Monday, September 7, 2009

Mt. Whitney Assault: Day 1

I'll start this with some thoughts I jotted Friday night from inside my sleeping bag:
"And I thought a marathon was hard!

It's 7:45. I'm in bed. Hopefully I'll sleep tonight. Heaven knows I'm pretty tired. But when you're at 12,000 feet on the side of a mountain, it ain't exactly the Marriott.

Today's journey has got to be one of the toughest things I've ever done. I hoisted a 38 pound backpack and schlepped it 6 miles and 4,000 feet up a mountain. Everything was great until I hit right around 11,000 feet. I was sure that I was going to die and puke and explode at the same time. Ten steps. Stop and gasp. Repeat.

As if that wasn't enough, we saw the full gamut of weather today. We started out with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures. Within an hour we were donning our rain gear as it rained and hailed on us. Then to top it off - it turned cold. By the time we set up camp at 3:30, it was *almost* 50 degrees. And it was still raining. Whose idea was this?

Well, at least the rain has stopped. Hopefully the temps won't drop below freezing tonight. I need a good night's sleep for our assault on Whitney tomorrow!"

All I've got to say is that was as physically tough as anything that I've ever done. Part of it is age. Part of it is elevation. But I did it. I had big time doubts on Friday.

I thought I would break this little adventure down into three posts. I won't be running for a few days, (more on that later) so I'll need something to write about, and just making this a single post would take up pages and pages of space. There's just so much to tell.

This first post is Friday's adventure.

It started innocently enough. My hiking partner and I were up around 6AM to get a start on the day. The skies were clear and the temperatures were mild. The weather forecast had mentioned that a low pressure trough was blowing through, so I packed a little extra clothing just in case. As we walked through the trail head kiosk, I hoisted my pack on the scale. 38 pounds. Hmm. A little heavier than I was hoping, but still under 40 pounds. I passed a sign showing what we had in store for ourselves today.

The plan was to make it half way up the trail on this first day. That would mean about 6 miles and 5700 feet of elevation gain. That's a little over 900 feet per mile - for 6 miles. The trail started out innocently enough.

By mile 3 we were around 10,000 feet in elevation. This is where the air *starts* to get thin. And we still had 2,000 more vertical feet to climb.

We continued our slog up the mountain past some beautiful meadows. We hit the first campsite, Outpost Camp, about 3.5 miles up the trail and at 10,400 feet. Up to this point, the sun had been out and we had been sweating up a storm. We stopped for a snack and got the water purifiers out to refill our bottles. About this time we heard the first rumblings of thunder and felt the first few raindrops. Before we were done filling our water bottles, we donned our rain gear as the rain and hail pelted us.

From this point my day went downhill pretty quickly. Well actually uphill, but you get my drift. The next two and a half miles and 1,600 vertical feet took a little over three and a half hours. We were moving above the treeline. Elevation and lack of oxygen was a factor. The trail deteriorated into a series of switchbacks and steps on granite slabs. While I had been hydrating, I had not been refueling and was running out of energy. Quickly. Soon I was relegated to taking ten steps at a time. I would stop, gasp and catch my breath and then repeat. My lungs were screaming. My legs were turning into jello. The worse part was that this was not technically a difficult climb, but I was having great difficulty with it.

All this time, the weather continued to deteriorate. Rain and hail down below was now turning to sleet. The temperature was dropping. It was easily in the upper 40s. I was putting so many demands on my body. I was starting to feel pretty bad at this point. I was physically drained. I knew I still had a mile or so to go. My mental state was deteriorating. I looked up the trail hoping to see Matt to let him know I was spent and ready to turn around. Thankfully, he was nowhere to be found. One foot in front of the other. Repeat.

It wasn't too long before I glanced up again and Matt was standing there sans pack. That could only mean one thing. I was close. Matt pulled a few things off the outside of my pack, and I followed him up to the campsite, where I was able to finally take a load off my back. He had brewed up some coffee. It smelled heavenly. It tasted better. He also filled me up with a Hammer Gel with caffeine and an Endurolyte cap. Slowly I came back from the walking dead. Within half an hour I was feeling somewhat normal again.

Our next task was to meet Matt's girlfriend on her way down from the top. She and her hiking partner had taken off from the portal at 4:45 AM to do a one day assault on the top. It was now 5 PM and they were just making it back through the campsite on their way down. Lori and Rick are both ultra runners, and were up to the task. In 12 hours, they had made it to the top and half way back down. They were both lucid and doing well. We filled them with coffee and wished them well (they ended up getting back to the cars about 9:30 PM that night). In comparison, it had taken me 7 hours to go the first 6 miles.

When we got back to camp, I noticed for the first time what a prime piece of real estate Matt had snagged. The rain/sleet/hail had stopped, but it was cold and windy. Matt looked at his thermometer - 46 degrees. We settled in for some food and climbed into our sleeping bags for the evening. Gotta get some rest for the attack on the summit tomorrow!

(Note the view from my tent out to the valley 9,000 feet below!)

Shhh! If you listen closely you can hear the wind:

More day one photos on my Flickr site here:

Coming tomorrow : The Summit Push


  1. Wow. I am in complete awe.

    I talked to someone over the weekend who just hiked Mt. Whitney and said it would have been easier to run two marathons on the same day.

    You're such a ROCK star!

    Looking forward to the next part!

  2. Wow! Fantastic photos. I'm quite jealous. It's hard for me to believe it would be so difficult, but I've been following your training for several months now and I know you're in pretty good shape.

    At least the marathon will seem easy now :).

  3. Glenn, you did an AWESOME job! I love your story and all the pictures. Looking forward to reading the rest.

  4. Wow! These pictures and your story are amazing! You did such a great job and I can't wait to read the rest of your journey. It sounds so crazy to be able to do that. I will live vicariously through you. :)

  5. Dude. You are impressive! That is kick ass. I don't think I could have done it. Wow! That marathon has nothing on you sir. I hope you played a little P-Funk up there in celebration of your awesomeness.

  6. It might have been the toughest thing you've done, but, boy, did you get some great shots out of it. Felt like I was with you every step of the way, except I stayed dry. Rain on a tough climb...brutal! You are amazing, Glenn.

    (And I hadn't forgoteen your Mafia invitation. I went on a trip and just got back.)

  7. Wow what an amazing adventure. Great job.

  8. Pictures are great. I especially like the campsite you had. Great view.

  9. wow that is gorgeous! I need to put that on my list of places to visit!

  10. Doing this reminds us of who we really are - at depth - of what we can be. Congratulations!

  11. i think the marathoner in me thinks this is awesome. what's left of my sanity thinks this is crazy :)

    enjoying hearing about your trip!

  12. wow that's pretty insane. Thanks for sharing the awesome photos.