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Re: Happy 67th Birthday Dad--Mt. Whitney Summit

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Happy 67th Birthday Dad--Mt. Whitney Summit
October 21, 2012 12:56AM

In 2011 my family planned a summer trip from Chicago that involved flying to Phoenix to visit the Grand Canyon, driving through Vegas and Death Valley, driving directly past Lone Pine and Mt. Whitney (although I didn’t even know which mountain it was at the time) and then into the Eastern entrance of Yosemite.

The August 2011 plan was for my family to continue the drive to Yosemite Valley while I hiked from Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest, to Half Dome to Happy Isles. The highlight video:

As I trained for this hike by hiking up and down the stairwell of my downtown Chicago office, my father, still in shape from completing his first ever marathon at age 65 in October 2011, began training for a later trip to Mt. Dana and he was able to enjoy easy access to Yosemite from Fresno. The Mt. Dana hike was a test for an idea my father came up with--he wanted to hike Mt. Whitney. We made it up the 13,000 ft. Mt. Dana, came down as a snow storm started on October 3, 2011, and back to San Francisco just in time to catch my flight back to Chicago. We determined that Mt. Whitney was doable and began making plans for a Summer 2012 Summit.

In February 2012, I moved to Anchorage, Alaska and soon found that my hiking trips would no longer require cross country trips and extensive planning. Awesome trailheads are now only 15 minutes away from my house. I was also introduced to snow hiking and learned self-arrest and crampon techniques. Training for Mt. Whitney would be much more exciting than my previous summer trip training.

So when my dad and I won the Mt. Whitney lottery our hike date was set for August 31. Prior to the hike my parents made a trip to Alaska and my dad and I were able to get in a couple final training hikes at Crow Pass and Bird Ridge off the Turnagain Arm.

I learned my dad was a very strong hiker but also learned that his descent speed was about the same as his ascent speed which was unusual for my pace. I had already learned that Alaskan trails had rarely met the concept of a “switchback” and often the route was just plain “up”. I also knew that even though I would often climb 3-4,000 ft. on these hikes, I was starting at sea level, so altitude acclimation was never available.

Act I
Unfortunately, since we had just moved to Alaska, my family was unable to make the trip with me and so I planned a quick trip that would also include my 20 year Edison High School reunion in Fresno. The plan was for me to fly into Ontario Wednesday, acclimate in Mammoth all day Wednesday , drive back to Lone Pine Thursday morning, and began the hike Thursday evening.

Due to summer thunderstorms, my dad set a turnaround time of 12:00 noon. So to compensate for our pace, we made a decision to begin the hike at 4 and stop and rest at Lone Pine Lake. The intent was to stay and sleep at Lone Pine Lake until our permit became active at Midnight. We brought mylar blankets from the Chicago marathon two years earlier but soon found we would not be able to rest very well and we also were not warm enough. Mistake #1: I simply didn’t bring enough warm clothes. So after a couple hours we decided to head up the trail at about 8 pm. Neither one of us had ever done much night hiking but we soon were absolutely amazed at the brightness of the full moon.

Since we had an early start, we felt confident about time and did not push the pace. My dad remembers that at some point I complained about a mild headache but I have always avoided aspirin and ibuprofen because it seems to cause nosebleeds. We foraged on and rarely needed to use our headlamps because of the blindingly bright moon light.

We made it to Trail Camp at 1:30 am and by this time my condition had worsened significantly. We stopped for water at Trail Camp. While my dad began filling the bottles for our 3 liters needed to make the summit I was slumped over a rock. I was drowsy, I had somewhat of a headache, and every once in a while felt nauseous. I knew my summit effort was in jeopardy. After a good rest, relenting and taking some aspirin, and drinking, we headed up the switchbacks. It didn’t take very long to recognize the summit wasn’t going to happen so I made the tough decision to turn back. A very short time later, on the way down the switchbacks, my nausea overcame me and I started vomiting ending in dry heaves.
I was scared! My only thoughts were to get down off the mountain. We headed down as quick as possible. I was very drowsy and fell asleep a few times on the way down, but eventually we made it. It was disappointing but there was a great sense of relief that I was safe. We rest for a bit in the car at Lone Pine and drove back to Bishop. The very next day, Saturday, I felt great, and my dad and I hiked for three hours into Tenaya Canyon’s granite bowl. I made it to the reunion later that night and headed home early Monday morning.

Act II
My dad was 66 years old. Downhill stretches were uncomfortable to his legs and knees and frankly I don’t know if he thought he would be able to try Mt. Whitney another year. So he began talking about trying a solo return trip with the next full moon at the end of September. My mother did not like that idea and soon I began entertaining the preposterous notion of coming all the way back from Alaska. After checking airfares showing only a few hundred dollars, I posted a trip report at this site with a bunch of questions, and ultimately made the decision to go for it.

On this second try there were three main areas I was going to change: 1. Use of Diamox to address altitude sickness. 2. Attempt to rest better on my overnight flight from Alaska to Ontario and the night before the hike. 3. Focus on deep breathing techniques. Despite good advice from many on this forum, I simply was not able to make a better schedule

The trip ended up working out like this:
Wednesday, September 26: Midnight flight to Ontario arriving Wednesday morning
Wednesday, September 26: Drive to Horseshoe Meadows for a couple of hours and then Mammoth for acclimation and sleep
Thursday, September 27: Drive Back to Lone Pine
Thursday, September 27: Begin hike at Whitney Portal at 8:30 pm
Friday, September 28: Midnight-Celebrate Dad’s Birthday somewhere near Trailside Meadow
Friday, September 28: 1:30 am Arrive Trail Camp at same time as previous attempt!
Friday, September 28: 11:00 am Mt. Whitney Summit!
Friday, September 28: 10:06 pm Mt. Whitney Portal: Total Hike Time: 25 hours, 36 minutes, 40 seconds
Sunday, September 30: 6:00 am Flight from Ontario to Anchorage

The evening was once again a beautiful moonlit night. It was a little colder than a month earlier but we were well prepared. In fact at some point my mom asked, “What time should I start worrying about you?” My answer: “Saturday night”. I was determined to make the summit. I was prepared to wait out altitude acclimation if I needed to. The previous month, I was just too cold to stop hiking. Fortunately, we made it back to the room by 10pm Friday night.

I still, after two trips, have never seen the section between Lone Pine Lake and Outpost Camp in the daylight. Sleep deprivation definitely caught up with us on both trips and I don’t recommend doing the hike like we did and starting so early with no sleep at all. In fact, my dad may have even had some hallucinations toward the last section reporting seeing strange sights on the trail. On the last very minor water crossing, he stepped off the rocks and wandered straight through the water. I said, “That is an interesting technique”.

At Midnight we were somewhere below Trailside Meadow and I sang Happy Birthday to my dad. We were doing well and we were going to make it! Another big mistake we made was not bringing my water filter. I have a good one, but after the previous month’s hike determined I didn’t need it. Well, when we got to Trail Camp, once again at 1:30 am, we looked for our running water source used from the first trip and it was dry. The waterfall into the pond was also dry. Eventually, someone at Trail Camp loaned us a filter and we got water from the pond. We eventually figured out the water was frozen. Amazingly, the nozzle streams in our Gatorade bottles even froze on the way to the summit.

We were excited to spot the hut on top of the Summit and we both felt great but also sleepy. The western view over Trail Crest was amazing. I expected more exposure at the windows but the sunrise began warming everything up. Reaching the Summit felt great and we were able to make a couple of phone calls letting everyone know we were doing great. On our way down we were treated with two great sites- a hang glider and a glider. The glider was simply amazing and make some daredevil passes through the Summit and Keeler Needle.

If I ever do this long of a hike with my father again I am going to talk him into camping it. I’ll even carry the tent…

avatar Re: Happy 67th Birthday Dad--Mt. Whitney Summit
October 21, 2012 08:52AM
Awesome. Congratulations!

Chick-on is looking at you!
avatar Re: Happy 67th Birthday Dad--Mt. Whitney Summit
October 21, 2012 02:42PM
Cool, glad the two of you made it!
avatar Re: Happy 67th Birthday Dad--Mt. Whitney Summit
October 22, 2012 01:40AM
Great story. May you & your dad spendi more days & nights in the mountains.
Re: Happy 67th Birthday Dad--Mt. Whitney Summit
October 22, 2012 10:53AM
My dad and I won't be doing Whitney again (unless I can talk him into camping). But he still hasn't done Clouds Rest. I'd really like to get him and my two boys up there.
avatar Re: Happy 67th Birthday Dad--Mt. Whitney Summit
October 22, 2012 11:22AM
Happy that this trip was such a success!

So when are you planning to summit Mount McKinley? wink
Re: Happy 67th Birthday Dad--Mt. Whitney Summit
October 22, 2012 11:35AM
Happy that this trip was such a success!

So when are you planning to summit Mount McKinley? wink

You are NOT supposed to ask that question anywhere where my wife may read it!
avatar Re: Happy 67th Birthday Dad--Mt. Whitney Summit
October 24, 2012 01:23PM
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