Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mt. Whitney

     On August 30, my friend Chris and I completed our day hike of Mt. Whitney. We both made it up and down safely in about seventeen hours. Yes, you read this right, 22 miles in seventeen hours. It was a brutal hike that tested our mettle, but we both survived. This was Chris' first hike to Mt. Whitney, and he was able to accomplish a goal from his long list of 101 goals that he has set for himself. Way to go Chris, and congratulations!!!  This was my fourth trip to this treacherous hill (14,496 feet), but the first trip being on the Paleo. Overall, I required much less food than in the previous years and was able to recover from the hike a lot faster. Later in the post I will share the food choices I made during the hike, but first I would like to share what it takes to prepare for this hike for the benefit of those who might be willing to do this grueling torture in the future.

  • A permit is required and the Inyo National Forest Ranger Station issues 100 day passes each day. You have to apply for a permit around February time frame. In the previous year you had to fill out an application and mail it in, but this year the whole system is online and you can complete your permit application online at 
  • The best time to hike Mt. Whitney is the month of August. The days are longer, the snow has melted from the trails and the weather on most parts tends to be nice. But there are no guarantees, the weather can change without a warning and risk of lightning is greater with increased clouds. I prefer to hike in the last week of August. I try to get a permit for the last Thursday in August. Because, this gives me a long three days weekend (labor day) when I get back home.
  • This year Chris and I started our journey on Tuesday and got to our hotel late in the evening. Had dinner and slept. Woke up on Wednesday went to the Ranger's station in Lone Pine and picked up our day permit. Came back in town had breakfast, walked around the town and came back to the hotel and rested. Late in the afternoon got our backpacks ready and made final arrangements. We left our hotel at 11:30 P.M. and headed for the mountain which is only 13 miles away from Lone Pine. We were at the Mt. Whitney trailhead by 11:50 P.M. and after parking and strapping on our back packs started our hike at midnight.
  • The first hour and a half we reached our first stop Lone Pine Lake and at this point the Inyo Wilderness starts and permits are required. We took our first official break.
  • The next two hours after climbing granite rock steps (mostly a rocky trail) and getting lost few times we reached the trail camp. Took another long break of about 10 minutes.
  • The next three hours were extremely painful as we climbed the switchbacks, basically an elevation change of about 1800 feet in little more than two miles. We were almost near the top of the switchbacks when the sun started to come up and we were able to see a beautiful sunrise at an elevation of almost 13,000 feet. We reached trail crest (13,600 feet) around 6:30 A.M.
  • The next three and a half hours are extremely painful as we went from trail crest to the summit. A distant of 2.8 miles and only an 800 feet elevation, but the trail is rocky, the air is really thin and you are out of energy. The last 2.8 miles are a pure roller coaster, the trail dips down and then comes back up and then dips down again. You are stepping over big boulders and pointy rocks as you traverse the trail and head for the peak. You meet several people coming down and they are always offering encouraging words to continue on. The peak is finally on site and you see the Mt. Whitney Cabin in the distance and it still takes you a long time and several short thirty second breaks to get to the top. Our trip to the top took 9 hours. On the summit we rested for about 40 minutes. I fell asleep on a rock and Chris reported that I was actually snoring. After eating few snacks we both signed the guest register and headed down the mountain around 10:00 A.M. It would take another muscle aching knee and hip wrenching 7 to 8 hours to finally reach the bottom. At few points you get the feeling that this thing is never going to end. But the trail does end and you are finally at the trail head. A sense of relief overcomes you and you are grateful for cars, toilets, showers, and all modern amenities. A sense of deep appreciation for our hunter gatherer forefathers is felt, who walked on the average 11 miles per day hunting and gathering their foods. 
  • We were back in the hotel around 5:30 P.M. Jumped in the pool to calm down the aching leg muscles. Took a long shower. At that time my eyes were closing due to overwhelming sleep, but I was hungry and we went to dinner. I had a 16 oz rib eye with mashed potatoes and asparagus. After dinner came back to hotel, brushed my teeth and was hoping to catch a preseason foot ball game, but could not stay awake. I was knocked out around 7:00 P.M. and slept for 11 straight hours. It was an amazing sleep. I have not slept this good in years. I woke up around 6:00 A.M. and felt totally rejuvenated. After shower and breakfast we headed back and 450 miles later, were back home around 5:00 P.M. Another year of Mt. Whitney is behind me. A day later as I write this post, I feel totally recovered and feel very little pain in my legs. 
  • I omitted this from my post earlier and then decided to add this section back in. It is important to train throughout the year if you are preparing to make this trip. Mt. Whitney is a good motivation for me because it keeps me active all year long. To prepare for the Whitney hike, I usually climb Mt. Diablo (3800 feet) on the monthly basis and do short 5 mile hikes on the weekly basis just to keep in shape. Mt. Diablo is a great mountain only about 50 minutes from my house and has many trails of various levels of difficulty. The take home point is that keep doing something throughout the year if you expect to complete the Whitney hike. 
   Let me share few food choices that I made on this hike. While on the hike, I consumed few pieces of beef jerky, one white peach, one Lara Bar, few ounces of nuts (cashews, macadamias, and almonds), few ounces of dried banana chips, about 10 pieces of dates, and about a liter of water. Of course, the knees and hips screamed from intensity of the hike, and several thirty seconds rests helped me get through the hike. In my estimation , I probably consumed around 1500 calories and God only knows how many calories I expended on this hike? I simply had no desire to eat but a strong desire to stop and rest. I totally stayed on my Paleo plan and did not deviate one bit. My regular diet of high saturated fats and animal proteins helped me eat less while on the hike. Since I was not eating much so I did not consume much water. I almost did not finish my one liter bottle of water. I had carried three liters with me, I consumed one liter, brought one back, and gave my third bottle to a hiker needing water. I hit the proverbial wall few times but never felt totally drained of energy. The switchback kicked my butt that is because the scenery does not change and you climb 1800 feet in 2.2 miles. But I got a second wind at trail crest and continued my trek up without a problem. Not having to eat also helped me not go to the bathroom, which can be a drag on this hike. The hikers are not allowed to leave human waste on the trail. They must carry their waste back in a wag bag. So I never used my wag bag on this hike. The most amazing thing is the recovery time for my body. I was up and running a day later after a nice long sleep. The body fully rejuvenated and recovered. The amazing thing is that I only lost about a pound on this hike. I know I consumed very little calories but expended a heck of a lot more. The body's ability to burn fat and using fat as the primary fuel is way more efficient than burning carbohydrates. As you can see from my above account that my consumption of food was little, but the fat storage in my body provided all the necessary energy for a long time. Just imagine 3500 calories are produced from one pound of fat. The 3500 calories go a long way. Since I have been on a Paleo plan for a year my body has learned to burn fat and not ask for the simple carbs to meet and fulfill its energy requirements. So when food was not available the body simply burned stored fat and kept me going for a long time. In the previous years, I remember packing a pound of trail mix, wheat thins, peanut butter and Jelly sandwich, and all sorts of gatorades to just make it through the hike. This year just the opposite, very little food and was able to complete the same hike. It is amazing the body's ability to store fat, even a relatively thin person has plenty of stored fat to keep them alive for several weeks. There have been instances in human history where imprisoned individuals are forced to walk for several miles over multiple days on very little food and water and yet they survived. The Trail of Tears comes to mind as one of those unfortunate events in recent human history. The human body being an amazing machine very quickly learns to switch its energy source from burning carbs to fat. The fat burns slowly and one pound of it is able to go a long way. My hike of 22 miles and seventeen hours is nothing compared to the plight of Native Americans who were forced to move from their homes and were relocated to a different part of the country. I personally believe that being on Paleo helped me recover a lot faster, and putting my body through this extreme test with very little food sharpened my body to burn stored fat. I don't wish to subject my body to this kind of extreme pain all the time but sometimes an extreme almost insane activity like this is necessary to kick start the dormant fat burning metabolism over the easy burning carbs. 

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