Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mt. Langley vs. Mt. Whitney

"Whitney seems more like training for this!" goes one post about hiking nearby fourteener Mt. Langley. Another considers the two mountains tied for difficulty. Well, I recently hiked both mountains two days apart, and will claim that Whitney is definitely more physically difficult, taking me 20% longer to complete than Langley (both hiked via their most popular routes, the Mount Whitney Trail, and Langley from Horseshoe Meadows through Cottonwood Lakes). Whitney has 2,000' more elevation gain and tops out 500' higher than Langley, so it'd seem clear which is more work. Langley may be more of a mental challenge though. The first five miles are a nondescript forest and climbing the summit plateau involves a tedious sand slog. The best part of Langley may be the Cottonwood Lakes at 11,000', or the 3,000' drop from the summit cliff (don't get blown off by the wind). The Mount Whitney Trail is staggeringly beautiful from start to finish though, making Langley appear a drab grind for high altitude endurance. Whitney starts off at a lower elevation, and might be kinder at first to the altitude-sensitive.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Musings on Training for the New Alpinism

I've found that you can do just about all of the exercises well with a set of adjustable dumbbells, pullup bar, and a 12-inch plyometric box. For dumbbells, I use the Bowflex SelectTech 552 (which show up on Craigslist about every month); the fact they can't be dropped isn't a problem since you're not working to failure in any of programs (the goal is endurance, not maximum strength that breaks you). Sometimes I find myself wishing for a bench for bench presses, but the one at my climbing gym suffices.

The rates of ascent mentioned in the book are insane. In Chapter 6:
Yes, you can still get up the big routes if you can't climb at 3,000 feet (915 meters) per hour with a twenty-pound pack.
The fastest hikers I've met (marathoners, trail ultra runners who have trained for years) can ascend at 2,400 feet per hour below 10,000 feet with minimal packs. The book goes on to say,
But we're not talking about being merely good. We wrote this book to help you break boundaries.
This sets the tone of the book. Freedom of the Hills gives 1,200 feet per hour (for a short hike, not sustained) as its "baseline" hiking ability to start mountaineering training. It's a long way from the base! New Alpinism is mostly about taking you from strong to super strong, not average to strong. Along these lines, I've been thinking of compiling a southern California "curriculum" for transitioning into New Alpinism. This would be a collection of somewhat technical routes or just steep, more strenuous trails, all suitable for the hiker-turned-mountaineer. There aren't any true alpine multipitch 5th class climbs here to my knowledge, but there are some snow climbs possible in the winter and hiking trails with 3rd/4th class sections.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Mt Wilson via Sierra Madre

I chopped 30 minutes off my previous time by running on the descent, setting a new PR of 5.5 hours. Couch 2 5k is paying off, plus all those low weight squats. I could feel the freshness of my quads the whole way down, passing loads of hikers leaning on trekking poles (I left mine in the car). This is a very clean trail and easy to run. On the downside (or upside, if you will), my rate of ascent was only 1,300 ft/hr, about 30 ft/hr faster than my last hike. I'm not sure if this is statistically significant, but I'd say probably not. My performance was hampered by the hot weather but helped by a slightly lighter pack. Increasing rate of ascent takes a long time.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

San Gorgonio via South Fork snow chutes

I summited San G in 6.1 hours from the South Fork, following my unsuccessful attempt two weeks ago. The main reason for the superior outcome this time was the far more consolidated snow at the base of and in the chutes. The freeze-thaw cycles (daytime highs in the 60s °F) seem to have greatly compacted the snow, making snowshoes unnecessary during the entire ascent. I was able to walk on top of the snow at the base without punching through. Once I hit the chute, I started kick-stepping and duck walking up the slope. This time I maintained a slow pace, counting one-two to keep a one-second interval between steps. I wanted a low level of exertion that I could sustain for hours, not pounding effort that leaves me gasping every eight steps. At 10,900' I put on crampons. There were a few snow slabs that looked a bit questionable that I avoided, perhaps unnecessarily. I topped out then walked over to the summit, hitting the rock at 13:31, and walked back down. The descent was mixed glissading and plunge stepping until I reached the bottom. It was late afternoon, and the previously firm snow had softened to 3' of puffed up slush. I was punching through every step. I put on snowshoes and only sank in 10" versus the 20" with boots. Made it to the edge of the ramp from Dry Lake, stowed my snowshoes and walked briskly back to the trailhead. Car to car time was 10.7 hours with average ascent rate 754 ft/hr.

Other things different about this hike:
  • I took an iron supplement the day before and of. I used to always do this, but wasn't sure it helped with elevation, so I stopped. Maybe it aided this hike, or maybe I had some acclimatization from the two times I'd been above 10,000' in the past three weeks. Or maybe it was something else. I'll continue taking them since I've got a bunch left, and it doesn't seem to hurt anything.
  • I brought more real food. For a carb snack I brought a banana-nutella-peanut butter sandwich on white bread, and ham and swiss for the top. These tasted great but made me quite thirsty. I felt like I had more energy during the descent, but my descent speed was a little slower than average.
  • Wore a Buff to protect my neck from the sun. Those things work great. Put sunblock everywhere else, including under my nose, because of snow glare.

Switchbacking up the chute.

San Bernardino Peak Snow Climb

I completed San Bernardino Peak via Angelus Oaks on 3/22 in 9.0 hours. This is a 10,600' peak. Above Limber Pine Bench (9,300') the trail was covered by 1-3' of snow. There were postholed tracks straight to the top, but I chose to traverse to Limber Pine Spring for firmer snow in the ravine and crampon up. On the way down I skipped the Bench and plowed right down to where the spring hits the trail. My time was just OK, about the typical fit hiker's time in dry conditions, but I was expecting faster given my light footwear (TNF Hedgehogs).

Monday, March 16, 2015

Mt. San Gorgonio via north face chutes

I unsuccessfully attempted Mt. San Gorgonio via the north face chutes. I probably haven't spent enough time above 10,000' and lack long-term acclimatization. My turnaround was 14:00 which I hit at 10,900', 600' below the summit. According to New Alpinism my VO2 max should be 15% lower at that elevation, but it seemed way more severe. I was out of breath, weak, and had almost no appetite. I couldn't imagine downing another gel. I was making mistakes (not switchbacking consistently up the slope, not finding a stable place to sit while putting on my crampons) and realized the safest thing to do in my physical and mental state was to descend. I also chose the wrong chute to climb. My route, which I believed to be more direct (common mistake for me) probably had the softest snow because it was just east of a ridge and thus received more sunlight in the first half of the day. In the image above, it is the second from the rightmost chute. I saw some skiers take the line just west of the ridge, wise of them.

Footwear was tricky. At the base of the climb, from Dry Lake, snowshoes were necessary. During the climb it was less clear. Most of it was plungey and while at first I believed snowshoes were necessary, and wore them for the first 1,000' or so, I now think the snowpack was dense enough that postholing/kick-stepping in boots would be sufficient. The snow was firmer than on the flat base due to receiving shade on the north face.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Mt. Wilson via Sierra Madre

I completed this trail for the first time a week ago in 6.0 hours. Less popular than the Chantry Flat trail, it's a well-maintained, somewhat steep out-and-back trail, gaining 4,700 feet in 7.0 miles. The trailhead is located in a neighborhood near a dam. Parking is street and a little cramped (most of the spots within two blocks of the of TH were taken by 8 am) but it's not the shit show that is Chantry Flat. There's a restroom in a kids' park adjacent to the TH. From the start, the trail runs north almost completely exposed for 2 miles and 1,200 feet of climbing, with expansive views of Sierra Madre, Pasadena, and the rest of the San Gabriel Valley, until it crosses a creek. This point ends a good mini-hike, and I saw several groups taking a break here before heading back down. From there it enters the forest until merging with Mt. Wilson Road which leads to the summit.

I'm going to make this my primary endurance-building hike, for a few reasons. It's only a one hour drive from my home. It requires no permits. And it's more than 4,000' of gain. I'll need to supplement with time above 9,000' to work on my long-term acclimatization.