing good can come from following that arrow.

Instead, walk about 100 feet past the Port-A-John, then by a closed, mouldering "permanent" restroom and find this sign. Enjoy the next 1,600 vertical feet on your way to the Mesa peak Motorway. 
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A good guidebook will get you around from here to the trail's end at UTM 0341643 E 3774178 N where a soda machine sits for your drinking pleasure.  You still have to drive home so don't get nuts drinking Cactus Cooler.

Now for all you conformists......

If you're traveling counter-clockwise around the loop, the Piuma road intersection looks like this.  You can cross the street here and head into Tapia Park but where's the fun in that?  Instead, turn right on Piuma road and look for the trail past the end of the parking lot.  Follow the trail under the bridge, then take take the right fork when the trail diverges.  The road less traveled.

Go through the yellow gate to the Tunnel of Trees, then look for the trail on the right just before the road you're following turns back into pavement.  Go through the aforementioned yellow posts, then look across the road to find this sign.  Follow the arrow, go past the detention center and follow the above directions backwards.  Easy, right?

I love this 14.5-mile jaunt.  My wife Robin loves it.  My stepdaughter Natalie did it four times in one month alternating directions around the loop.  Completing this hike in six hours or less (including lunch and breaks) means your basic conditioning is good enough to get serious about Mt Whitney after completing the hiking and running programs I've outlined in many previous posts.  If you struggle to complete this hike in the allotted time, consider taking a year to condition yourself to ensure a successful Whitney climb. Believe me, it will still be there when you're really ready.

(Natalie Moore photo)

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