Mt. Whitney and Altitude Sickness

Checking Out The Stunning View

Last week I traveled to the West Coast to meet up with Jason Klass and Ben Tang (Ben2World) for a multi-day hike up Mt. Whitney with the ultimate goal of reaching the summit. However, due to increasingly severe symptoms of altitude sickness I had to turn back at around 13,500ft and wasn’t able to top out this time round. As the old saying goes: The mountain will always be there, the trick is to make sure you are too!

Right from the start you can imagine how the conversations went with three die-hard gear junkies getting together to compare packing lists, gear selection and preparing our backpacks for a multi-day ultralight hike – nirvana! I could make a pound cake joke here at Ben’s expense, but I won’t. This won’t be a day-by-day trail report simply becasue I don’t have much time to write it up in detail at the moment, instead I’d like to cover my overall experience and what part of my gear worked and even more importantly, what didn’t work!

Before this trip I hadn’t hiked or climbed much over 6,000ft, in fact my highest was Mt. Mitchell in Pisgah National Forest, NC (6,684ft), so I’ve never really had to deal with the symptoms of altitude sickness, but was well aware of what they were. I live just east of Charlotte where the average elevation is a mere 600ft above sea level, unlike Jason who lives in Denver at almost 6,000ft – as it turned out, that can make a huge difference in becoming acclimatized to high altitude.

Me Weighing My Pack - 21lbs!

Hanging up at the start of the Whitney Trail is an old spring-loaded weighing scale that anyone can use to weigh their pack before and after the hike. Being the total gear geeks that we all are are we took turns weighing our packs and posing for the obligatory photo. As the newbie of the group I’d like to point out that my pack was the lightest at 21 lbs which included my pack, gear, consumables, water, Tenkara fishing gear AND a hulking big black plastic bear canister that we rented from the Ranger station – not too shabby. Jason and Ben both weighed in at 23 lbs.

Yours Truly Headed to Whitney Trail Camp

Like most mountain trails the Whitney Trail consists of hundreds of switchbacks with the occasional area of open flatness where you can rest your weary legs from the constant onslaught of the uphill climb. At the lower elevations there were still lots of opportunities to get some shade from all of the trees, but as we continued up above the treeline we were exposed to the burning sun. I burn easily and very quickly in the sun, thanks to my mom’s Irish genes, so I was grateful for giving into Ben’s urging to slick up with sunblock before we all got started. Even though I know that I burn easily, I hate the sticky, greasy feel of being covered in sunscreen – but hate sunburn even worse.

Ben and Jason Taking a Breather

We took occasional breaks to rehydrate, munch on some snacks and admire the beautiful scenery. I have to say that despite taking dozens of photos along the trail, none of them do the landscape justice, you have to be there to experience how remarkable it really is.

Twisted Deadwood

Acute mountain sickness (AMS), or altitude sickness as it’s more commonly known, is an illness that can affect mountain climbers and hikers at high altitude (typically above 8,000 feet or 2,400 meters). It shows up as a collection of nonspecific symptoms resembling a case of flu or a hangover. In my case the first symptom was a headache that started at the Whitney Trail Camp which is around 10,000ft elevation. I was also fatigued from the hike up to camp and so it was hard to determine whether or not my headache was a symptom of AMS or just a result of all of the exertion.

Trail Camp
In the weeks leading up to the trip I had chatted with Jason and Ben about the gear I was planning to take. I really wanted to use my GG SpinnTwinn to save on pack weight, but had concerns about using a tarp and bivy combo on a mountainous terrain. As it turned out the tarp itself was not the problem, the ground being impossibly hard to drive a tent stake into was the problem. This was made even worse by my decision to carry only titanium shepard hook tent stakes which are notoriously weak for hammering on. The thicker tent nails or spikes would have been a better choice, but even then there were places where the ground was almost entirely solid rock. I ended up using my guy-lines and rocks to tie out the tarp.

Ben2World at Whitney Trail Camp

Jason and Ben both brought freestanding dome tents, which turned out to be a much more sensible option given the terrain. Ben took his hybrid one-piece Big Sky Mirage 2P (above) and Jason was using a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2. Jason and I were both really impressed with Ben’s Mirage 2P for ease of setup and quality of construction. It also has no fly-sheet, it’s just one layer, so setting up is simplicity itself and according to Ben he’s never had any bad condensation issues. This might be going on my future gear list :-)

Sunset Above Whitney Trail Camp

I didn’t sleep well that night at trail camp (10,000ft) and woke up light-headed and hungry at 3am to the sound of early hikers making their way up the summit trial using headlamps. Despite being awake so ridiculously early and feeling like crap, it was mesmerizing watching the caravan of little headlamps zigzagging back and forth up the trail in almost total darkness. I had plenty of time before the sun came up so I fished around in my pack for my camera to take some photos of the sunrise over the mountains – what an amazing sight!

Sunrise at Trail Camp, Mt Whitney

After making my Starbucks Via coffee and eating some hot granola I began thinning out my pack in preparation for the summit hike. I felt a little better after eating some breakfast and with a lot of encouragement agreed to push on and make an attempt at the final climb to the summit. We all agreed that we would go up together and if necessary come back down together, we weren’t going to split up. This decision was made a little easier by the fact that both Jason and Ben had previously topped out on Whitney.

Coffee Time at 10,000ft

It’s funny but the whole time we were getting our breakfast ready I had the strangest feeling that I was being watched very carefully by dozens of eager little pairs of eyes. Later when we returned to Trail Camp we would see at first hand the havoc and carnage caused by the elusive little curious critters – aka the Whitney Marmots.

Marmot at Whitney Trail Camp

Using Jason’s new Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter, we filled up all of our water containers ready for the long hike up to the summit and back down to trail camp. There would be no other opportunities for filtering water from this point up, so we each wanted to make sure we had plenty of water – more is always better. We wouldn’t be needing much gear for the summit, so we thinned our packs down to some cold weather clothing, food, first aid and water.

One of the great things about the Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack that I took with me was that I could use the compression straps to significantly reduce the size (bulk) of the pack for day hikes like this one.

Still Plenty of Snow

The temperature was really mild once the sun had come up and started warming up quickly. I was surprised by how much snow was still present on the top of the mountain despite the warm temperature and relentless sun. The landscape this high above the treeline is very different and a little surreal. I was also amazed by the gorgeous dark blue color of the sky, which I was sure wouldn’t come out in my photo using a point and shoot camera, but this photo shows it really well.

We started up the trail to the summit just before 9am in order to have plenty of time to get to the top, take some photos and get back down to trail camp again before dark. I still had a headache and was slightly lightheaded even after spending the night at trail camp. To be safe we agreed to take it slowly and watch each other for any more symptoms of AMS. With a much slower pace and lighter backpack I felt pretty good despite the headache. The switchbacks were pretty steep at this point and consisted mostly of rocky steps which made it hard to keep a steady pace and took a lot more effort, thankfully I was able to use my trekking poles and my arms to take some of the effort of the large steps.

After about an hour into the trail we experienced the first casualty. Ben’s spare Platypus that was in his side mesh pocket, popped out of the pocket and over the edge of the trail. Luckily we had more than enough water between us to share round so it wasn’t a complete disaster, but Ben was annoyed that the Platypus had slipped out of his side pocket so easily. It landed about ten feet below the edge of the trail but was way too precariously perched for us to try and retrieve it – so it just sat there staring at us and almost mocking us.

High Above Whitney Trail Camp

We continued up the trail slowly and deliberately and gained elevation quickly because of the steep angle of the switchbacks. After another hour of climbing and increasingly more frequent rest stops I started to feel the onset of other symptoms of AMS. My head was becoming more and more light headed and I noticed that my footing had started to get clumsy. We took several more long breaks to rest and rehydrate, but even after one or two more switchbacks I became progressively more dizzy, short of breath and light headed.

It’s hard to admit that you have a problem and can’t go any further, especially when others in your party are able to keep going. Despite my mind telling me to push on slowly, my body was wiped out and I could barely make it up a single step without having to rest and recover – it was time to call it a day. Ben had noticed that I was struggling more and more so we all agreed that it was not worth pushing it and creating a potentially dangerous situation, we had to start back down.

I was disappointed and bummed that we had come so far and I was the cause of all three of us not being able to reach the summit. Thankfully Ben and Jason didn’t want to talk about it in terms of a disappointment, we’d all had a great time on the trail together and that was what was really important. We all adjusted our trekking poles for going downhill and after another short rest started back down the trail carefully.

Putting One Foot Forward

As anyone who has suffered the symptoms of AMS will know, your symptoms can disappear as quickly as they came on giving you the sensation that you are feeling better and could potentially turn around and take another crack at it. We all knew better and had decided that if we were going back down then we were done and would enjoy our trip down the mountain as much as we did coming up.

Jason and I had packed our Tenkara fly fishing gear for this trip knowing that there were several well stocked lakes along the trail. We had expected to fish on the way up the trail but had changed our minds the day before we started the hike while we were purchasing our California state fishing licenses.  We now had some extra time on our hands because of the failed summit attempt so we could afford to spend a little extra time fishing and relaxing.

The last time Jason and Ben came to Mt Whitney, Jason came across Lone Pine Lake and was amazed to see so many trout in the lake. He kicked himself for not having packed his fishing gear and missing such a great opportunity. It was one of the first things he had spoken to me about as we were planing fr this trip, so we both came prepared this time.

Jason at Lone Pine Lake, Mt Whitney

Unfortunately Lone Pine Lake was murky and nowhere near as good as Jason had remembered it from last time. There were also about half a dozen backpackers floating around the lake on inflatable loungers and swimming to cool off. Lone Pine Lake wasn’t going to be a good fishing location this time. Further back down the trail not far past the Outpost camping area we remembered a smaller and much clearer lake called Mirror Lake, so we decided to make that our fishing destination and continued back down the trail.

When we reached Mirror Lake the wind had picked up and you could see strong ripples across the entire surface of the small lake. We had the whole lake to ourselves. Before setting off on our trip, Jason and I had planned to take lots of Tenkara photos and video to use later on, but the excitement of the moment made us throw all of our plans out the window, we just wanted to fish and relax.

I had taken very little Tenkara gear with me. I had my 12ft Iwana rod, my Trico ultralight flyfishing pack, three flies, and two mini spools wrapped with furled lines that already had the 5x tippet attached – that’s it. I attached a furled line to my Tenkara rod, tied on a fly, in this case it was an Epoxy Sakasa Kebari wet fly that Jason had tied. Little did I know that Jason had not tied them for actual use, they were just presentation flies and he had given me several.

Tenkara Fishing on Mirror Lake, Mt Whitney

We could see signs of fishing rising all over the place, so I cast my line and watched to see what the fish would do. To my surprise I had several hits on the fly almost immediately.  I adjusted my position and cast again, this time a little bit further out. I twitched the line slightly to get the attention of the fish and was rewarded with an quick hit. I had caught the first small brook trout of the day.

Jason asked me what type of fly I was using and when I told him it was one of his epoxy kebari flies he was amazed. He had been using a Griffith’s Gnat with no success – but he quickly changed to the same fly as I was using. No sooner had he done so than he was bringing in his first brook trout.

Tenkara Fishing on Mirror Lake, Mt Whitney

Tenkara fishing thousands of feet up a mountain in perfect weather seemed like a fitting end to a tough couple of days. I’m pretty sure that Jason and I could have spent all day at Mirror Lake quite happily fishing for trout, but we didn’t have that luxury and packed up after catching several nice examples of brook trout.

We packed up our gear and continued the hike back down the trail. My symptoms had all but subsided now with the exception of a persistent headache, but that was okay. From this point on we were motivated by only two things: eating a nice big hot meal at the Whitney Restaurant in Lone Pine and getting rid of the stinky WAG bags that we were carrying back down with us. I deliberately didn’t go into too much detail about the WAG bag system on this post, I’m saving that for a separate post that I will share shortly.

Lessons Learned
The next time I come back to summit Mt Whitney, and I will be back, I’ll do a couple of things differently. Firstly I won’t be taking a tarp with me. I love sleeping under my tarp and for just about all of my trips on the East coast it’s perfect. However, the rocky terrain on Mt Whitney made setting up the guy lines extremely hard and a loose tarp is not what you want to have at high altitude and under windy conditions. At the very least I will switch to titanium nail stakes instead of shepard hooks.

I’ll probably look at investing in a quality self-standing dome tent like the Big Sky Mirage 2P that Ben was using. I was really impressed by his tent and at how small it packed up. A dome tent would definitely be the way to go.

Next time I’ll pack more savory foods. While I usually enjoy my GORP mix and other trail snacks, this trip I quickly became sick of the taste and found myself wishing I had something different to eat. Now that could have been a side effect of the nausea symptoms I was experiencing or I may have just reached the point where GORP is no longer appetizing – either way saltier foods will be the way to go.

Both Jason and I had taken some Wise Foods freeze dried meal packs with us to try as our hot meals in the evenings. They weren’t very good and I don’t think I’ll be trying them again. I need to find some good really flavorful trail recipes and test them out ahead of time.

Thinner backpack shoulder straps. I love my GG Gorilla backpack, but after dozens of hikes with after putting many, many miles of use on it I’ve come to the conclusion that the upper shoulder straps are far too wide. I’d prefer not to change to a completely different pack so I might attempt to modify it myself to have narrower shoulder straps that rub me less. Even after adjusting the sternum strap I couldn’t stop the straps from rubbing into me. On a pack weighing a mere 21 lbs that’s not good. But I’m sorta looking forward to the hack :-)

Other than that just about everything I took with me worked really well. Overall it was a totally amazing trip and despite not making it all the way up to the summit I had an incredible time. It was a real pleasure to finally meet Jason and Ben in person and I have to give a huge thanks to Ben for putting up with me and all my gear at his home during the beginning and at the end of the trip.

Thanks guys!

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10125587234219036005 Glen Van Peski

    Great photos! Sorry about the AMS, living at sea level, I’m prone to that also. For dinners, I’ve been using Mike Clellands groovy biotic recipes for the last few years, you might give them a try.

  • http://twitter.com/williamu William Uranga

    Not the ending you may have originally intended, but having failed a winter ascent and succeed on the Mountaineer’s Route.  Thanks for telling your story and sharing the “next time” insights.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Thanks William. I know it wasn’t what folks had expected to read so I hope you found it interesting. Have you ever experienced any similar issues on a hike?

      • http://twitter.com/williamu William Uranga

        To some extent, yes.  I commit to a 2 week in advance  “water schedule” to make sure I’m topped off before I do any peak bagging (I live at sea level too in CA).  I bring a role of antacids that can address some of the initial symptoms.  I’ve had to turn around a couple of times due to team mates.  The team comes first because (you’re right) the trail/peak will be there for a bit longer. 

  • http://twitter.com/williamu william uranga

    Not the ending you may have originally intended, but having failed a winter ascent and succeed on the Mountaineer’s Route.  Thanks for telling your story and sharing the “next time” insights.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the good read!

  • http://www.hikinginfinland.com/ Hendrik Morkel

    Very great write-up, Brian. Enjoyed it from the beginning to end, and there were plenty of fine photos.

    Good that you came back in one piece, and that your trail mates were so cool with turning back – and that you made use of the time by going fishing!

    The food thingy also happens to me every now and then. I am more of a salty snacks guy, though somehow I usually take sweet stuff and nuts on the trail. I will adjust that the next time (with Pringles, most likely =).

    Have a fine week!

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Thanks Hendrik, it took me all last week to get motivated to write a new blog post so I made sure to include more photos than usual. I actually took far less pictures than I had planned to.

      I love Pringles and if I had taken some of those with me it would have been perfect, next time for sure. Thanks for the kind comments, now I’m off to read the week in review!

  • http://www.hikinginfinland.com/ Hendrik Morkel

    Very great write-up, Brian. Enjoyed it from the beginning to end, and there were plenty of fine photos.

    Good that you came back in one piece, and that your trail mates were so cool with turning back – and that you made use of the time by going fishing!

    The food thingy also happens to me every now and then. I am more of a salty snacks guy, though somehow I usually take sweet stuff and nuts on the trail. I will adjust that the next time (with Pringles, most likely =).

    Have a fine week!

  • http://www.mylifeoutdoors.com/ My Life Outdoors

    Looks like a great trip even with the Ams. I know it must have been hard to turn back…but you know you did the right thing. It’s nice to have supportive trail mates who agree its all or none. I really enjoyed the report…thank you for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/makaiscom Makais.com

    Sorry to hear the altitude bothered you. Maybe next time it might help to arrive a couple days early and spend some additional time acclimating?

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Ah shoot, I meant to add that as one of the things I would do differently next time, I’d spend at least an extra day at the 10,000ft trail camp to acclimate.

      • http://blog.makais.com/ makais

        next summer?  :)

  • http://twitter.com/makaiscom Makais.com

    Sorry to hear the altitude bothered you. Maybe next time it might help to arrive a couple days early and spend some additional time acclimating?

  • http://twitter.com/makaiscom Makais.com

    thanks for all the tips too by the way, I’m hoping to climb Whitney next summer :) todd

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      You’re going to love it. Have you done it before?

      • http://blog.makais.com/ makais

        never done it before, but i visit that general area once in a while. i’m actually headed that direction this weekend to go backpacking. we might go somewhere around the base of whitney. there are some really cool areas to explore around there, as i’m sure you know!

  • http://twitter.com/makaiscom Makais.com

    thanks for all the tips too by the way, I’m hoping to climb Whitney next summer :) todd

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Thanks Hendrik, it took me all last week to get motivated to write a new blog post so I made sure to include more photos than usual. I actually took far less pictures than I had planned to.

    I love Pringles and if I had taken some of those with me it would have been perfect, next time for sure. Thanks for the kind comments, now I’m off to read the week in review!

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Thanks William. I know it wasn’t what folks had expected to read so I hope you found it interesting. Have you ever experienced any similar issues on a hike?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Ah shoot, I meant to add that as one of the things I would do differently next time, I’d spend at least an extra day at the 10,000ft trail camp to acclimate.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    You’re going to love it. Have you done it before?

  • http://sectionhiker.com/ Philip Werner

    The summit is optional as they say, but your journey sounds like it was magnificent nonetheless, including your fine companions. Makais is right, it’s probably worth arriving a few days early to acclimate to the altitude. I’ve experienced AMS myself and it is no fun. Glad you’re back in one piece.

  • http://twitter.com/philipwerner philipwerner

    The summit is optional as they say, but your journey sounds like it was magnificent nonetheless, including your fine companions. Makais is right, it’s probably worth arriving a few days early to acclimate to the altitude. I’ve experienced AMS myself and it is no fun. Glad you’re back in one piece.

  • Danimal

    maybe focus less on weight and gear obsession and do more fitness?  Try a primal diet, sprints, heavy lifting.  Any menial pack weight will be hindsight with associated fitness, weight loss and vigor. 

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Gear obsession :) I’ll admit that I’m probably 15-20 pounds overweight at 180 lbs but aerobically pretty fit IMHO. I run an average of 15 miles a week, take karate class three times a week and practice Jiu-Jitsu two or three times a week. Add to that chasing around two young kids and a chocolate lab and I think I’d be fair to say I’m a fairly active person.

      What I will focus on next time is spending more time at altitude and acclimating my body to the elevation and thinner air. That’s going to make a more significant difference. AMS can strike even the fittest of people.

      I do need to lose some weight though, regardless of anything else. Thanks for your feedback.

  • Danimal

    maybe focus less on weight and gear obsession and do more fitness?  Try a primal diet, sprints, heavy lifting.  Any menial pack weight will be hindsight with associated fitness, weight loss and vigor. 

  • http://tommangan.net/ Tom Mangan

    Brian: the extra day to acclimate might well be all you need if you’re in decent condition. On my one fourteener adventure, I had very little altitude-related problems despite doing almost all of my hikes near sea level … I suspect it was mainly because I’d spent a couple nights above 12K before the push to the top on the third day.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Thanks Tom, I think multiple nights at 12,000ft will be the right way to do it next time too.

  • http://tommangan.net/ Tom Mangan

    Brian: the extra day to acclimate might well be all you need if you’re in decent condition. One my one fourteener adventure, I had very little altitude-related problems despite doing almost all of my hikes near sea level … I suspect it was mainly because I’d spent a couple nights above 12K before the push to the top on the third day.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Gear obsession :) I’ll admit that I’m probably 15-20 pounds overweight at 180 lbs but aerobically pretty fit IMHO. I run an average of 15 miles a week, take karate class three times a week and practice Jiu-Jitsu two or three times a week. Add to that chasing around two young kids and a chocolate lab and I think I’d be fair to say I’m a fairly active person.

    What I will focus on next time is spending more time at altitude and acclimating my body to the elevation and thinner air. That’s going to make a more significant difference. AMS can strike even the fittest of people.

    I do need to lose some weight though, regardless of anything else. Thanks for your feedback.

  • http://www.geartalkwithjasonklass.com/ Jason Klass

    Brian,

    Great write up and it was GREAT to finally meet you in person.  I had a
    blast on this trip!  Like you it made me rethink my menu options (maybe
    dehydrated pound cake?).  I definitely have my eye on the Big Sky Mirage
    too.  That was one nice set up and palatial for the weight and pack
    size.  Only question is…when is our next hike?  I’m thinking
    Canyonlands or Zion.  NO AMS there.  Only dehydration, snake bites,
    scorpions, heat stroke, and mountain lions.  ;)

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Dehydration, snakes, scorpions, and lions I can handle :-) I’m ready for our next trip, the big question is where and when – I feel a Skype call coming on…

  • http://www.geartalkwithjasonklass.com/ Jason Klass

    Brian,

    Great write up and it was GREAT to finally meet you in person.  I had a
    blast on this trip!  Like you it made me rethink my menu options (maybe
    dehydrated pound cake?).  I definitely have my eye on the Big Sky Mirage
    too.  That was one nice set up and palatial for the weight and pack
    size.  Only question is…when is our next hike?  I’m thinking
    Canyonlands or Zion.  NO AMS there.  Only dehydration, snake bites,
    scorpions, heat stroke, and mountain lions.  ;)

  • http://www.outsideways.com/ Damien @ Outsideways

    Great write-up Brian! I really enjoyed reading this, made me want to be there!

  • http://www.adventureinprogress.com/ Damien @ ADVENTUREinPROGRESS

    Great write-up Brian! I really enjoyed reading this, made me want to be there!

  • http://twitter.com/williamu William Uranga

    To some extent, yes.  I commit to a 2 week in advance  “water schedule” to make sure I’m topped off before I do any peak bagging (I live at sea level too in CA).  I bring a role of antacids that can address some of the initial symptoms.  I’ve had to turn around a couple of times due to team mates.  The team comes first because (you’re right) the trail/peak will be there for a bit longer. 

  • Ray Anderson

    I had the same problem in the Mt. Whitney area when I was on the PCT. I had just come back from the east coast and got a hitch up to about 8,000 feet. From there I was toast. Too much too soon too fast. I hadn’t acclimatized.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Ray, you hit the nail on the head. Too much, too soon, too fast. I’ll know for next time.

  • Ray Anderson

    I had the same problem in the Mt. Whitney area when I was on the PCT. I had just come back from the east coast and got a hitch up to about 8,000 feet. From there I was toast. Too much too soon too fast. I hadn’t acclimatized.

  • Matthew Pittman

    Congrats on making it as far as you did!  You still managed to go higher than I’ve ever been. Best I ever did was Mt. Baldy, 12,441 ft, at Philmont Scout Ranch, NM, and that was between my Junior and Senior years, back when I was a lot more fit than I am now.  We worked our way to it over a week, so we were acclimated enough before making the side trip to the summit.  This will give you something to look forward to, on the next trip!

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Thanks Matt. I’ll be taking it much slower next time and staying more nights. I’m not getting any younger!

  • Matthew Pittman

    Congrats on making it as far as you did!  You still managed to go higher than I’ve ever been. Best I ever did was Mt. Baldy, 12,441 ft, at Philmont Scout Ranch, NM, and that was between my Junior and Senior years, back when I was a lot more fit than I am now.  We worked our way to it over a week, so we were acclimated enough before making the side trip to the summit.  This will give you something to look forward to, on the next trip!

  • Lrkimo

    Thanks for sharing. Heading to the southern sierra in October. Will heed your advice. How long did you acclimatize and at what elevation?

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      The more time you can spend at elevation the better you will be. I spent one night at 8,000ft and one night at 10,000ft before waking on the third day to make the summit attempt. Next time I’ll spend at least two or more nights at 10,000ft.

  • Lrkimo

    Thanks for sharing. Aheading to the southern sierra in October. Will heed your advice.
    how long did you acclimatize and at what elevation?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    The more time you can spend at elevation the better you will be. I spent one night at 8,000ft and one night at 10,000ft before waking on the third day to make the summit attempt. Next time I’ll spend at least two or more nights at 10,000ft.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Thanks Matt. I’ll be taking it much slower next time and staying more nights. I’m not getting any younger!

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Ray, you hit the nail on the head. Too much, too soon, too fast. I’ll know for next time.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Dehydration, snakes, scorpions, and lions I can handle :-) I’m ready for our next trip, the big question is where and when – I feel a Skype call coming on…

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Thanks Tom, I think multiple nights at 12,000ft will be the right way to do it next time too.

  • Area45

    Thanks for sharing your story Brian. My Pops has summited and it’s on my list of things to do. I enjoyed reading your story and it makes me want to move it to the top of my list. Interested to hear your story about the WAG bags. We keep them some handy at all times, but have never had to use them. 

    What are your thoughts about using a bivy up there?

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Errin, even though I didn’t reach the summit, it was an amazing hike, if you get a chance to do it I’d highly recommend it. The WAG bag post is coming, I promise :-)

      Using a bivy was fine, if you’re okay with sleeping in a bivy. There are few critters to disturb you at those heights and we made sure that all of our food and smelly items were in a bear canister and a good distance from the camp.

      The bigger issue was the tarp and being unable to pitch it really taught because I was unable to drive in my tent stakes. Even using rocks as anchors for my guy lines I couldn’t get my tarp taught enough to stop rippling in the wind. I actually had one corner of my tarp fly loose at 2am one morning because of the strong mountain winds – that sucked. Also the GG SpinnTwinn is not the quietest of tarps!

      I didn’t bother with a ground sheet underneath my bivy and for the most part it wasn’t a problem as the ground surface was mostly dusty rock, but I think I’d take one next time as an extra safety barrier for the bottom of the bivy.

      Do you use a bivy?

      • Area45

        Thanks Brian. Yes, I have the Titanium Goat Ptarmigan. I use it for bikepacking. However, I sometimes carry my Ray Jardine tarp as well. Just depends on where I’m going and if I want to deal with the weight. My tarp weighs in at about 16oz. That’s about twice the weight of yours. I imagine that it’s from a combination of sloppy sewing (extra thread?) and my silicone application. Might’ve been heavy handed in spots. I like your tarp, but it seems tougher to set up correctly than my rectangle shape. 

        • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

          You’re right Errin. In my general experience catenary cut tarps are a little trickier to set up initially than a square or rectangular tarp. However, the curves of my tarp allow me to get a much more taught surface once it’s all adjusted – as long as you can get a stake in the ground :-p

          I’m now shopping for a good lightweight dome tent as secondary option for backpacking in rocky areas. BTW a 16oz shelter is still ridiculously light weight.

  • Area45

    Thanks for sharing your story Brian. My Pops has summited and it’s on my list of things to do. I enjoyed reading your story and it makes me want to move it to the top of my list. Interested to hear your story about the WAG bags. We keep them some handy at all times, but have never had to use them. 

    What are your thoughts about using a bivy up there?

  • http://twitter.com/vortex33 Vortex33

    I struggled with altitude sickness while backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park even after acclimating myself for 3-4 days before the hike. Chicago is around 600ft so the 14,000’s of the Rockies was a difficult transition. I’m only recently into backpacking so it’s a relief to read that even avid backpackers can have a not-good outing.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Well the overall outing was fantastic, but the attempt to summit and struggling with AMS was sucky. I’ve had a few people tell that I need to get in shape and stop relying on gear, which if they knew me and read between the lines of my blog posts would know that I’m a pretty darn active guy and I encourage the learning of core skills over gear dependency.

      But you’re right, AMS can strike at anyone regardless of their fitness. Of course being fit will help with being less fatigued by the actual exertion of the hike, but AMS can still strike just about anyone, even if it’s never been a problem before.

      I’ll spend more time at 12,000ft next time to see how that helps. I’m determined to give it at least one more shot!

  • http://twitter.com/vortex33 Vortex33

    I struggled with altitude sickness while backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park even after acclimating myself for 3-4 days before the hike. Chicago is around 600ft so the 14,000’s of the Rockies was a difficult transition. I’m only recently into backpacking so it’s a relief to read that even avid backpackers can have a not-good outing.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Errin, even though I didn’t reach the summit, it was an amazing hike, if you get a chance to do it I’d highly recommend it. The WAG bag post is coming, I promise :-)

    Using a bivy was fine, if you’re okay with sleeping in a bivy. There are few critters to disturb you at those heights and we made sure that all of our food and smelly items were in a bear canister and a good distance from the camp.

    The bigger issue was the tarp and being unable to pitch it really taught because I was unable to drive in my tent stakes. Even using rocks as anchors for my guy lines I couldn’t get my tarp taught enough to stop rippling in the wind. I actually had one corner of my tarp fly loose at 2am one morning because of the strong mountain winds – that sucked. Also the GG SpinnTwinn is not the quietest of tarps!

    I didn’t bother with a ground sheet underneath my bivy and for the most part it wasn’t a problem as the ground surface was mostly dusty rock, but I think I’d take one next time as an extra safety barrier for the bottom of the bivy.

    Do you use a bivy?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Well the overall outing was fantastic, but the attempt to summit and struggling with AMS was sucky. I’ve had a few people tell that I need to get in shape and stop relying on gear, which if they knew me and read between the lines of my blog posts would know that I’m a pretty darn active guy and I encourage the learning of core skills over gear dependency.

    But you’re right, AMS can strike at anyone regardless of their fitness. Of course being fit will help with being less fatigued by the actual exertion of the hike, but AMS can still strike just about anyone, even if it’s never been a problem before.

    I’ll spend more time at 12,000ft next time to see how that helps. I’m determined to give it at least one more shot!

  • Area45

    Thanks Brian. Yes, I have the Titanium Goat Ptarmigan. I use it for bikepacking. However, I sometimes carry my Ray Jardine tarp as well. Just depends on where I’m going and if I want to deal with the weight. My tarp weighs in at about 16oz. That’s about twice the weight of yours. I imagine that it’s from a combination of sloppy sewing (extra thread?) and my silicone application. Might’ve been heavy handed in spots. I like your tarp, but it seems tougher to set up correctly than my rectangle shape. 

  • http://listeningtothewinds.blogspot.com/ Brad Neal

    Sorry to hear about altitude sickness, but glad to see you still made a great time of it.. plain and simply AWESOME!! I recently bought one of the graphite sunfish collapsible poles .. Im still not sure how well I like it yet but it does make for some fun fly fishin’

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Thanks Brad. We did all have a great time and that was the best thing about the whole trip. The Tenkara fishing at the end and catching so many trout was the icing on the cake – all those fish would have made for a superb dinner!

  • http://listeningtothewinds.blogspot.com/ Brad Neal

    Sorry to hear about altitude sickness, but glad to see you still made a great time of it.. plain and simply AWESOME!! I recently bought one of the graphite sunfish collapsible poles .. Im still not sure how well I like it yet but it does make for some fun fly fishin’

  • http://blog.makais.com/ Todd

    never done it before, but i visit that general area once in a while. i’m actually headed that direction this weekend to go backpacking. we might go somewhere around the base of whitney. there are some really cool areas to explore around there, as i’m sure you know!

  • http://blog.makais.com/ Todd

    next summer?  :)

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    You’re right Errin. In my general experience catenary cut tarps are a little trickier to set up initially than a square or rectangular tarp. However, the curves of my tarp allow me to get a much more taught surface once it’s all adjusted – as long as you can get a stake in the ground :-p

    I’m now shopping for a good lightweight dome tent as secondary option for backpacking in rocky areas. BTW a 16oz shelter is still ridiculously light weight.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Thanks Brad. We did all have a great time and that was the best thing about the whole trip. The Tenkara fishing at the end and catching so many trout was the icing on the cake – all those fish would have made for a superb dinner!

  • Ben

    Brian: Fantastic write up!  Great pics too.  It sure was a pleasure hosting you and Jason.  Looking forward to Part II…

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      We just need to decide when “Part II” will be..?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1297408252 Benjamin Tang

        The summit, of course!   :)

        • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

          I think we should submit our request for permits to do it again this coming August – that was the perfect time of year!

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1297408252 Benjamin Tang

            You got it.  Lottery submission is Feb 1, 2012.  If I DON’T hear otherwise from you, I’ll submit with dates in second half of August.

  • Ben

    Brian:

    Fantastic write up!  Great pics too.  It sure was a pleasure hosting you and Jason.  Looking forward to Part II…

  • Yoshihiro Murakami

    Dear Brian

    As Tom Mangan wrote, you just need more days for adaptation. As a result, you need more food. Once you had adapted to the altitude, there might be no obstacle to the summit. I want to see you on the trail next summer. 

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Yoshihiro, thanks I think you’re right. I felt like I had the ability to summit in me had it not been for the AMS. I’m not sure if I’ll be back next year or the year after that, but I’ll keep my plans open and let everyone know wen I’ll be going back. Are you planning on being at Whitney next year?

  • Yoshihiro Murakami

    Dear Brian

    As Tom Mangan wrote, you just need more days for adaptation. As a result, you need more
     food. Once you had adapted to the altitude, there might be no 
    obstacle to the summit. 
    I want to see you on the trail next summer. 

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Yoshihiro, thanks I think you’re right. I felt like I had the ability to summit in me had it not been for the AMS. I’m not sure if I’ll be back next year or the year after that, but I’ll keep my plans open and let everyone know wen I’ll be going back. Are you planning on being at Whitney next year?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    We just need to decide when “Part II” will be..?

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.ratzloff James Ratzloff

    Just wondering how you slept up that high?  I seem to be ok at 10,000 feet, but at 11,000 and higher I find I wake up pretty often, which I figure is from the lower oxygen.

    At 12,000 feet last week I was amazed how little stamina I had while going up a slope – 20 steps then rest.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      That’s been my experience too. I didn’t sleep worth a damn at 12,000ft which just added to the fatigue. I was also warned not to take any Advil PM or similar pain/sleeping medicine as at 12,000ft it can have fatal results :( I don’t know if that’s true or not but enough people at trail camp told me that to convince me to not try and find out.

      Yes the 20 steps and rest was about the limit I was at from 13,000ft onwards, then the step intervals got smaller and smaller until the rest stops were not longer helping – that’s when I made the decision I had to turn back.

      Sorry to hear you had such a rough time too!

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.ratzloff James Ratzloff

    Just wondering how you slept up that high?  I seem to be ok at 10,000 feet, but at 11,000 and higher I find I wake up pretty often, which I figure is from the lower oxygen.

    At 12,000 feet last week I was amazed how little stamina I had while going up a slope – 20 steps then rest.

  • http://markswalkingblog.wordpress.com Markswalkingblog

    Brian, just came across your blog. Hey great post and I will look at you earlier posts. What a shame about AS. My wife suffered  when we were doing some day hikes in Utah and Colorado when touring around these states on holiday from the UK. She had problems with stamina at 9-10,000 ft. I found that sleeping at this altitude meant that I woke up more than normal, but was OK after a few days.

    My eldest son has also suffered from AS in Peru, but he was above 13,000 feet, so not surprising. Good luck on your next attempt

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Thanks Mark. I’ve never had any issue with AS before, so this is my first up close and personal experience with it. For anyone reading this let me tell you it is no joke! It was the hardest thing I have done in my entire life, not just because of the physical effort of the climb, the symptoms of AS take their toll and I ended up at a point where I could take one step further. It was all I could do to muster up the energy necessary to turn round.

      I look forward to your comments on some of my older posts. Let me know if you have any questions. I can’t promise to have the answers but I’ll probably have an opinion to share :-)

  • http://markswalkingblog.wordpress.com/ Markswalkingblog

    Brian, just came across your blog. Hey great post and I will look at you earlier posts. What a shame about AS. My wife suffered  when we were doing some day hikes in Utah and Colorado when touring around these states on holiday from the UK. She had problems with stamina at 9-10,000 ft. I found that sleeping at this altitude meant that I woke up more than normal, but was OK after a few days.

    My eldest son has also suffered from AS in Peru, but he was above 13,000 feet, so not surprising. Good luck on your next attempt

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Thanks Mark. I’ve never had any issue with AS before, so this is my first up close and personal experience with it. For anyone reading this let me tell you it is no joke! It was the hardest thing I have done in my entire life, not just because of the physical effort of the climb, the symptoms of AS take their toll and I ended up at a point where I could take one step further. It was all I could do to muster up the energy necessary to turn round.

    I look forward to your comments on some of my older posts. Let me know if you have any questions. I can’t promise to have the answers but I’ll probably have an opinion to share :-)

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    That’s been my experience too. I didn’t sleep worth a damn at 12,000ft which just added to the fatigue. I was also warned not to take any Advil PM or similar pain/sleeping medicine as at 12,000ft it can have fatal results :( I don’t know if that’s true or not but enough people at trail camp told me that to convince me to not try and find out.

    Yes the 20 steps and rest was about the limit I was at from 13,000ft onwards, then the step intervals got smaller and smaller until the rest stops were not longer helping – that’s when I made the decision I had to turn back.

    Sorry to hear you had such a rough time too!

  • Tom Brown

    Brian,

    Great TR.  My three sons (17, 20, and 24) and I did the day hike up Mt. Whitney on August 11.  We acclimated the day before at Whitney Portal, but more importantly, to reduce the chances of AS we took Diamox starting 3 days before the hike and started hydrating heavily 2-3 days before the ascent.  We trained in Southern California on hikes 8,000 to 10,000 feet also.  No AS issues.  Good luck next time.

  • Tom Brown

    Brian,

    Great TR.  My three sons (17, 20, and 24) and I did the day hike up Mt. Whitney on August 11.  We acclimated the day before at Whitney Portal, but more importantly, to reduce the chances of AS we took Diamox starting 3 days before the hike and started hydrating heavily 2-3 days before the ascent.  We trained in Southern California on hikes 8,000 to 10,000 feet also.  No AS issues.  Good luck next time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1297408252 Benjamin Tang

    The summit, of course!   :)

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I think we should submit our request for permits to do it again this coming August – that was the perfect time of year!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1297408252 Benjamin Tang

    You got it.  Lottery submission is Feb 1, 2012.  If I DON’T hear otherwise from you, I’ll submit with dates in second half of August.

  • Nlsscott

    If you can work the permits, take more time at the lower camps on Whitney.  You can car camp at 8000′ at the Horseshoe Mdws trailhead south of Whitney portal the night before your hike. We camped at around 10,000′ our first night, spent the second at Trail Camp at 12k, went to the summit and out the third day.  I didn’t feel the altitude until above 14k.  I too find the GG shoulder straps too wide.  I solved it by removing the foam and cutting out a section toward the top of the shoulders.-Scott

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Thanks Scott, we’re looking at applying for new permits for 2012 and I think I’ll be doing exactly what you said. I was contacted by Gossamer Gear about my Gorilla pack and they have agreed to make the modifications to the shoulder straps for me, so I shipped it to them. It helps that I am an ambassador for their products and as such test out new gear and prototypes. The thinner should straps are something they are looking into for future packs, so they offered to make the change on mine and let me see what I think. I’ll post before and after pics when I get it back!

  • Nlsscott

    If you can work the permits, take more time at the lower camps on Whitney.  You can car camp at 8000′ at the Horseshoe Mdws trailhead south of Whitney portal the night before your hike. We camped at around 10,000′ our first night, spent the second at Trail Camp at 12k, went to the summit and out the third day.  I didn’t feel the altitude until above 14k.  I too find the GG shoulder straps too wide.  I solved it by removing the foam and cutting out a section toward the top of the shoulders.-Scott

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Thanks Scott, we’re looking at applying for new permits for 2012 and I think I’ll be doing exactly what you said. I was contacted by Gossamer Gear about my Gorilla pack and they have agreed to make the modifications to the shoulder straps for me, so I shipped it to them. It helps that I am an ambassador for their products and as such test out new gear and prototypes. The thinner should straps are something they are looking into for future packs, so they offered to make the change on mine and let me see what I think. I’ll post before and after pics when I get it back!

  • Me

    Brian, great story and I enjoy your blog a lot.  Don’t feel bad about the AMS, it gets me at low elevations regardless of fitness but once I acclimate for a couple days I am golden.  When I went to Flagstaff AZ (around 7000′) I felt horrible, but got acclimated and then ran to the top of nearby Mt. Humphries (12,800′) with no issues.

    Mike

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Thanks Mike. You ran to the top of Mt. Humphries? Holy cow, I feel so much more out of shape now :-p

  • Me

    Brian, great story and I enjoy your blog a lot.  Don’t feel bad about the AMS, it gets me at low elevations regardless of fitness but once I acclimate for a couple days I am golden.  When I went to Flagstaff AZ (around 7000′) I felt horrible, but got acclimated and then ran to the top of nearby Mt. Humphries (12,800′) with no issues.

    Mike

  • http://www.lightweighttramping.blogspot.com Rob McKay

    Brian – I also suffer from AS (Mammoth and Aspen skiing). I started the JMT from the north and was totally acclimated by Whitney. In fact I never had any problems on any of the passes. Another tip, get your doctor to prescribe Dymox. Take half a tab morning and night two days prior to altitude.     

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      You’re the second person to mention Dymox. I had never heard of it and to be honest I didn’t even consult my doctor before the trip, probably should have. Sound advice, thanks :-)

  • http://www.lightweighttramping.blogspot.com/ Rob McKay

    Brian – I also suffer from AS (Mammoth and Aspen skiing). I started the JMT from the north and was totally acclimated by Whitney. In fact I never had any problems on any of the passes. Another tip, get your doctor to prescribe Dymox. Take half a tab morning and night two days prior to altitude.     

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    You’re the second person to mention Dymox. I had never heard of it and to be honest I didn’t even consult my doctor before the trip, probably should have. Sound advice, thanks :-)

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Thanks Mike. You ran to the top of Mt. Humphries? Holy cow, I feel so much more out of shape now :-p

  • http://www.facebook.com/daryl.davis Daryl Davis

    One caveat about Diamox: it frequently produces side effects similar to mountain sickness (headache, nausea, vomiting). Try it before you hit the trail.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      My doctor gave me the speech too! I have a couple of extra tablets so that I can try them a few days before. He said that they are a diuretic too, so I’ll be over hydrating and peeing like a race horse! Fun times… I greatly appreciate the advice and warning.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daryl.davis Daryl Davis

    One caveat about Diamox: it frequently produces side effects similar to mountain sickness (headache, nausea, vomiting). Try it before you hit the trail.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    My doctor gave me the speech too! I have a couple of extra tablets so that I can try them a few days before. He said that they are a diuretic too, so I’ll be over hydrating and peeing like a race horse! Fun times… I greatly appreciate the advice and warning.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003475239601 Wesley Smith

    Me and two friends recently went to Rocky Mountain National Park to summit Long’s Peak. We didn’t summit. We camped in Estes Park for a few days to get acclimated to the altitude (10,000 ft). We had a spot to camp in the boulder via the Key Hole route (13,000 ft).

    I was feeling pretty good for a first timer hiking at that altitude. We used a tarp as well. Not much issues with the tarp. It held up against a hail storm, rain, and 35 mph winds.

    We were wore out the night of sleeping in the boulder field. One of my buddies started dealing with a minor case of altitude sickness. We decided not to summit. Better safe than sorry. There’s always another day, another mountain.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      AMS can be weird sometimes. I’ve heard of people that have never had issues before suddenly having them and vice versa. You did the right thing by not forcing it and taking the safe option. It’s not easy, it was hard for me to give up after getting so close, but this year (2012) I came back and summited Mt. Whitney without any AMS symptoms – so better safe than sorry is exactly right. Cheers ^ BG

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003475239601 Wesley Smith

    Me and two friends recently went to Rocky Mountain National Park to summit Long’s Peak. We didn’t summit. We camped in Estes Park for a few days to get acclimated to the altitude (10,000 ft). We had a spot to camp in the boulder via the Key Hole route (13,000 ft).

    I was feeling pretty good for a first timer hiking at that altitude. We used a tarp as well. Not much issues with the tarp. It held up against a hail storm, rain, and 35 mph winds.

    We were wore out the night of sleeping in the boulder field. One of my buddies started dealing with a minor case of altitude sickness. We decided not to summit. Better safe than sorry. There’s always another day, another mountain.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    AMS can be weird sometimes. I’ve heard of people that have never had issues before suddenly having them and vice versa. You did the right thing by not forcing it and taking the safe option. It’s not easy, it was hard for me to give up after getting so close, but this year (2012) I came back and summited Mt. Whitney without any AMS symptoms – so better safe than sorry is exactly right. Cheers ^ BG

  • Matt

    Me and 3 other friends just did this yesterday. We made the entire route from Whitney Portal to the peak in 6 hours. None of us had any altitude issues. I did start to get a little uncoordinated in my steps on switchback 99 but that was the extent my discomfort with the altitude..

    I would second the advice not to push this hike if your having altitude sickness however. As we approached the summit we saw a group of people walking down and two guys supporting a girl that was in shock. We later found out that she had to be airlifted out of the area by a helicopter.

    I also highly recommend bringing trekking poles for this one. Your knees and hips will thank you for it :)

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Matt, congrats on making it to the summit in one day (and back presumably?). There were a lot of people doing the one day hike when I was there, some ot be heroes, some for the challenge, and some stuck with a one-day permit. It’s hardcore and not something I would necessarily want to do.

      We had always planned on making it a more laid back hike over a few days. Mostly because of the altitude and as you said the wear and tear on your legs and hips, but partly to have the ability to stop and take in the surroundings.

      The effort of the hike was fine for me. Physically I have the ability to do a day hike there and back, but starting or finishing in the dark doesn’t appeal to me very much either. I’ve done my share of physical endurance challenges and Whitney was not supposed to be one of them ;)

      Did you take the portal trail there and back or did you use the Mountaineers route to speed things up? Just curious. Congrats again on your accomplishment. It’s a great view from the top!!!

  • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

    I actually went back the next year and summited. Glad I didn’t give up. Funny to see you had the Whitney pancakes, I had to have another Whitney portal burger. Yumm either way.

    • Kara Maceross

      The pancakes were for the day before the hike, the burger was immediately after! Congrats on summiting! I can’t wait to go back!