The Last Adventurer's Field Notes

The First (and last) Pizza Port Mountaineering Expedition – Day One

The porch was full of backpacks. There was a large, multi-day pack that had clothes spilling out of each pocket. There was a bulging daypack. And there was some sort of large, flexible cooler. The worst part was that all of the gear belonged to one person and one person only: Lumonox. Bewildered, I stared at the pile of stuff and wondered why one person needed all of it for a three day trip while E-Rock and the One OG (“OG”) roared with laughter. When the hubbub had died down for a moment, Lumonox looked at me sheepishly and tried to explain that he had been waiting for me and or E-Rock to tell him what he needed. Without hesitation, I looked at the cooler and said with a straight face “You won’t be needing that”. Immediately, Lumonox opened the cooler and pulled out a can.

“Yes,” He said calmly, hiding the can’s label from the rest of us. “I need it, because it contains my….” And with a flourish, he whipped his hand off the label so we could all see what it said, “…my victory BUD LIGHT!!!”

For the next several minutes, laughter poured out of the driveway of Lumonox’s house and into the surrounding sleeping houses of his neighborhood. I could only laugh until my stomach hurt. It was six hours until we arrived at the Whitney Portal, and it was less than one day until we started the climb, and instead of being absolutely ready to go, we were having comedy hour in Lumonox’s driveway. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised. After everything that had happened, deep down inside in my core, I had known it was going to be like this. It wasn’t a surprise. And despite everything that wasn’t perfect, I found that I was fine with the situation. The group, despite their best – or worst efforts, was consistently out of their element. It happened. All it meant was that I was going to have to laugh when I could, and watch everyone like a hawk for every other waking moment that it wasn’t comedy hour. I was ready; I had been in similar situations before, and since I hadn’t lost anyone – or their appendages yet, I was confident that despite the flaws that were present in the group, I could lead everyone up and down yet another mountain safely.

With that goal firmly in mind, I laughed again, and banged on the roof of the car and yelled something inane to the members of Team Legendary like “saddle up, Team Legendary”. Somewhere, in the flood of relentless last minute e-mails and calls, Lumonox had come up with the names “Team Legendary” and “Team Cool Kids” to designate our two carloads traveling to Whitney. Team Legendary was my carload of Lumonox, E-Rock, and OG. Team Cool Kids was the truck carrying Ms. Super-Athlete (“Ms. SA”) and her boyfriend, Stouty Yeti (“SY”)– so named for his beer preference and his unnatural obsession with all things sasquatch, and not for any actual physical attributes, because even I was taller and heavier than him in build.

The over-heavy packs thudded into the back of my car, and I slammed the hatch shut. While I and everyone else had plenty of doubts about what we were doing, it was clear that we had made one good decision to start the trip – taking my car. Before we had loaded my car to the gills, there had been a brief talk about taking E-Rock’s car. In all actuality, there hadn’t even been a talk. E-Rock had offered to drive; and the rest of us had stared silently at the pile of gear, which wouldn’t have fit in the trunk or the backseat of his small, German-made car. E-Rock had then stated that we should take my car. I didn’t mind – taking my car meant that I got to be where I was most comfortable – behind the wheel. It also meant that everyone else had a little more room, and that Lumonox got to bring his cooler, even though we had made it abundantly clear that it wouldn’t be leaving the parking lot. With one last look at my partially obstructed rear window, I swung into the driver’s seat and started the engine. There was no turning back now – I really was taking the group to the mountain.

The LA's List of Gear for Whitney, October 19-20, 2007

Once I was able to check the forecast during the ten-day window before the hike, I was able to realistically prepare my list of gear for the trek. The below list is what I actually carried on the trip, and I am happy to say that I used all the items below.

1) Backpack: I carried my dependable Bora80 Arc’Teryx Pack. It wasn’t full on the way up, but I was glad to have the extra room on the way down to carry some gear for some other people.

2) Sleeping bag. I carried my North Face 15 degree bag. While it was cold, I managed to stay warm in it, but probably just barely.

3) Bivy Sack. I own a lightweight Black Diamond Lightsabre bivy sack. I had to really stake it down because of high wind, it worked great.

4) Sleeping Pad. I’m not sure who makes my pad, but it is lightweight and packs down well. In cold weather, it’s really good to be up off the ground.

5) First Aid kit. It didn’t see major use, but I did pass out a fair amount of Motrin and Moleskin.

6) Water Filer. I always carry a Miox water filter, which is lightweight and does a great job.

7) Backpacking stove. I swear by the PocketRocket by MSR. Again, on this trip up at 12,000 feet, it worked like a charm in heavy winds, while one of my climbing partners couldn’t get his Jetboil to even start!

9) Bear Canister. Someone has to carry it for the group!

10) 4 Nalgene 1 Liter Bottles. This is where I could shed some weight, if I went with a soft plastic bladder, but since I have the bottles, I use them.

11) Matches/Lighter/Compass/Map/Emergency blanket/knife/TP/Poop bags/Sunscreen

12) Boots. I’ve been wearing a pair of Asolos for the last two years, good boots. I supplement my arches and overall foot comfort with a pair of Superfeet. Prior to the Asolos, I had some Salomon mountaineering boots, and before that some Vasques. All three brands make a quality boot, in my opinion.

13) 2 pairs socks. This is my personal luxury item for any backpacking trip. They don’t take up much room, but your feet always seem to feel better at the end of the day when you can put clean socks on them.

14) 1 pair long underwear. I brought my mid-weight Patagonia capaline underwear. Since the weekend ended up being unseasonably warm, I was fine, but there were a few windy moments where I wished I had something a little heavier.

15) 1 pair of "convertible" pants

16) Wind resistant fleece jacket.

17) Wind-Water resistant fleece jacket.

18) Wind resistant fleece hat; brimmed light weight ball-cap.

19) Pair of mid-weight gloves; pair of light-weight liner gloves. I didn’t really use my mid-weight gloves that much, but the light-weight gloves were great for cooking, filtering water, and just general up and down the trail use.

20) Camera

21) Crampons. I use a pair of Black Diamond “Sabretooth” Crampons. I’ve had them for five plus years, and they’ve never let me down in any way.

22) Ice Axe. Again, I use another Black Diamond product (With all of this product placement for them, you’d think I work for them, but alas, I do not. How about some free stuff guys?), the Raven Pro. I got mine as a gift several years ago; as it’s the third ice axe I’ve owned; and probably the fifth I’ve used extensively, I can say that like the crampons, it is a quality product and has never let me down.

23) Food.

24) Sunglasses.

The only thing I didn’t bring that would have been helpful was a book, or something to pass the time on Saturday night. As I’m sure many people will notice and will be quick to point out, I didn’t take a waterproof shell. I didn’t carry my shell with me this time because I was 99% certain that it would not rain or snow during our trip. While I do realize that nothing is ever certain on the mountain, it was a calculated risk I was willing to take on this occasion based on my in-depth study of the weather. At the weigh station at Whitney Portal, my pack was forty-five pounds! As part of the weight was group gear, and I knew that I could bear the weight, I wasn’t concerned, but for novice hikers, be aware that even when you carry the minimum, like myself, everything does add up!

Plans, group commitments, and other things all change easily because of weather.

Two weeks before the trip, I began monitoring the ten-day weather forecast obsessively. I, for one, wanted to know exactly how cold it was going to be, whether it was going to snow, and if snow had fallen, how much of the trail it covered, and what the trail conditions actually looked like. I quickly learned that due to some early season storms, snow and ice were present on the upper reaches of the trail, although they were not there in large quantities. I also knew that these basic winter conditions would have a large impact on the group. I debated my options. In the end, I dropped my laissez-faire attitude of the preceding weeks, because while ignorance was fine for sitting around the bar, it was a life or death issue for the mountain.

I kept this second status e-mail short and sweet. After all, I wanted to make sure it was actually read by the Dirty Dozen. On the off chance that a paragraph was still too much to read, I sent a link containing pictures of the trail taken several days before. In the e-mail, I strongly suggested that everyone come prepared with crampons and or ice axes. In stark contrast to the first e-mail, I received quite a few responses to this second informational message. Some of the messages were humorous: “Time to go battle Yetis”. And some of the messages were practical: “Where can we rent crampons?” By far, however, the bulk of the responses were one thing and one thing only: cancellations. In the end, it turned out that my hypothesis about providing information wasn’t all bad; it just merely was flawed. It turned out that I merely had to provide the right information to motivate people.

Up to the point of the second, or as I later called it “the shake down” e-mail, the group was the Pizza Port Dirty Dozen, so named for all twelve people headed to the mountain. After the e-mail, the group was the Dirty Half-Dozen. It was still five people more than I originally thought would go, but it was half of our reservation quota. Once people learned there was snow and ice on the trail, they dropped out of the expedition faster than free beer disappeared on a Thursday night. Some people, like the Pink Princess had no excuse other than deciding that they didn’t really want to go after all. Other people had bizarre reasons. One said that he didn’t have the insurance – whether that meant life or medical insurance, I never was quite clear. Another former “gung-ho” climber suddenly contracted temporary amnesia, claiming not to remember paying me for the permit, receiving any prior Mt. Whitney e-mails, participating in any Mt. Whitney climbing conversations, or even knowing who I or anyone else in the group were.

I didn’t care. For all intents and purposes, I didn’t care one bit. I didn’t need excuses, and I didn’t want excuses. If people dropped out, that was their business, and that was one less person I had to worry about on the mountain, and that was all that mattered to me. The last week before the hike, after all the cancellations had occurred, I spent a fair amount of time coordinating the last minute details with the remaining members of the Dirty Half Dozen. By the time the trip rolled around, I had a good feeling about the group. It was smaller than we had planned, but the people that had stayed were the ones that were most motivated and prepared. I still had concerns, but for the first time in several months, I actually was somewhat confidant that the first Pizza Port mountaineering expedition, the Dirty Half Dozen, might actually make it to the summit of the mountain.

I’ve always liked the motto, “Be Prepared”.

From the moment I was selected as the unofficial leader, guide, or general mountaineering savant for the Dirty Dozen, I tried my best to live up to the responsibility that it entailed. I adopted a vigorous, proactive, positive attitude about the trek despite any misgivings I might have had. The first step was to attempt to get people to the gym, or to at least be more physically active than a sloth. Since I only saw most of the group once a week at the Pizza Port, it was hard for me to really tell if my words were being heeded, or if people were going about their general everyday routines. My second step was to provide as much information as possible about Whitney and mountaineering in general.

The second step was an extension of the first step. I hypothesized that, if people knew more about the climb, they would be more inclined to work out more beforehand and as a result, be in better shape for the actual ascent. To test my hypothesis, I sent out the guide that has appeared over the last couple weeks. I knew that it was long, and covered every detail that could possibly occur over the course of the three days we would be on the mountain. I also knew that the guide had to be that long, because other than one or two people besides me, the bulk of the Dirty Dozen had no real idea what could happen on the mountain. And, even though by and large the group was a bunch of mountaineering novices, there was no need for them to be uninformed about certain unchanging facts surrounding the hike. It was my opinion that even though they were rookies, there was no obvious rule stating that they had to make rookie mistakes.

The week after I e-mailed out the guide, the results of my “test” made me wince. It was obvious that my hypothesis about how to better motivate the Dirty Dozen was bad. I quickly realized that the problem was that I had provided the group with too much information. The guide’s “One Size Fits All” approach had shocked the minds of the group about the possibilities that could happen and the result of this massive informational overload was that no one changed their training habits. It was also questionable whether anyone in the group had actually read the guide, other than E-Rock, who had told me that he thought the guide was actually helpful, and that it could have almost been some sort of official publication.

Despite E-Rock’s minority opinions about the guide and the group’s readiness, I decided to try a new approach to motivating the apathetic Dirty Dozen. I would send out next to no e-mails, and I would only talk about the hike when approached by members of the Dirty Dozen on Thursday nights. At first, the approach seemed to be working, as members of the Dirty Dozen spontaneously organized and went on an early morning training hike. I heard that E-Rock, Nutsmatic, and Lumonox were actually working out on a regular basis in preparation for the trip. Separately, on the sly, other members spoke to me about equipment and conditions on the mountain. But, as the weeks slipped by, I still remained unsure of whether these cosmetic changes indicated actual readiness, or were just a Potemkin façade of absolute unpreparedness.

LA’s Guide to Summiting Whitney, Part VI - Assorted Things

Boots: If you hiking Whitney in the summer, you will not need boots; however, I do recommend them because of the extra support they will provide you with. I also suggest that if you are planning on buying – or using brand new boots for your summit bid, that you break them in by putting some miles on them beforehand. I guarantee that no matter how nice or expensive your new boots may be they will cause foot pain or blisters if they are not broken in beforehand!

Bodily Functions: The Forest Services states that you must pack out all solid waste you pack in, including poop. The Ranger station at Lone Pine will provide you with baggies should you require them. There are two outhouses on the trail – at Outpost and Trail Camps. Should you elect to use these facilities, you will not have to pack out your poop. Be prepared to do this when you are on the trail to minimize your impact on the environment. Also be prepared to pack out what you pack in, including all trash. Remember the motto: “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”

Gear: As noted above, I recommend you check the conditions before you go, which will determine what you carry. Having said that, this is a draft list I provided my group before our October climb:

1) Backpack: preferably something larger than a daypack, but smaller than a week long excursion pack.

2) Sleeping bag; on trips such as this I carry a lightweight 10 degree bag.

3) Bivy Sack/Lightweight tent

4) Sleeping Pad: I generally don’t carry one because of the weight factor, but if you want to be comfortable, there are some good lightweight inflatable pads.

5) First Aid kit

6) Water Filer (See above)

7) Trekking poles: I don't use these, but the descent down from the summit is hard on the knees. I'd recommend these for anyone who wants to save some of their knee cartilage for later in life.

8) Backpacking stove (See above)

9) Bear Canister (See above)

10) 4 1 liter size bottles.

11) Matches/Lighter/Compass/Map/Emergency blanket/knife/TP/Poop bags

12) Boots (See above)

13) 2 pairs socks

14) 1 pair long underwear

15) 1 pair of "convertible" pants

16) Wind resistant fleece jacket.

17) Water resistant outer "shell" jacket

18) Wind resistant fleece hat.

19) Pair of mid-weight gloves

20) Camera

And always, remember to have fun and a good time! See you on the trail!

LA’s Guide to Summiting Whitney, Part V -Minor to Major Potential Trail Perils (Giardia)

Giardia: Giardia is a water borne parasite. It is found in all areas of California in untreated water. Other than altitude sickness, I’d say this should be your biggest concern during the hike. (If you really want to learn more about Giardia, I’d check out this link: ) I’ve never had Giardia, but from what I’ve heard from fellow climbers, it is very, very, very unpleasant. And while I do guarantee that you will get Giardia – or something worse from drinking untreated water in the Whitney Portal zone, it is very preventable. The best way to avoid getting Giardia is to treat all water you get from backcountry sources.

Treating water can be done a number of ways; but the most productive are through a filter or with iodine tablets. There are a variety of filter options; some involving passing the water through a charcoal based filter system; others that involve treatment with either ultraviolet light or chlorine. I personally utilize the MIOX filter system (; and while it is on the expensive side, I have never had a problem at all with it. Should you not have a filter, there is no need to fret, as there are two perfectly good low cost effective methods. First, iodine tablets. A small bottle of such tablets (Such as these: ) will run you about ten dollars, and there will be more tablets than you need. Using iodine tablets is very easy. You simply use one tablet per liter of water, and after letting the water (with tablet) sit for the prescribed period of time, the water will be safe to drink. The only downside of iodine tablets is that the treated water will have a bit of an aftertaste, but this side effect is pretty much unavoidable (Almost all water treatment options leave some sort of residue). The second method is boiling water; however, this method requires one to carry more fuel for a stove, and if not done properly, can still lead to water-borne illnesses.

LA’s Guide to Summiting Whitney, Part V -Minor to Major Potential Trail Perils (Heatstroke/Hypothermia/Dehydration)

Dehydration/Heatstroke: Both of these are pretty obvious and avoidable. And yet, when I was working for the Park Service, I saw more cases of heatstroke and or dehydration than anything else. Do not be one of the people that try to climb the mountain with an eight ounce bottle of water! Take lots of water, and wear sunscreen and a hat. Be aware that once you clear treeline, you will be exposed to the sun until you cross back down into the treeline at the end of the hike. My personal preference is to carry at least three liters of water in my pack; and depending on the season, sometimes four liters. Be aware that there are few water sources on the trail in late summer and early fall to filter water from.

Hypothermia: This is another obvious condition that, unfortunately, seems to affect a lot of potential climbers. I suggest that before you leave for your trip you consult the forecast for the region. I would also suggest that when you pick up your permit from the Forest Service, you talk to the Ranger about the current and planned conditions. Such information will allow you to be better informed and to have the right gear. Also keep in mind that if you are camping at Trail Camp, its elevation is right below 12,000 feet. Even during a hot summer day, the temperature at such an elevation can drop dramatically at night! It is also a good idea to have warm clothing for the final stage of the ascent as the temperature at 14,496 feet can be quite cold, and storms can come up quite fast.