Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mt. Whitney 2012: Chapter 2: More Planning

Mt. Whitney at the time of this post! (Pacific Time)
Wow! We're two months away exactly from attempting to reach the top of the lower United States in Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet. With our trip date coming so rapidly, I continue to move my planning forward. Mt. Whitney: Chapter 1 informed you of my successful lottery application, some general facts on Mt. Whitney and emergency information for the Mt. Whitney zone. Since then, I have been playing with my complete trip itinerary, which includes multiple days in Las Vegas prior to the hike, and also the hike itinerary itself.

In this chapter, I will be sharing some of my thoughts and notes pertaining to the weather, mother nature, and other natural factors that may affect us or better yet, make this trip as spectacular as it can be. While planning is important for the obvious reasons, but by taking notes and having everything in front of you like I do, it allows for easy decision making on the trail. Knowing a lot of about the places in advance helps create options to be able to find ways to make a trip even more memorable.

Before I get started, I'm not going to get into step by step on how to plan a Mt. Whitney hike, because there are two links you need to know to be directed towards all of the information you need to know to plan your own. Those are the forums on and Some of those reading might think I'm missing some important things to know, but its not my intention for this to be a how-to, but more of a personal account of what I'm thinking as I plan for it, and then go out and do it.

Ok, here are the sunset and moon times for the three days we'll be focused on Whitney. At night, it will be a waning crescent last quarter moon, and each of these days we will have 14 hours and 40 minutes of daylight, which is awesome. These times are extremely important to be aware of, especially as we plan our summit day, as we'll be hiking towards the summit as the sun is rising. This also gives us a good idea how to establish our deadlines for establishing camp or potential turn-around times should we be threatened with weather or slow progress for whatever potential reason, including acute mountain sickness.

Sunday, June 17th
Sunrise: 5:34am
Sunset: 8:13pm
Moonrise: 4:05am
Moonset: 6:47pm

Monday, June 18th
Sunrise: 5:34am
Sunset: 8:13pm
Moonrise: 4:52am
Moonset: 7:37pm

Tuesday, June 19th
Sunrise: 5:34am
Sunset: 8:13pm
Moonrise: 5:42am
Moonset: 8:24pm
New Moon: 8:03am

Expected Trail Conditions
As for trail conditions, we are expecting that there be much less snow on the trail than last year at this time, but only because of the warm winter this year. But Whitney has been stormy of late, and it would not be out of the question that we encounter snow up high, or cross a snowfield.  As for the need for any winter gear, it will be monitored right up until we leave the east coast, and then we'll also ask about the conditions before we leave Lone Pine, but unless there are excessive storms this spring, we should be able to leave the ice axes and crampons home. We can't possibly know what it will be like in June, so just like I do for weekend hiking in the Whites, I'll practically be a weatherman leading up to go-time.

Expected Weather
As for the weather, we can expect mild temperatures and comfortable hiking from the portal to treeline and perhaps to the summit. While it should be comfortable on the approach, it will be much cooler up top, and any weather can lessen those temperatures. At night in June, particularly at trail camp or higher, the temperatures can dip into the 20s. It could be 50 degrees with a 40 mph, which is pretty cold.  Of course, I I hope its calm, clear, and starry, but the reality is we really have to be prepared for a wide range of temperature and the possibility of a winter storm. As for temperature extremes on Whitney, I have hiked in both colder and hotter conditions outside the entire range of the temperature extremes between low and high ever recorded on Mt. Whitney. Still, we've got to be prepared for below freezing temperatures at night, and warm weather below. This means, hats, gloves, and clothing and sleeping gear for 20 degrees, yet also comfortable clothes and footwear for warm weather hiking. The average June humidity level is pretty low, as is the average wind speeds and precipitation near Whitney.

Despite the generally low average winds, the wind can and has picked up on Mt. Whitney, resulting in many aborted attempts of wishful hikers over the years. This is not out of the question for us either. Trail Camp can sometimes experience very gusty winds, and in the past have blown away fully loaded tents of those who left them pitched as they went for the summit. This is something that we will have to keep in mind and plan for as we near tree-line. We have experience hiking above treeline in sustained winds around 65mph, but we have to realize that being at about two and half times the altitude we have ever climbed, it could potentially be much more difficult if we were to experience heavy winds.

Other potential weather dangers:
Lightning: Any sign of rain, impending storms, or lightning must be watched at all times. Common sense, and a quick review before we leave of what to do during lightning will go a long way to keeping us safe. The chances are very low, but people have died from lightning strikes in the Sierras.
Thunderstorms: There is always the possibility of a passing weather system that can produce thunderstorms, including hail. I see them come through on the webcam frequently. While the monthly precipitation in June is generally always low, the possibility always exists, which means waterproof rain gear is also an essential piece of clothing for this hike.

Animals around Mt. Whitney
The Mt. Whitney area is home to black bears, marmots, squirrels, rattlesnakes, many birds (at dusk and dawn mostly), chipmunks, deer, and also maybe...mountain lions. All of which are important to be aware of, of course.

The area around Whitney Portal has a very healthy black bear population, and will be the likely area that one could be spotted, but we don't plan to spend too much time there (maybe some last minute things or some quick pancakes), but the possibility exists anywhere there might be food, including along the Mt. Whitney trail. We know how to hang bear bags, and will be using a required bear canister wherever necessary. At the portal and established campgrounds, there are bear lockers.

The marmots are rumored to the be the most pesty animal on the mountain, stealing food right from your unattended gear or being drawn close by from the smell of food. This means we have to watch all of our food at all times.

Acute Mountain Sickness
Lastly, the most important danger that we must be ready for, is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). There is a lot of information available on this topic, including studies done specifically on Mt. Whitney hikers. Results of these studies show that a high percentage of hikers attempting the summit of Whitney will experience effects of AMS above 10,000 feet. This is the the biggest concern we have regarding our attempt, as we have never experienced any altitude sickness in the mountains of NH or ever. Furthermore, we have no idea how our bodies will react - will we get the typical headache, or will our bodies hate the high altitude and have a bad effect on us? This is where I see this as the ultimate test to see what our body's  limit is, and that is what I enjoy out of many of the adventures I plan. We are looking into options to camp Sunday night at around 10,000 feet so to help as much as possible, and it will also be important to keep our pace down as we climb, as opposed to the pace at which I normally climb the 4000' peaks.

Training & Conditioning & Practice
Me and my brother are not ultra marathoners, long-distance runners, or high altitude mountaineers....yet, but we have hiked hundreds of miles of trails and climbed around 200,000 feet of elevation gain or more over the last year. I recently did over 13,000 feet of elevation gain and about 40 miles in two days.

While all of the hiking I have done leaves me confident in my physical ability to accomplish this, we intend to do a couple of dedicated practice hikes on NH's highest peaks. This could include a hike in the Presidentials with our full packs, a night out at 4,000' feet or higher (won't hurt), and some sort of test run of all of our gear we intend to bring, especially the tent.

That concludes this second chapter of my planning for Mt. Whitney. More to come next on the itinerary and pack list. I just bought another pair hiking boots to start breaking in now, and I need to purchase several other things, including a new sleeping bag and maps. Man is this going to come fast. Before you know it, you'll be tracking us live to the top of the lower 48!!!


  1. Yes, I would certainly agree, that without a doubt, you guys are in great physical condition for this hike. The unknowns, as you stated above are the wild cards (weather, AMS, etc.). I tend to believe you guys will have no issues, however. I'm looking forward to the next chapter, man. Can't wait to follow along on your journey when you blog your trip report this summer!


    1. Karl, excitement is already boiling for this one, we cannot wait, we're both excited, as is our family. There is still so much going on between now and then. We're also currently planning a 4 night kayak/camping trip in Northern Maine in May, and we only have 3, maybe 4 other chances to get in those strenuous practice hikes I mentioned.

  2. You obviously have the ability to do this trip without a problem. There are only two questions you can't answer without being up high. One, will you be affected adverse by AMS...about 40% are and how will preform above your high elevation norm...many from SoCal wall out after they go above 11,500'...the height of Mt. San Gorgonio...SoCal highest peak. I know I did the first time on this mountain.

    The Sierra weather is unpredictable. The coldest day on this mountain for me was in August and September, not May, February or March. When we stood on the summit August 2002 and September 2005, the temperatures were in the single digits. Other days, it was in the 50s. You can never tell, it all depends if a weather front moves through. My coldest night during a summer Whitney Trip was at 9,600'. Just make sure you have extra this and that so you have choices.

    If you have a set of Microspikes, bring them. There still might be some compacted ice around but nothing that would require crampons and an axe.

    1. Bill, thank you for sharing your comments and experience. I always like to have choices when it comes to clothing, so I will have options there. Your description of the potential temperatures is very helpful. As for Microspikes, we'll bring them with us. - Thank you.