April 20, 2012

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Note: Updated training hike list can be found here.

As we’ve mentioned before, one of our goals for 2012 is to summit Mt. Whitney. At 14,504 feet, Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the lower 48. The most popular route to the summit via the Mt. Whitney trail does not require any mountaineering skills and most people do it as a long day hike (it is 22 miles with 6,600 feet of gain). We plan to do it as a 2 or 3 day backpack since we are not very fast hikers and prefer to take our time and take lots of photos. Although the hike is not all that technically challenging, the high altitude makes you weaker and proper preparation and training is a must, especially if you want to enjoy the experience. Unfortunately, its relative ease and the fact that it is the highest peak in the lower 48 means that it is extremely popular and entries are strictly limited by a permit system. We applied for the permit lottery in March, but unfortunately we didn’t get one. Still, we are hopeful we can get a permit day-of, so we haven’t given up hope on our goal and have already started training.

Moon Over Mt. Whitney - Photo © by Jim Baumgardt, Image Counts, www.ImageCounts.com

At the beginning of the year, I began researching training strategies and tried to find local hikes to prepare for Mt. Whitney. The 6-pack of peaks by SoCalHiker was a great place to start, then I added a few other hikes with long mileage, lots of gain, and/or high altitude. Some we will do as backpacking trips, others just as day hikes with car-camping near the trailhead as needed. There were a ton of other hiking sites that inspired my list including Modern HikerNobody Hikes in LALocalHikes, and Dan’s Hiking Pages. In the end I upgraded the 6-pack of peaks to a 10-pack and scheduled them each for a weekend, counting back from our planned date for Mt. Whitney.

The 10 major training hikes:

Mt. Wilson (5,710’) – 14 miles, 4000 ft gain [completed]

Mt. Baden Powell (9,400’) – 8 miles, 2800 ft gain

Cucamonga Peak (8,859’) – 11.5 miles, 4300 ft gain

Mt San Antonio aka Baldy (10,064’) – 10 miles, 3900 ft gain (depending on route)

San Bernardino Peak (10,649’) – 16.5 miles, 5000 ft gain (2-day backpack)

Santiago Peak (5,689’) – 15 miles, 4450 ft gain

Mt. San Jacinto (10,800’) – 10.6 miles, 4300 ft gain (depending on route)

Telescope Peak (11,050’) – 14 miles, 3000 ft gain

Mt. San Gorgonio (11,502’) – 21 miles, 4600 ft gain (2-day backpack)

White Mt. (14,246’) – 14 miles, 3300 ft gain

Compared to: Mt. Whitney (14,504’) – 22 miles, 6600 ft gain



The trail to Mt. San Jacinto when we attempted to summit in May, 2011

However, all of the above hikes besides Mt. Wilson and Santiago Peak are at such high elevations that they will likely still be snowy through May, so we took the first few months of the year to warm up with some easier hikes. For most we weighted our packs with water to make the hike a bit more challenging and to get used to carrying a heavier load.

Completed hikes:

Mt. Islip Attempt – 4.6 miles, 1000 ft gain (Jan)

Echo Mountain – 5.5 miles, 1400 ft gain (Jan)

49 Palms Oasis (Joshua Tree NP) – 3.1 miles, 600 ft gain (Feb)

Towsley Canyon – 5.1 miles, 1100 ft gain (Feb)

Griffith Park – 7 miles, 1200 ft gain (Mar)

Mt. Wilson – 15 miles, 4000 ft gain (Mar)

Smith Mt. – 6.2 miles, 1800 ft gain (Apr)


As you can see, the hike to Mt. Wilson had significantly more distance and gain than any of the others, and we definitely struggled with both aspects, so we know we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Also, we have really only been hiking at low altitudes, so we are looking forward to challenging ourselves with higher altitudes on future hikes.

This weekend we are headed to Bryce Canyon National Park for a couple days of photography and relatively easy hikes (although likely in snow), and then we will do a 2 day / 21 mile backpacking trip in Buckskin Gulch, the longest and deepest slot canyon in the Southwest. Soon after we return from that trip, we will really start tackling the list. In addition to doing those hikes on the weekends, I’m hoping we’ll also be able to do some short but relatively steep hikes during the week with loaded packs… there are a few options that are conveniently on the way home from work.

But for now, I’ll leave you with the picture of Buckskin Gulch that inspired me to plan a trip there (courtesy of Kolby, TheHikeGuy). I’ve been wanting to go since he blogged about it in 2010! So here’s hoping for clear weather on Monday and Tuesday… keep your fingers crossed for us!

Buckskin Gulch - Kolby Kirk - www.thehikeguy.com