View from Mt. Whitney, CA

Beyond L.A.: Five things I would have done differently to prepare for my 3-day Mt. Whitney hike

This Beyond L.A. post features a peak that might be vaguely familiar to some hikers – Mt. Whitney.

There’s no shortage of information available online about the tallest summit in the U.S. outside Alaska. That being said, there are some things that can only be learned from doing or experiencing them. My trip to Whitney proved the old truism that hindsight is 20/20. I am grateful to have summited and descended safely, but in the process I realized that there were things I could have done differently to better prepare and it is in that spirit that I present the following. If I could go back and do my Mt. Whitney trip over again, I would have:

  1. Carried a heavier pack on my high altitude training hikes. Before this trip, the highest peak I had done (as is the case with many L.A. hikers) was San Gorgonio. At 14,505 feet, Mt. Whitney is about 3,000 feet higher than San G; it beats San Jacinto by about 3,700 feet and Baldy by over 4,400. At high altitude, those thousands of feet make a difference. I did a 14-mile day hike to San Jacinto as preparation for Whitney, but only carried my day pack (about 15 pounds). Had I carried weight closer to the 45 pounds I hauled up Whitney (at least to Trail Camp at 12,000 feet) the trip would have helped better prepare me.

    Outpost Camp, Mt. Whitney, CA
    Outpost Camp
  2. Camped at Outpost rather than Trail Camp. Speaking of Trail Camp, it is located about 6 miles from Whitney Portal (about 3,600 feet of elevation gain.) The large pond nearby is the last reliable source of water on the Mt. Whitney route. Our original plan made sense on paper: camp there, leave the tents set up and take our day packs to the summit on the second day (4.5 miles, 2,700 feet of elevation gain.) Thus, we would have gotten much of the work out of the way on the first day. However, in hindsight, Outpost Camp (3.8 miles from the start; 2,000 feet of elevation gain) would have been a better choice to spend the night. The 2.2 miles from Outpost to Trail Camp kicked my rear; I was hiking at a personal record altitude with 45 pounds on my back. Doing that same stretch with the day pack would have been easier, even if it had meant a longer second day. Additionally, Outpost Camp is warmer due to its lower altitude; you lose about 3 degrees F for every 1,000 feet you ascend, meaning that the temperature at Outpost is typically 5 valuable degrees higher than at Trail Camp. Trail Camp is above the timber line and thus lacks trees that can form a buffer from wind. While both campsites have year-round water, Trail Camp’s pond is more likely to freeze.
  3. Brought more food that didn’t have to be cooked. For me, even the rudimentary tasks of setting up a camp stove, boiling water and cooking an MRE were difficult at 12,000 feet in cold and windy weather. When planning the trip I imagined enjoying hot meals at the beginning and end of each day. In reality, when I reached Trail Camp on the first day and returned on the second day after summiting, I just wanted to go to sleep and when I woke up on the third morning, I was more than ready to pack up and go. Snack items that I brought included granola, beef jerky, protein bars, mixed nuts and fruit pies; in hindsight I would have added packaged salmon, chicken, protein shakes and pop tarts to replace a couple of the MREs and give me more easily accessible food during the hike and at the camp.
  4. Planned my packing to include room for a bear canister. I had never hiked with, or even seen, a bear canister before this trip. Due to a work commitment, I was unable to rendezvous with the rest of my party in Lone Pine the day before the hike and ended up meeting them the morning we set off. When I was given the bear canister that had been rented for me, I hastily had to rearrange my food and other belongings to accommodate the large cylinder. Even if I had opted not to purchase a bear canister in So Cal for the trip, I could have made my life easier by doing a little more research about what to expect and packing in a way that would anticipate having to add it.
  5. Used hiking poles on my training hikes. I tend to only use hiking poles when I have to and on Mt. Whitney I had Hiking poles at Trail Crest, Mt. Whitneyto. The good news about hiking poles is that, when you use them, you can burn up to 20% more calories than when you don’t. The bad news is that on a strenuous hike such as this one, if you don’t give yourself extra caloric fuel, you’ll feel it. As someone who tends to enjoy foods that are, let’s just say, rather indulgent, caloric consumption is usually not a problem for me – but since I wasn’t eating enough on this trip (see #3) using the poles required a lot of extra effort. Just as carrying a heavier than necessary pack would have made my training hikes more effective, using hiking poles would have as well.

For more tips on climbing Mt. Whitney, click here, here and here.

Text and photography copyright 2018 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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