This year I really wanted to challenge myself—push myself to my absolute limit. I made it my goal to not only hike once a week for a year but also hike Mount Whitney in one day! Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states at 14,508ft! I knew it would be difficult but did not fully anticipate the severity. The following is how I trained for the hike, my account of the trek, and my advice to others that want to tackle this mountain!
As far as training goes, hike as much as possible! Just getting used to hiking long distance at high elevation is key. With my work schedule I really only had the weekends to train, but I was still able to hike five out of the six highest peaks in Southern California aka “The Six Pack of Peaks” (Mount Wilson, Cucamonga Peak, Mount Baldy, San Bernadino, San Jacinto, and San Gorgonio). For more details on those hikes check out the socalhiker.net, Jeff Hester details his account of each hike.
Since I was hiking Whitney in one day I was not too worried about training with the weight of a heavy backpack. I really only packed the essentials to keep my day pack as light as possible. I packed my Geigerrig water bladder, water filter, snacks, base layer, wind breaker coat, portable oxygen can, Tylenol, Pepto Bismol tablets, salt tablets, sunscreen, camera, space blanket, trekking poles, insect repellant wipes, wet wipes, and WAG bag! (The WAG bag is the waste removal bag that you will receive once you pick up your permit at the ranger’s station. You are required to bag your waste up and pack it out of the mountain! Luckily, I did not have to use mine on my trip!)
My husband and I started out at 1am, summited at 11:30am, and finished hiking at 8:30pm! Almost 20 hours of straight hiking. It was the most physically and emotionally draining thing I’ve ever done in my life! Since we started out so early we did not see much of the gorgeous trail on the way up. It was pitch black, we could really only see a few feet ahead of us. However, we did catch some of the Perseid meteor shower which was quite a treat! Watching the sunrise over the John Muir mountains was an incredible sight! I tried my best to capture the moment but unfortunately my photos don’t do it justice!
In preparing for the hike, people warned me how hard the 99 switch backs would be, but I found them to be not nearly as difficult as the last 2 miles to the summit. After you reach Trail Crest, it’s a bit of a rock scramble on the trail, not to mention passing by terrifying drop offs of a 1000 feet! The high elevation forced us to take frequent breaks to catch our breath. I took Tylenol every four hours to prevent headaches, as well as Pepto Bismol tablets to ward off nausea. It worked! I did not experience any effects of altitude sickness, aside from some dizziness. My potable oxygen canister was also a life saver. Every time we found ourselves gasping for breath, we took a puff of the oxygen and felt so much better. I purchased my oxygen canister online at oxygenplus.com. It is a little expensive but I think it’s worth it to have especially on a one day summit with little time to acclimatize.
Reaching the top was nothing short of amazing! We hit perfect weather, with clear 36o degree views as far as the eye can see! With the rock formations, it feels like you’re walking on another planet. I suggest spending a small amount of time up there to rest, refuel, take photos, and soak in the accomplishment before making the long trek down.
I found the most difficult part to be the descent. My advice to anyone that wants to tackle Whitney in one day is to get plenty of rest the day before and conserve your energy along the trail! You will need it to summit but you will need it even more for the trek back to the parking lot! I felt depleted around mile 13, realizing with horror that I still had 8 miles to go! With my muscles tensing, eyes watering, and fatigue setting in, every step was agonizing. This is a pretty technical hike, lots of rocks to maneuver over and around, you do not want to trip, particularly with the sharp drop off so close by.
The last few miles to the parking lot were the absolute worst, I had tears in my eyes from the pain and utter exhaustion. Hiking Whitney was brutal, I can not even put it into words how I was able to finish other than I just kept my legs moving. I have a new appreciation for hiking—Mother Nature is beautiful but also treacherous! All in all it was an incredible experience and something I can check off my bucket list but I think I found my absolute limit as far as hiking goes! I will be taking it easy for the next couple of weeks.