Saturday, August 30, 2008

Climbing Mt. Whitney

The Wall Street Journal had a great article today on climbing Mt. Whitney:

Having climbed Mt. Whitney 2 1/2 years ago, I can attest that it's pretty accurate. Like many in the article, a friend and I climbed it in a single day; leaving at a 4am Alpine start, we stayed right on target and were off the mountain by 7pm.

There is a more direct route, called the Mountaineer's Route, but with snow near a dangerous section of the summit, we elected the 22 mile roundtrip "Mule trail" as did the author of the WSJ article. If you consider the Mountaineer's Route, be forewarned as there are signs posted along it's somewhat "hidden" trailhead: tales of two young and experiened climbers on separate trips that both ventured just 20 feet in the wrong direction and loost their lives in a 1000'+ fall. We may use the Mountaineer's Route on the next trip, but we'll closely watch the snow and make alternate plans for the Mule Trail as needed.

We had no celebratory reason for climbing Mt. Whitney--just the self-confidence that we could do it. That's not to take away from those whose summit marks a significant point in time. It is a challenge and an accomplishment that no one will forget.

There are great things to see on the climb, including wildlife, lots of nature-loving challenge-junkies just like you, beautiful lakes, and lots and lots of rocks.

You'll want to pack lightly--but don't skip any of the essentials: water, food, goretex rain pants and jacket, along with a fleece, shorts, venting underwear, and climbing boots. On my first climb, South and Middle Teton, I was amazed to see so many inexperienced climbers with a single bottle of water and no pack on their back. In the mountains, weather can set in amazingly fast and without some form of coverage from wind and rain, hypothermia and other complications arise quickly. For those who think they can just climb down before bad weather reaches them; just a week before my first climb, a woman had died from being struck by lightning in the Tetons.

From firsthand experience, I also recommend packing a small amount of duct tape and vaseline to head off blisters. You'll need headlamps for the Alpine start and perhaps the end of your climb. You'll also want some aspirin as the altitude often causes headaches. Lastly, don't underestimate the need for warm clothes and for staying injury-free. Bear in mind that no one can carry you off the mountain so if you get a twisted ankle, blisters, broken bone, or other--you'll still need to get off the mountain somehow. A helicopter lift might be available, but perhaps not as well. Bad weather, altitude, location, and other factors may prevent it. Your best bet is to not take chances that could get you needlessly hurt.

My climbing buddy has moved on to other things in his retirement, but I'm ready to visit Mt. Whitney again--with a new set of friends. I highly recommend taking on the challenge.

You'll thank yourself when you get there--and forever after.

No comments:

Post a Comment