Training for Whitney

One-handed pushups on the summit of Mt. Whitney.

One-handed pushups on the summit of Mt. Whitney.

Ok, I’ve put in for a Mt. Whitney Permit. Now what?

Start training.

Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the lower 48 states. It is 14,505’ of quad-burning, ankle-turning pain. If you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking about tagging the summit. If so, say this next sentence out loud:

“EMBRACE THE SUCK.”

Yep. It’s going to be a long day. A VERY long day.

But you should do it anyways. Because it’s good for your body and it’s good for your soul.

Outside Ed’s Five Step Guide to Training

  1. Commit to Doing It.
    1. Be decisive. Decide as early as possible to commit to the summit. It’ll mentally focus you on the task at hand and give you maximum time to train.
    2. Deciding early also allows you to train with the gear you will be using. The most critical piece of gear on this trip will be your footwear. Get your shoes/boots ASAP and start getting your feet used to them.
  2. Train.
    1. It is 22 miles long with 6600+’ of elevation. You need to train for it. Start walking.
    2. Cross-training is good, but nothing gets you ready for a long hike like a long hike.
    3. Hiker smaller local mountains and work your way up.
  3. Train Some More.
    1. Get up early. Go for a run. Spend your weekends hiking. Get strong.
    2. If you want a good indicator of your fitness, go hike the Vivian Creek Trail on Mt. San Gorgonio. If you feel good on that, you’re probably ready.
  4. Acclimate.
    1. Get high. Get to altitude. Sleep up there. The air is thin, so you’ll need to get used to it.
  5. Do It.
    1. Be a beast and tag the summit.

5 Common Reasons People Fail to Summit

  1. Out of Shape
    1. This is a long hike. Don’t underestimate how arduous it is. Come ready for a long, long day. You’ll be doing a lot of elevation gain. Make sure to do plenty of training hikes between now and summit day. Try to do a trail with at least 5000’ of elevation gain to simulate this hike.
  2. Altitude Sickness
    1. The summit is at 14,505’. If you’ve never been up to altitude before, it can seriously kick your ass. You need to acclimate your body to being at higher elevations BEFORE you arrive. That means spending nights above 5000’. Your body will make more red blood cells to oxygenate your body while you sleep. So climb something local and spend the night on top. Do this in the months leading up to the hike.
    2. Ascend slowly. Walk at a slower pace than normal. If you’re overnighting, spend your nights at lower camps and allow time to acclimate. Ascending quickly further exacerbates the symptoms of altitude sickness.
  3. Dehydration
    1. Bring a lot of water and drink it. Refill at Outpost camp. Then fill up again at Trail Camp. Then fill up on the way down. FILTER YOUR WATER. The water quality there is horrible.
  4. Weather
    1. You’re in the Sierras. There will be weather. Be ready for it and turn around if there is any question. Don’t get killed for a stupid summit.
    2. Snow. If you’re shooting for an early summit date, be prepared for snow and snow travel. You may need ice axe and crampons to ascend. With snow and ice, the switchbacks section from Trail Camp to Trail Crest will be closed and you will have to ascend the snow chute to the right of it. If you do not have experience with ice axe and crampons, turn around. Learn to self-arrest and self-belay. It’s not a very technical climb and it’s not very steep, but it can still kill you.
    3. Thunderstorms. The Sierras are notorious for thunderstorms. They usually roll in during the early afternoon, around 2PM. You should be ALREADY DESCENDING by this time. Get an early start and be on your way down. If you see thunderclouds on the horizon, you need to abort your hike and turn around. THERE IS NO COVER ON THE SUMMIT AND SUMMIT AREA. The hut has lightning rods all over it. IT WILL NOT PROTECT YOU. People have died inside the summit hut from lightning.
  5. Injury
    1. It’s a trail. There are rocks. There might be ice and snow. You will probably slip and fall at some point. Be prepared for ankle injuries. Carry a full roll of athletic tape and learn how to properly tape an ankle.
    2. Blisters can immobilize you. Make sure you wear proper footwear and break it in before you get there. Make sure you’re used to doing long days in your shoes. Carry a blister kit and know how to treat hotspots before they turn into blisters.

Whitney is a pretty major undertaking. It’s big and tall and long. Don’t underestimate the mountain and show up IN SHAPE.

Good luck and go get it!

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