Tips for New Backpackers

 

This is the new and improved version of the tip page, at least we think it is. If you are new to this we'd better start from the beginning, like how to get ready, training (both daily and mountains), planning the trip, the Sierra, etal.

This is the best tip you will ever receive...The lighter your pack is the more you will enjoy your trip!


Training

 

Whatever you do during the week it should be geared to building your body to handle your pack weight, increasing your aerobic capacity and minimize the chance of injury to old creaky body parts. If you have done Mt. Whitney as a day hike this is going to be a lot easier...trust me. What your goal is, if you are a Main Mt Whitney Trail packer, is to get your rear end from Whitney Portal to Trail Camp, that's 6 miles with 3,600' of elevation gain. This qualifies as no walk in the park because you will finish this day at 12,000'...an elevation many of you will be seeing for the first time. The 10 mile RT day hike to the peak should not present any problems to a backpacker.

 

You will have to determine what works for you to accomplish your goal. What works for me is three days a week of a 15 minute stretch routine, which is designed to loosen all those parts of my body my PT says don't work all that well any more, and about 35 minutes of aerobic exercise, primarily running but a stationary bike works when the weather isn't cooperating. This is all capped off by a Saturday in the forest day hiking.

Our day hikes are moderately intense to very intense. The minimum trip is 7 miles, plus 2,600' or so. Most of the time we drive a half hour up San Antonio Canyon and head up either Ice House Canyon to various locations or the Ski Hut Trail to Mt. Baldy. This is exercise, not an adventure, if you have been a couch potato for many a year it will be in your best interest to hike both weekend days gain experience but primarily to get the muscles, ligaments and tendons in mountain shape. Our adventures are the backpacking trips we use to get ready...and for the newbie they will be a big time learning experience.

 

We go to the Sierra for backpacking adventures even though the local mountains are literally outside our kitchen window. There are two primary reasons, less people and more water. Where there is water in mountains of SoCal there are a ton of people, and we don't like being around a ton of people when we are seeking a wilderness experience, if you don't know it already the Main Mt. Whitney Trail during the summer is not a wilderness experience. If you want a wilderness experience here come up to Whitney Portal between 11/2 and 4/30.

 

Going to the Sierra serves as a shake down cruise. You will gain backpacking experience, especially if you go with a few people who have done this more than a few times, you will get to see what it is like to be over 10,000' for more than an hour or two and you will find out if Acute Mountain Sickness affects you. If you are one of the 40% affected by AMS and it rears its ugly head here you will be able to figure what you need to do make it go away by the time your Whitney trip rolls around, either extended acclimatization or Diamox.


Planning the Trip to Whitney Portal

 

This is what we do and it works...most of the time.

 

We usually leave for the Sierra on Friday but the preparation starts the Sunday or Monday before the trip.

 

Sunday...We do a route with waypointed campsites, bear boxes and water locations, if the route is unknown to us, utilizing our TOPO! California software along with notes about the route and possible side trips. Now, this really isn't necessary for the Main Mt. Whitney Trail. This information is distributed to those in our group with this software. If there are no squawks this information is downloaded into the GPS along with it's native mapping software for the area.

 

Monday...Type an itinerary, gear list, set up a Diamox dosing schedule and a food/shopping list for the trip.

 

Tuesday...Some food and consumable shopping.

 

Wednesday...Pull the gear bins out and transfer most of the gear to the travel bin.

 

Thursday...Charge the camera battery and make sure the memory card is cleared of previous pictures, finish up getting the gear and clothing together, finish shopping except for perishables and condense food in bulk packages to reduce trash and volume.

 

Friday...Buy perishables, fill cooler with all the items in need of refrigeration, fill the car and head to the Eastern Sierra.

 

We usually have both breakfast and lunch at home.

 

Once in Lone Pine, we pick up the permits, possibly have dinner in town if we arrive late, reload the ice in the cooler because of the need for a very cold beer when we get back from a weekend trip and head for Whitney Portal...for a Main Trail start or to leave a car if we are going point to point from Horseshoe Meadow or another Inyo trailhead.

 

We set up camp, start a fire and kick back and relax. Oh, since we have some very warm sleeping bags we rarely put up tents either at the campground and in the backcountry. This will save you a bit of time in the morning and aids greatly in stargazing, Trail Camp would be an exception to our no tent thingy.


Gear

You can check our gear section for what we actually take up the mountain, these list are constantly updated.  In this sections we will go over the major modules of gear. A note to those wanting to go UL, ultralight weight, (light pack weight = experience and big wallet - comfort and convenience), in other words the more you know and the more you are willing to spend the less your pack will weigh but you will be giving up extremely durable gear, comfort and convenience.

 

Sleep System...tent, bag, pad and pillow

The UL backpacker will find a lot of fat in our lists but I can guarantee you we sleep better. The tent is a single person tent because the only person  I share a tent with is my wife. I don't need no stinking snoring partner to keep me awake at night. Included with this tent is the manufacturers ground cover, it's heavier than a piece of silnylon or mylar but it is more durable.

 

Our bags are full featured 15 F 800 fill power down bags which are overkill much of the summer but we rarely utilize our tents if there isn't a chance of storm...it has to be stinking cold or windy before a tent goes up. You can get by with a 30 F if you catch a warm night or if you supplement it clothing. We are not made of money and don't have the ability to purchase a bag for every 10 F of climate change, therefore, the 15 F bag.

 

The ultralighter will bring a 3/4 length closed cell foam pad. Since I sleep on my hips that is a non starter. For me, it's an insulated air mattress, nothing less. The aches and pains show up after about 9 hours on the ground, not 15 minutes. If you are big miles person who sleeps on their back get the foam, if you are a comfort person get the air mattress. Hmmmm...we've been known to do 16 mile days with our "heavy" loads.

 

An ultralight guru said at a seminar we attended that he utilizes his boots as a pillow. We have a much better way. You stuff a down jacket, which he would be wearing to supplement his 45 F bag, into a 1 oz. pillow case and you have all the comforts of home.

 

BTW, don't leave home without a pair of ear plugs, especially if your plan includes a night at Outpost Camp.

 

Pack System...main bag, hydration system and summit pack

Your gear determines pack size. If you have way too much older heavier gear you will need a big pack...it's that simple.

 

When we started out backpacking in 1998 we used Gregory Palisades packs, an 80 L pack. We filled them to the top and we had things lashed outside the pack for a weekend trip. Today, we use a 60 L packs and could use a 50 L for trips which last up to a week.

 

Many packs today come with hydration sleeves and summit packs. We find the hydration sleeve and the hydration system to be great additions to a pack system, in fact we added a hydration sleeve to our Osprey Aether 60. However, the top lid summit pack may not suffice as for your Trail Camp to Smithsonian Hut trip. The space is extremely limited and depending on the gear required for your trip you may need something more substantial. In the spring and early summer, you may need an ice axe and crampons and as it warms up you will need more than a couple of quarts of water. Therefore, your options are a day pack, summit pack add-on or your pack. Our Aether 60 is the perfect pack system for this trip, in our opinion. It gives you the option of utilizing a very lightweight pack which can be snugged down or there is an 800 cu. in. summit pack add-on which comes in at a pound. We utilize the add-on for stash and dash trips and the main pack body for base camp type trips. Even with the summit pack add-on and hydration sleeve modification this pack system weights about 2.5 pounds less with approximately the Palisades.

 

All Those Layers...Rain gear, insulation, mid and base

During our last trip to Mt. Whitney in late September 2004 I ended up with five layers of clothing over my core after reaching the peak. I had all these layers on and was still freezing my rear end off, it was before dawn and the wind was howling and the temperature was around 10 F., I've been on the peak when it was around  10 F on a summer day, too. However, by the time I pulled into Whitney Portal that same afternoon I was wearing a short sleeve shirt and shorts, such is life on the Main Mt. Whitney Trail during the summer and early fall.

 

Prior to the our last trip the low temperatures at 10,000' approached single digits but were warming as we started our trip. Therefore, we adjusted our base clothing list because of it, adding a light fleece base layer and mid weight thermal top, the fleece came in handy but the thermal top which was taken to be worn during the day wasn't necessary...a t-shirt would have been a better choice. This is why we suggest you bring more clothing and gear than you plan to use to the trailhead so you will have the ability to make last second changes.

 

We prefer shell tops and pants for rain gear because they offer more wind protection than a poncho ever will. If your intention is to summit or be on the Sierra Crest at dawn those shell pants will come in handy if the wind is at its usual howl.

 

Our insulation layer is very lightweight down jacket. This replaced a fleece jacket, which was more the twice the weight and didn't offer as much warmth or wind protection. We made the change as much for warmth as we did for packing size. The down jacket stuffs down to the size of a liter bottle. This helps in getting the smaller and lighter....and it's a much better pillow than fleece jacket.

 

One of the other mainstays in our outerwear arsenal is the Marmot DriClime windshirt. Although it doesn't offer much R value it is a very versatile piece of clothing. It's great for the first mile of hiking when you are warming up, to throw on when you stop for a break and to supplement your sleeping bag at night.

 

Our next to skin layer is highly adaptable to the various conditions you will see on Main Mt. Whitney Trail during the summer months. We utilize a travel shirt which offer ability to roll up the sleeves and tab them making short sleeve shirt which can be unbuttoned to the navel and convertible pants.

 

Oh BTW, the five layers over the core were...light weight fleece top, travel shirt, windshirt, down jacket and shell.

 

Bear Resistant Canister...Go Carbon Fiber Composite

Our beloved Ursack Hybrid lost its conditional approval and we sold off our other canisters. So, to the lightest alternative, Wild-Ideas Bearikade. It has the size of full size canister but the weight of a solo. This is the high priced spread, so expect sticker shock.

 

The Little Things...Lot'sa weight can be saved here while not compromising safety

Don't think you can save weight here? Think again. We changed our stuff sacks from nylon cordura to Sil Nylon and saved more than a pound. Just use your brains and think things out...you will come up with weight savings and new and great ideas for your trip.

 

The overall tip here is get your gear lighter, your pack smaller and your trip to Trail Camp and beyond will be easier without sacrificing safety.


The Hike

 

First off...DO NOT EXCEED YOUR SKILL LEVEL!!!!!!!

 

People die here on a fairly regular basis usually from doing things which are beyond the skill level and beyond the abilities of the gear. We will not shy away from this salient fact, as many do on the Whitney message boards. In 2005, those who died on this mountain did so while descending after they had visited the summit. Generally, the bad decisions are made during the ascent and compounded during the descent. It seems the accidents causing death and major injury remain the same only the names change.

 

Get an early start up the mountain. I know you don't have a date with the Smithsonian Hut but it gets very hot in this canyon during the summer months. Leaving early gives you the option to lounging around Lone Pine Lake for a while, taking a hour break  to soak your feet and having a leisurely lunch at Trailside Meadow or a lot of extra time for exploring Trail Camp area.

 

Don't even think about utilizing Outpost Camp unless you bring industrial strength earplugs. The thundering hoards of day hikers pass through this camp very early in the morning when you will be trying to sleep and they are rarely considerate of those sleeping. Utilize Lone Pine Lake if you are going to stay at a lower elevation. This location is much quieter and will add about 20 minutes to your ascent the following day.

 

Once you reach Trail Camp it becomes very difficult to read the weather because this area is so close to the Sierra Crest. Therefore, if you are going to be doing some exploring make sure you tent and gear are secure at your campsite. This means at minimum have the fly on your tent and having it staked properly.

 

For summit day you are going to have to make up your mind what you want it to be, a party with a 100 or so of your nearest and dearest friends or a rather intimate affair at sunrise. The latter involves a 1 AM wake up call and an extra pair of gloves and one more layer of clothing but, in our opinion, it is the only way to summit Mt. Whitney...especially if you will be heading home this day. The extra layer is because the temperatures can approach single digits even during the summer and the extra pair of gloves will be because the one's you wore to the summit will be damp with sweat.

 

If you choose to leave later, you will be joining the thundering hoards of day hikers and there is the possibility that you will be slowed by returning hikers. A lot of you may find comfort being a part of the party. There is no wrong way of doing this trip as far as we are concerned, it is your trip. Just be aware of your options.

 

It's time to head back to Whitney Portal. If you are doing the 16 miles 2nd day make sure you stop at Trailside Meadow to soak your feet to reduce their width. This will make the 6,100' descent more enjoyable. Those of you on a 3 day journey the 6 miles back to the Portal is really a piece of cake. However, both of you should know if you are going to utilize the shower at The Portal Store you will need to bring your own towel or be prepared to buy one. The shower is well worth it's cost...whatever it is.


Cost

 

How much is this all going to cost? A lot of jack that is for sure but you can minimize your outlay by...

Renting a lot of stuff...Outfitters will rent backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, bear resistant canisters and canister stoves. A weekend for the items above should be around $100 vs. ~$500, on the low end. Most will apply most of the rental fee towards a purchase in kind.

 

"Mooch" Backpacking...Borrow what you can from your gearhead friends. We can almost outfit another backpacker. Just return the stuff in better condition than you got it in, the owner of said gear will appreciate the TLC you gave their stuff.

 

Your Closet and Garage...Make do stuff. Sweaters, windbreakers, soda bottles. The more you think the more you will save.

 

Research and the Internet...Take the time and figure out what you are going to buy and what you are willing to pay for it. If you start early, a year or more before your trip, you should be able to get every single item listed above at a heavily discounted price, we have. Starting a year or more before your trip you will also be able to set up a reasonable monthly budget for this stuff. It's really hard getting all this stuff in a matter of weeks before your trip.


Backpacking and Mt. Whitney Tips

If you eat it or drink it you don't have to carry it...There is more to the Southern Sierra than Mt. Whitney...If you are a SoCal or NoCal plan a trip to the Lone Pine area prior to your Mt. Whitney trip and head up to the Horseshoe Meadow Trailheads for a weekend...Plan on acclimatizing more than one day if you have never been above any of the elevations you will see on the Mt. Whitney Trail, you spent a bunch of money on this trip why ruin because you weren't properly acclimatized...Be a stickler about what goes into the pack, especially on an overnight trip to Trail Camp where you have to climb 3,600' in 6 miles to 12,000'...Think ounces and the pounds will come off your pack weight, we reduced our pack weight by over a pound by switching to ultralight stuff sacks...In the summer prepare for temperatures ranging from 10° F to 85° F, we have seen near this range in our August trips up the mountain...Check the Bishop weather forecast, the White Mountain Peak temperature and the California Water Resources Board Cottonwood Lakes/Crabtree Meadow Reporting Stations,  before you leave for Lone Pine...Do not do exceed your skill level, people die here on a regular basis for doing just that...A bear resistant canister will fit all the food you and a partner will need for a 2 night trip without having to repackage items and up to 7 days for one person with a lot of repackaging and thought...Buy your maps and study them  at the beginning of the planning process and you will be amazed how well you know the trail if this is your first trip up the mountain...Be thoughtful and considerate, don't put water and non food items in the bear boxes at Whitney Portal, there is limited space in the community boxes...Hang around the Portal Store and ask questions of the unshaven and smelly or Doug, both will usually answer any question you might have...In the morning before you get out of your tent take care all the stuff in your tent so it can go directly into your pack...Start as early as possible in the morning its much easier to hike when its cool plus it gives you the option of a high mileage day, afternoon nap time or some exploring...The more you know about your trip the less anxious you will be about it...Make sure you are on the Sierra Crest or summit at dawn you will find it was really worth getting up too early in the morning...Buy the same piece of gear once, in other words buy quality stuff...Don't waste your money on Polyethylene Nalgene bottles; spend a $1 more a bottle and get the chemically inert Lexan bottles they take hot or cold and bottle won't discolor or pick up the taste from a flavored beverage...If you want a killer picture of Mt. Whitney come back in the winter after it snows with a good film or a high megapixel digital camera, tripod, professional slide film and pray for some clouds around the peak at sunrise. There are plenty of locations to take this picture throughout the Alabama Hills and along Whitney Portal Rd. almost to Whitney Portal.


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Date of Last Change: 1/1/08