Summit Mt. Whitney: Complete
I did it. I stepped foot at the top of the tallest peak in the contiguous United States of America.
There isn’t a ton to report here, this was a fairly uneventful challenge. Recalling back to when I decided on it, one of the main reasons I selected this hike as my challenge was because it was the least intensive item on my bucket list.
Once I got a permit, and thanks to not sustaining any injuries this year, it was a fairly low risk endeavor. I considered finding ways to make it more challenging, bringing my 18 month old son along, doing it with nothing but a knife, trying to set a record – but, I stuck to my decision and kept things simple.
Now all of this isn’t to say hiking the 22 mile round trip which climbs over 6k ft of elevation was easy. It was physically difficult. I was out of breath, tired and sore all over. It was probably the hardest hike I’ve ever done, and I’ve done some gnarly hikes.
Here is the Strava data from day 1. (My Garmin got too cold at night and lost all of its battery, so no data from day 2) Over the course of ~6.5 miles we climbed nearly 4k feet and I averaged a heart rate of 136, often hopping up into the 150s for a bit. To compare, I averaged 138 during the bike ride of my Ironman last year. So I was working hard here – though for only 2.5 hours on day 1 opposed to the 11 of my Ironman. (Day 2 of the hike was 11 hours though)
I wasn’t recording at the time, but I did also sneak in a swim across an alpine lake at 10k ft. I was out of breath pretty quickly.
The weather was perfect, it was pretty warm and sunny during the day and dropped to probably the 40s, maybe 30s at night. There was little wind and no rain. I hiked the final miles to the summit in a t-shirt.
Our whole group, all former endurance athletes in various stages of out of shape, made great time on the trail. We all ended up with a bit of a sunburn, chapped lips and mild dehydration, nothing bad enough to stop our smiles.
One thing I really enjoyed digging into this trip was my body’s reaction to elevation. I haven’t really done much at high elevations outside of trying to do an Ironman at 6k ft last year and a few hikes in the 10k range. Hitting 14k would be a new record for me.
We brought a pulse oximeter along with us to measure our oxygen saturation at various elevations. I’ve included a chart below showing the two days (day 1 = black, day 2 = red) and my oxygen saturation levels at various stops along the way. (Here is some more info on oxygen saturation if you’re interested)
We camped day 1 at 6k feet and I got a reading of 96, perfectly inside the expected normal range of 95-100. We actually started hiking at 8k ft and you can see my levels slowly drop until we hit Trail Camp that night. 80 is not a great place to be. I’m told if I were in a hospital and had a blood saturation of 80, I would have been put on supplemental oxygen.
Overnight I became somewhat acclimated though, you can see the first red dot, my morning read at camp (same elevation as the night) is back up at 86.
When we hit the summit I hit 78 and had a significant headache. At that level I was ‘compromising organ function’ including my brain. A bit of focused breathing got me back up to normal however and we hung out at the summit for a bit before heading back down to thick air and abundant oxygen.
Total hiking time to the top was 5 hours (broken over 2 days – not including breaks).
The hike down was long. Over 100 switchbacks. Lots of impact on the feet and knees. I was physically drained, but we still managed to get down in ~5 hours.
With that I’m done with my 2015 challenge. Here’s hoping for something more eventful in 2016.