Wednesday, January 13, 2021

5 Mt Whitney Resolutions for 2021

I'm gonna choose optimism for this year. At least in the realm of Mt Whitney climbing anyway. I'm going to assume there will be a climbing season, however truncated it might be. Here's a list of "resolutions" to keep in mind while you plan your trip.

Enjoy the view.  Don't meet it.

1.  Take this endeavor seriously.  

Your Whitney preparations begin now if they haven't already. You must be ready physically, mentally, and materially for the challenges. That means training at least six months to achieve a good level of cardiovascular fitness, preferably by running, climbing long and hard to improve musculature, and climbing high to aid acclimatization and mental toughness. Familiarize yourself with the objective dangers of the climb as well as the route itself. Don't rely on "heroic ignorance" to pull you through.

Make sure your gear is in good shape and familiar to you. No tearing off price tags in the parking lot.  Are your shoes broken in? Have you set up your shelter in the dark before?

2.  Don't rely on a rescue.  

Most of the S&R teams in the region are staffed by volunteers. If you require rescue during this pandemic, a volunteer will have to miss 14 days of work at their day job because you decided training was optional. This past season, rescue calls went unanswered because there was no one left to take the call. 

Now, things do happen. Last summer, an earthquake loosened hundreds of tons of granite. Luckily COVID-19 closed Whitney Portal and the Main Trail so there were no casualties. Unavoidable consequences are one thing. Failure to heed resolution #1 is another. According to the authorities, people die on Mt Whitney every year. Most deaths are avoidable.

Taking a fall here because you're fatigued may not be fatal but could have serious consequences

3.  Be self-aware.  

If you've never been to 14,000 feet (4,267 m) or used crampons, fill in your knowledge gaps by rigorous assessment of your prior performance at altitude or practice your skills. The Main Trail is not the place to try crampons for the first time, especially if you didn't know they existed three months prior to your climb. Crampons require mountaineering boots to work best. If you didn't know that, you're proving my point. 

Know your limits. Hubris can propel one up a mountain but it's humility that gets one back down again. Which brings me to the following:

4.  Give yourself the best chance for success.  

Since we are not Sir Edmund Hillary or Ed Viesturs (unless you are Ed Viesturs.  Hi Ed.), make the climb as easy as possible on your first attempt. 15 of the Main Trail's 21.6 miles (34.76 km) are above 10,000 feet (3,048 m). The vertical gain is over 6,000 feet (>1,829 m). 

Sir Ed

Prime climb time runs from the third week in July to the end of September depending on the snow levels.  Earlier trips probably require an ice ax and crampons, the ability to use them well, and route-finding skills you may not yet possess. The "winter line" differs from the established Main Trail route above Trail Camp.  Descents under early and late-season conditions have been fatally hazardous. The road to Whitney Portal has been closed on Father's Day due to heavy snow.  Leave the "shoulder season" trips to the boys and girls with skills and experience. That can be you someday.

Ed Ed

5.  During a pandemic, the single-day trip rules.  

Think about it. Avoiding Trail and Outpost Camps, except to pass through or pump water, could be a way to minimize exposure. Also, the 2020 fires in SoCal and other areas along with the resultant area closures may hamper our ability to climb high as much as we'd like. Zipping up and down with superior conditioning and lighter weight will win the day. The Portal and surrounding high camp areas may be closed so additional on-site acclimatization may be hard to come by unless the authorities allow dispersed camping.

These resolutions are not meant to scare anyone out of attempting the trip. Go with your eyes wide open, your head on a swivel, your antennae up and your brain locked in. Know what you're in for. Hopefully you'll find more useful information here at Mt Whitney Quest.  

In the coming weeks, I will write about fire-induced alterations to the Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen, the Mt Whitney Lottery, and why this would be a great year to plan an alternate adventure climbing a more remote mountain with a longer approach serving to isolate you and yours from the madding crowds. Yup, I just wrote that. We'll discuss....

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