It’s a matter of Altitude

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So off we set on another adventure, to summit Mt. Whitney…the tallest mountain in the lower 48.  While the trip will a “short” one, (a “mere” 40.7 miles or so) the significance of this particular adventure will combine two of my most consistent nemeses; Altitude sickness and frankly…Altitude, as in heights.  Those of you who have read my previous adventure posts of the PCT and of the TRT most likely are already aware of my distinct aversion to heights, be it a ladder, a 10 story building or a narrow trail that hugs the side of a ridiculously steep mountain.  Add to it, the fact that I live at practically sea level, my body’s ability to acclimate to significant elevation gains is specifically challenged and has been so for most of my life.  Paul on the other hand has no such issues with altitude gains or heights in general.  My son on the other hand is somewhat of a hybrid.   He loves heights, but is susceptible to altitude sickness.  We both will be taking medication (Acetazolamide) at least two days before we get on the road toward Whitney, and each day thereafter (twice a day) till we descend.  Additionally,  to better acclimate, we will be taking the “longer” route to summit Whitney, and make our approach from the West side, starting at Horseshoe Meadows (via the Cottonwood Pass Trail), and exiting at Whitney Portal.  We will take 5 days in total.  Three days on the approach, summit Whitney (14,505 ft) then descend to Trail Camp or Outpost Camp (10,360 ft.) the 4th day, and exit via Whitney Portal (8,365 ft) on the 5th day.   The “rub” will be if we (meaning I…I think our son will be fine) have issues and cannot summit, let alone get up to the pass where the John Muir Trail and the Whitney Trail (13,480 ft) intersect.  In that case, I will have to back track and exit back out at Cottonwood Pass (11,180 ft).  If that is the case, I won’t take 4 days to get back to Horseshoe Meadows (9,920 ft), but probably 2 at the most, seeing we are only doing 8-12 miles a day the first 3 days.   If need be, I will crank out 20+ (Paul will join me…it’s in the marriage contract).  We are pretty confident that I will be able to get over Cottonwood Pass, as I had no problems skiing Mammoth this Spring, and inadvertently “summited” Mammoth Mountain (11,039 ft.) when I followed my “friends” into the Gondola at the Mammoth Mountain Ski resort to ski down from the top of the mountain not even considering the quick elevation gain via the Gondola…oops!
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This adventure will be a group effort, with a total of 7 hikers.  Myself, Paul, our son, my friend Jody (aka. SideKick), our neighbor April (whose husband is currently deployed…she will summit Whitney before him, and is pretty excited about it…as is he actually), my college friend’s husband Steve (Sandy has a broken ankle that is still healing), and BeeKeeper of Jan’s Jaunts and Jabberings.  This will be quite an eclectic group, but they should all meld quite well.

When we did the PCT in 2014, I was not able to take the side trip to summit when we reached CrabTree Meadows as my knee was “trashed” (I didn’t want to put any unnecessary stress on it), and I already was having issues with altitude and I was more concerned about getting over Forrester Pass, and if not, being able to have enough food to get around and to a lower elevation. Worst case scenario, we figured we could do Whitney another time, as we live relatively “close”. Hence this current adventure. Back in 2014, as we waited for our tent to arrive at Kennedy Meadows, we were hit with a 3 day snow storm.  It was fairly “early” (May 21, 2014) as far as entry into the Sierra’s.  Late to mid June is the “recommended” time period.  (But then when do we do anything “recommended”… in full)  As we waited, the storm dropped 8-11 ft of snow above 10,000 ft.  We had no concept at the time what that would mean for us, except that the passes would have snow on them…especially Forrester Pass (13,500 ft).  We had been to the ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero PCT Kick Off) held at Lake Morena in San Diego County a few times, in preparation for doing the PCT and had heard Ned Tibbits talk about the Sierras and dealing with snow.  The best part, was not to be “afraid” of snow covering the trail.  You don’t have to follow the trail, just take a bearing and walk across the snow.  Of course this is best done with micro-spikes or crampons (better traction), and in the morning before the snow starts to soften, otherwise you will spend a significant amount of time and energy post holing (sinking deep into the snow, often one full leg at a time).  Cool, we thought!  We hate switchbacks, and walking on rocks.  We entered the Sierra’s from Kennedy Meadows and walked on, near , or around snow for over 300 miles!  It was the best and most memorable, and dare I say most beautiful section of our PCT thru-hike.  This year appears to be no different, as the snow fall and levels appear to be “similar” to 2014.  Those that are currently hiking the PCT are doing near acrobatic route maneuvers trying to avoid the snow.  I say embrace it!…unless you are going “stupid light” (not carrying warm enough gear and/or ways to keep and/or get yourself warm/dry,  micro-spikes, trekking poles, and calorie dense food).  With that in mind, we will be carrying more than we “need”…unless things go to crap, then we will be just fine.

Paul, Jody and I will head up “early” to Lone Pine to get acclimated for two days and pick up our permit and another bear canister for my son from the Forest Service office in Lone Pine.  For some silly reason, we thought we could stuff 4 days of food for three people in two large canisters.  We failed miserably.  Our son, and Steve and April will head up Friday night and meet us at Horseshoe Meadows.  Jan will meet us in Lone Pine for the vehicle shuffle…at least that is the plan.  We are mostly packed.  Delorme has been tested, and maps in hand.  Here goes nothing!

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3 Responses to It’s a matter of Altitude

  1. Rosanna Lippe says:

    Soooo EXCITING!!!!! I’ll be cheering you on!!!!!

  2. Dori Drake says:

    You will do fine. I took Diamox, (Acetazolamide?) and I was slow, but I didn’t get altitude sickness.
    Have fun!!

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