I am excited to be planning to hike Mt. Whitney this August! Hiking this mountain requires some serious commitment: Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states, reaching 14,505 feet elevation, and is a major “bucket list” item for many hikers. The peak is in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in east-central California. The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is the range that also hosts Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
I am so lucky to get a chance to climb this peak: One of my friends from college drew a permit and invited me to join her group. Four of us will be tackling the mountain this August.
Logistics: Permits! Time Limits! Switchbacks!
Hiking Mt. Whitey requires a day use or overnight wilderness permit. The day use permit gives you a 24-hour, midnight-to-midnight time block of time in which to access the mountain. Overnight permits allow a backpacker to have a bit more flexibility with spending 1- or 2-nights starting on the Whitney Trail, and allow a backpacker to continue onto the John Muir or Pacific Crest Trails for a longer trip. You must apply for a permit via a competitive lottery. The Forest Service says only 28% of applications were successful for the 2021 hiking season.
The route we will be taking is the classic Whitney Portal route. The trail is 21 miles round trip, gaining 6,646 feet of elevation. The trail starts at 8,300 feet elevation and gains an average of just over 500 feet per mile for the entire ~11 miles out (and loses it on the way back!). We will start at the Whitney Portal, and will hike up towards the peak on its eastern flank, before following the Sierra Nevada ridge-line north to the peak itself. The trail passes a handful of lakes along the way, as well as a section titled “97 (or 99, depending on the source) Switchbacks” so…that sounds interesting..
We have a day pass, so we will plan to be hiking by 3 AM in order to avoid any potential summer storms. We anticipate it will take us at least 12-14 hours of hiking to do the up and back route, and we want to be sure we will be able to take our time to enjoy the hike safely and soak up the experience.
How to Prepare?
To prepare for this hike, I need to….hike. My activity level over the past few months has been fairly limited by unreliable toddler sleep and more recently, a tweaked calf that brought my running to zero for over a month. I am just now starting to carefully build back up to running: I’m at 2 miles a few times per week, and plan to continue in my diligent (aka, slow) return to running. Knowing that I have Mt. Whitney and the Pikes Peak Ascent coming up in a few months, I have been incorporating cross training to at least keep my baseline activity up. I have been swimming and lifting weights 2 times per week. The strength training has been really fun, and is an amazing way for me to build confidence. I love to lift, and I find my body responds well to resistance training. I also use this as time to really work on pelvic, core, and single leg strength work.
The two biggest challenges I see a major need to train for are 1) the time on my feet (12-14 hours hiking is a long time!) and 2) to be walking on an unstable surface for that length of time/distance. The danger that I see for myself is that if I am not strong enough to be moving with good form over a long time on an unstable surface, I will start to let my hiking form deteriorate (knees caving in, posture slumping, back arching, feet dragging), which is likely to lead to either stumbling/tripping, or compensation and muscle strain. My training plan is one for stability, strength, and endurance! I do not plan on hiking 20-22 miles before I go to climb Mt. Whitney, but I do hope to plan several long-ish hikes (15-18 miles) over the next few months. In addition to hiking, I’m working on my aerobic work through consistent running.
I think I’m off to a good start: this past weekend my 9 year old asked me to hike up the La Luz Trail with her. This 7 mile trail gains about 3,500 feet (much steeper than Mt. Whitney trip). We only did the “up” as we got picked up on the Sandia Crest, but it was the first longer hike that I’ve done in a few months. We had a blast, didn’t run into too much snow, and had the luck to have my sister and her new baby join us for company.
Stay tuned for more hiking, training, and planning!