OK, despite my lack of writing skillz--I'm an engineer after all--I am a man of the people. So here goes. I hope this is sufficiently long and boring that no one requests any more posts from me:)
Back in June, John made a reservation for a group to hike Mt. Whitney in early September. As a little background, Mt. Whitney is in the Sierra Nevadas and is the highest mountain in the lower 48 states at right around 14,500 ft. The main hiking trail is about 11 miles to the top and starts out around 8,000ft. John had hiked to the summit two years earlier, but they broke the hike up into a few days, camping about halfway up and then stopping again for a second night on the way down. Then last year, he and some officemates went again with the intention of doing the whole hike in one day. They got about 2 or 3 hours from the summit but had to turn around due to a lot of ice on the trail (it was late September). So John and three other guys from his office wanted to try to do the whole 22 mile hike in a day once again. So I decided to join the group.
I was a little nervous because I knew it was going to be a physically demanding hike. But the altitude concerned me the most. You just never know how the altitude is going to effect you and, with so much work being done above 13,000 and 14,000 feet, it could be a recipe for disaster. So I started training immediately. I mainly ran up and down hills. I could tell a big diffference from the training, but there's only so much this can do for a person living at sea level. The only real altitude preparation that I got was when John and I hiked Mt. Baldy. Baldy is about an hour outside of LA. It only goes up to 10,000 feet, but 10,000 feet is much better than 0 feet.
So we got to the campground at the trailhead two days before the hike. I took this picture above from the visitor center on the day we arrived (Whitney is one of the peaks on the right). This allowed us to get a little more acclimated to the altitude since the campground was around 8,000 feet. Then on the day before the big hike we did a little hike to Lone Pine Lake, which was around 10,000 feet up.
It was beautiful up there. Dave (one of the other guys from the group) and I decided the water was too beautiful to not go for a swim. Not surprisely, it was FREEZING! But it was defintely worth it. It's not every day you can go swimming surrounded by that kind of scenery.
So then came the day we had been anticipating. We got up around 4:00 so we could break camp, eat breakfast, and hit the trail by 5:00. As it turned out, we started at 5:00 on the dot. Everyone was pretty quiet as we hiked in the dark. It seemed like we all just tried to plod along and not think about the fact that we'd still be plodding 12 hours from now. But the scenery was beautiful and the weather was great, so things seemed to be on our side. Here's a picture of John; you can see Lone Pine Lake below him.
Here's a picture of four of the five guys from our group.
After about three or four hours, we were above the tree line. Things seemed to get more and more barren as we went on. After about five and a half hours the trail was pretty much going through nothing but boulders. The view was even more incredible than before; it was strange having such a beautiful view as the backdrop to such a harsh environment.
I was feeling pretty good the whole way. The worst part was when we were just about to summit. It seemed like we were right there, but we never seemed to get there. And each step had to be done with less and less oxygen. But soon we made it!
The sense of accomplishment was great, but knowing we still had to go all the way back down tempered the sweetness. It took us 7:05 to get to the top. We hoped it would be about 5 hours to get back down.
That was our hope...but then...YACK! Dave (the guy in the right in the summit pic) started feeling the altitude, and so he left his lunch up on the summit. That was followed by several more extreme projectile vomits over the next hour or so (I'm sad to say I do not have a picture of this). Unfortunately, the only way to get rid of altitude sickness is to get down. The problem was that he had no energy and was extremely nauseated (which, by the way, can cause problems when you're trying to walk a narrow trail with a 2000 ft drop next to you). So getting down was very slow-going. He was absolutely miserable, and it was a good reminder of why you always have to be careful when you do these kinds of hikes.
But after about four and a half hours, he started feeling better. And eventually we made it down! One of our members had to turn around at 13,000 feet and another got pretty bad altitude sickness, but we made it--14,500 feet and 22 miles. It took us just over 14 hours to go up and down, but we were off the trail before dark which was good. So it was a great experience and a cool accomplishment, but next - if there's a next - maybe we'll do a little camping in between the 22 miles.