Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day #1: Arriving at Trail Camp

We finally get up the set of switchbacks and all of the Whitney peaks come into view and we can see Trail Camp in front of us. The last bit into Trail Camp is not steep at all. We are totally exhausted. It's about 2pm so we made it in six hours which is pretty good time.

We stop at the first place that looks like an empty camp site. We can see only three or four other tents around, but we may not be able to see all of Trail Camp so we're really not sure how many people are there. We drop our packs and just sit there. I'm not all that excited about the camp site we're in so (without my pack) I walk around a bit and find a better camp site about 100 yards away. It takes us awhile just to get up the energy to move our packs over there. Once we do, Kevin lays down on the ground and just lays there initially catching his breath and then just trying to summon some energy. We're at 12,000' and have never felt so tired in our lives. I look up at the snow covered chute that leads up to Trail Crest and I honestly think that there's just no way we can do that tomorrow. I figure that we're going to sleep here tonight and go back down in the morning. It just doesn't seem possible that we can go further up tomorrow. I'm trying to move around to get some things out of my pack and every motion just sends me completely out of breath. I really can't do anything, but sit there.

Kevin's really worried that his cough is related to HAPE and I tell him I've got a Wilderness First Aid emergency booklet and we can look it up. He's urging me to do that, but I can't summon the energy to find it in my pack. I get up a few times to try and just have to sit back down again. I don't feel ill - I just have no energy to do anything and everything I do makes me out of breath. I guess this is our welcome mat for the first time at 12,000 feet. Finally, I find the energy to locate the Wilderness First Aid emergency booklet and we look up the symptoms of HAPE. It describes a productive cough, fast heart rate and shortness of breath even at rest. Kevin doesn't have these symptoms. He's completely lucid and coordinated too so there are no symptoms of HACE either. He is visibly relieved. We're both still exhausted.

Arrived at Trail Camp

I don't remember the exact timing of things, but we basically just sit there for quite awhile, maybe as long as an hour or an hour and a half. We can see the chute coming down from Trail Crest and can see the people who went to the summit this day coming down so that keeps us occupied. The longer we sit, the more we start to recover. This is very good news. Eventually, we feel like we can move around in our camp site and start to set up camp. We get the tent up and start thinking about dinner. Though it's only 4:00 or so, it's clear that the sun is going to disappear early here (because it sets right behind Mt. Whitney which towers above us) and we're really hungry and tired. We cook dinner about 5pm (a homemade dehydrated beans and rice mixture that really tastes good). After dinner, we're both feeling a lot better. Several hours of rest and some good hot food and now we're feeling like maybe we can tackle the summit tomorrow. What a difference a few hours made. My assessment is that we just overdid it on the climb from Outpost Camp as we got above 11,000'. We needed to take it slower with more long breaks and we probably needed to eat more along the way too to keep our energy up. The rule of thumb said it should have taken us seven hours and that's probably how long we should have taken (three more 20 minute breaks in the last hour and a half). We were both just so driven to get there that we just kept pressing on. Perhaps we were running on some adrenaline at the end and when we got to camp that extra burst just gave out and we were spent. In any case, we definitely overdid it that day. We needed to pace ourselves better for the whole duration of the day's climb.

We Finally Get Camp Set up at Trail Camp and Start to Feel Better

We started getting things organized for the night and filled up our water supplies for the summit the next day (we have to carry 3 liters each because there's no water once we leave Trail Camp). The sun disappears behind Mount Whitney at 6:30pm and it starts to get cold quickly. While there are no bears up at this altitude, you have to protect anything with a scent from the marmots. They will chew holes in your pack or tent to get at anything that isn't protected. You are required to carry a bear proof container for your food (which protects it from marmots too), but we discovered that not everything we have that has a scent (toiletries and first aid stuff) will fit into the bear container since we haven't eaten much of the food yet. Kevin comes up with the idea that if we find a crevice in the rock, we can put them in the crevice and then barricade it into the crevice with rocks. Worst case, we lose some toiletries, but at least we won't have holes in our pack or tent. The whole scheme works out perfectly.

During our rest at Trail Camp, we talk to a number of the hikers coming down from the summit. We get several tips on suggested routes up the chute and folks tell us to hit the chute sometime between 6:30 and 7:30 in the morning before it starts getting soft. We decide we'll get up at 6am, eat a good breakfast and get going as soon as we can after that. At 7pm, though the sun has disappeared for us, it's far from dark (the sun doesn't actually set on level ground until 8:30), but we're exhausted and cold so we retreat to the tent. We just lay there for awhile, content to just relax and be out of the wind. A little while later, we decide to get ready for bed and by 8pm, we're both sound asleep.

Sleeping under Mount Whitney at 12,000 feet is anything but a good night's sleep. It gets cold quickly (there was fresh ice on the river in the morning) and it can really be windy. I don't know about Kevin, but I was out cold exhausted until around midnight and then some big gust of wind really shook the tent and woke me up. After that, sleep came in fits and spurts at best.

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