Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the Continental United States (14,505′), looms over the quirky town of Lone Pine, California, beckoning climbers to tickle her summit. Some folks make it. Some folks don’t. Along with my wife and three friends, I made my second summit in September, 2018. My first summit, in 2014, was a one day up-and-back trip. I’m still not sure if I prefer the luxury of breaking it up over two days by camping at Trail Camp, or the luxury of hiking without a heavy(ish) pack. Either way, here are 5 tips for an enjoyable Whitney trek. Happy hiking!
1. Get in Mental Shape
Mental strength is what gets you up mountains. At some point during endurance exercises, a little crybaby awakens in us. For some folks, this can be triggered by having to the take the stairs at the mall. For others, it’s the 99th mile of the Badwater Ultra-marathon.
Look this baby in the eyes and say, “Nope.” The crybaby wants to be sitting on a couch in Starbucks checking Instagram. The crybaby wants a burger. Those things will come. But right now, you’re in a wondrous land of granite and sky, a place you’ll remember when you’re old and sitting in a rocking chair. Don’t let the crybaby take this from you. Keep walking; it’s what we evolved to do.
2. Get in Physical Shape
Though any type of training can help, some types are better than others. Lay off the bench press and opt for more cardio. Do squats. Load up your pack and find a stadium with bleachers. Many of the “steps” on the Whitney trail are quite large, some of them almost waist-high. Trekking up and down bleacher stairs will get those rarely-used muscles primed for game day.
This can be a tough one for the folks who don’t have enough time off work to spend a few extra days in the mountains before the hike. The ideal scenario would be to train with light hikes above 10,000 feet a week before you tackle Whitney. If you don’t have this luxury, at least try to car camp at Whitney Portal (elev. 8,374 feet) the night before your hike.
If your pee is crystal clear throughout the hike…congratulations. Drink water after you drink water. Then drink some more. You won’t be far from a water source from Whitney Portal to Trail Camp, so you have no excuses. Drink even when you’re not thirsty. It’s easy to get caught up with the destination. I know, you don’t want to stop hiking to purify water at Lone Pine Lake. Do it. If your pee looks like liquefied red bricks, you’re in trouble, and it can happen fast.
Trail Camp is the last water source, so stock up before your summit bid. If you’re basecamping at Trail Camp and planning to wake up at 3:30am for the summit push, it’s a good idea to purify your water the night before.
5. Don’t Take it too Seriously
Seriously. If you’ve heeded the above four tips, enjoy the ride. Forget that you’re hiking up the highest peak in the Continental United States. Think about how lucky you are to have working legs, legs that evolved to walk long distances. Trip out on the Lord of the Rings amphitheater of jutting rocks. Get high on the altitude and say stoned-sounding things to your mates. Think about how you won’t behold this vista again (even if you hike Whitney again, the view will be different).
One foot in front of the other. Dig the mantra. It’s a beautiful mountain.