Mount San Jacinto 2013

5:30 p.m. on January 14, 2013 (EST)
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My friends and I are planning a trip to Whitney this year provided we get permits. 

But, I thought we ought to take a "test" trip to San Jacinto peak to see how well we do at altitude (albeit 4000 feet less than Mt. Whitney but better than nothing). 

I'm figuring a one nighter to put the gear to test.


Does anyone have any info/experience on what April and May might look like at Mt. San Jacinto peak during this time frame.


I'm trying to schedule this test trip in the next month or so and have it on my calendar. 


Any advice on gear would be welcome too...crampons, etc. 

Paul

7:43 p.m. on January 14, 2013 (EST)
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San Jacinto 10,800', could have some late snow but by May things should be very pleasant even if fairly wet.  You shouldn't need crampons, but it might get into the 20f's at night.  If not camping near the summit, you might consider Round Valley.  http://www.msjnha.org/park/camping.html

A trip up the tram would be a quick way up and would more likely kick in any severe altitude problems within 24 hours.  Those most susceptible notice problems over 8,000'. 

The trick with Whitney is a day trip. You are up and down before the devil altitude knows you have been there.  Most problems show up overnight at Trail Camp.  You can expect routine acclimatization problems of lassitude, a bit of light nausea or loss of appetite, a headache and sleeplessness (an apnea induced by altitude). Most of the headaches go away with Ibuprofen the remainder will go away as you return to lower altitudes.  More than likely you will not have any significant altitude induced problems. Being very sick up there is a very rare occurrence.

If you follow the usual route and stay at Trail Camp (12,000'), you can usually get up to the top the next day and return and feel only minimal altitude affects. About what you would feel overnight on San Gorgonio just north of San Jacinto.

San Gorgonio ( http://www.sgwa.org/Wilderness_Mileage.pdf) at 11,500' is closer to the highest overnight altitude you might be on Whitney - unless you stay at Consolation Lake.  Gorgonio is bit higher than San Jacinto and would give you a more of a challenge and closer comparison to the effort getting up Whitney.  This would be especially true if you went up from the South side at Vivian Creek camping at High Creek 9,400' (Whitney Portal elevation about) or even on the saddle overnight.  We've dropped packs in early afternoon and made the summit and back for the night at High Creek.  I've spent the night just off from the summit a few times. Nice sunrise.

In either case get your wilderness permit early on. And check in a few days before to find out weather conditions at your chosen campsites and summit. 

Mt Baldy as a day trip and even the Three T's AND Baldy as a day trip would test your fitness. Another test would be up and down Baldy in the morning have a lunch and then do it again in the afternoon. Good hamburgers at Mt Baldy Village Restaurant. Also nice fireplace.

Performance at altitude and the degree of physical fitness have very little in common, other than you can get higher faster if fit and thereby have a chance of getting sicker faster.

True acclimatization at 12,000' takes over a month, with a lot of gain in the first 6 days. Full acclimatization at 14,000' takes a bit over a year.  So in affect almost nobody is acclimated for that altitude in a week or so.

The usual place most like to stop at for an altitude check is 10,500' drive to camp from Lone Pine, at Horseshoe Meadows.  I prefer to let the altitude catch up to me on the trail, taking it slower, and get a good night sleep at a much lower altitude.

A nice local quick hump of a trail is up from Chantry Flats (north on Santa Anita east of Pasadena on I-210). Go up Mt Wilson using the trail going past Sturdevant Camp (ends on east side of mountain near the big array) and then down from the trail in the main parking lot and taking the ridge route that connects to Upper Winter Creek trail back to your car.  A pleasant 14 mile day trip that you should be able to coast on if doing Whitney.

If you miss your permit on Whitney from the east side, consider the west side from Horseshoe Meadows over Army Pass catching Mt Langley on the way down Rock Creek then up to Crabtree Meadows and Guitar Lake dropping packs for a day run on Whitney.  Return with a car shuttle over either Forester Pass and up to Kearsarge Pass and Onion Valley, or cut it short by going over Shepherd Pass picking up Mt. Tyndall on your way down the pass.   If you capture Mt Muir on the way back from Whitney, that would be a four billiard cushion summit trip.

Although strenuous you would see a lot of the best in the Sierra in one trip.

5:58 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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I don’t think any single trip will indicate if the altitude on Whitney will give you trouble.  The worst case of altitude sickness I experienced was at a lowly 8500’; meanwhile I have experienced only minor discomfort on some high climbs over 18000’.  My point: Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is somewhat capricious and inconsistent in its occurrence.  Just because you did or didn’t get it on one trip does not predict your experience on a future trip.

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It is not unusual for San Jacinto to have snow in April, usually the result of a cold spring storm.  This snow can linger into May.  If there is snow the conditions that time of year can vary widely.  The trail from the tram to Round Valley can be hard crust, and require crampons, or it may be soft and require skis or snowshoes.  The upper elevations of the peak can be these conditions too.  Further more they can also be a multi layer, breakable crust – a condition most are best advised to snowshoe up as only an expert skier can negotiate a course through this so-called “Napoleon” crust.

Regardless if you start at the tram or out of Idlewild, you will probably be camping under 9000’, as the primary options are Round Valley and Little Round Valley.  You can always opt for the camp areas near the top of the Devil’s Slide Trail (originating out of HumblerPark) for a higher camp site location.  But if there is snow, water will be widely available, thus open your options to camp almost anywhere.  Do note, however, camping on the summit is not permitted.  Lastly if you really want to test your mettle, there are two difficult hikes up this mountain: one originates at the base of the mountain, just outside of Palm Springs (read LOTS of vertical gain) while the other is a steep primitive trail originating just outside of the town of Idlewild, from the highway leading to the town up from the Banning side of things.

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I prefer to do Mt Whitney as three day affair.  You can hike it up and back in one day, but to me that accomplishes little more than being able to boast it on your bucket list.  Take the time and enjoy the trip; just loitering on the summit is worth spending half a day’s time.

Ed

7:17 p.m. on January 15, 2013 (EST)
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HAPE - been there, done that, spent a week in the hospital recovering. Altitude - 11.5K at my house in LaPaz where I had returned for Christmas holiday from the states. In the backcountry, I would likely have been dead in a few hours. I was 18-19, so age wasn't a factor and I had lived at that altitude for a year before that. You lose your acclimatization in a hurry, or so it seems.

On the other hand, after being down there a while, I'd go up to 13-15K with no problems that I recall.

My point is, it can happen and if you are affected, there is only one solution-go down to a much lower altitude. Trying to tough it out is a bad idea.

11:36 a.m. on January 16, 2013 (EST)
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This year you had better eyeball the mountain before you head up there.  No one can really emphasize enough the need to acclimatize to altitude especially if you are coming from sea level.

10:02 p.m. on January 16, 2013 (EST)
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This is good stuff...thanks for all the great info.  I'm having a blast planning for all this.

11:37 p.m. on February 3, 2013 (EST)
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Gain to San Jack from the tram is way less than Whitney. Baldy (San Antonio) 10k' via Ski Hut trail is 4000' climb in 4 miles. San Gorgonio 11.5k' via South Fork is 4600' in about 10 miles. I suggest doing each of the "Sans" as prep for Whitney. Just realize that the difference between 11,500' and Whitney is huge as it applies to your energy level.

12:13 a.m. on February 4, 2013 (EST)
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Tom D said:

HAPE - been there, done that, spent a week in the hospital recovering. Altitude - 11.5K at my house in LaPaz where I had returned for Christmas holiday from the states. In the backcountry, I would likely have been dead in a few hours. I was 18-19, so age wasn't a factor and I had lived at that altitude for a year before that. ..

 According to the research done by Charles Houston and Peter Hackett, the two leading researchers on high altitude physiology, the age group most susceptible to HAPE and HACE is the 18-30 year old male in good physical shape. It seems to be connected to the hubris of that age group and willingness to ignore the warning signs to push themselves hard. Us old geezers tend to slow down and listen to our creaking bodies.

An important point is that physical condition has little to do with susceptibility to AMS and its more severe aspects HAPE and HACE. Acclimatization takes time for everyone. Some people do acclimatize more readily and faster than others. But everyone has to do it by moving up gradually - climb high, sleep low. Some people can not acclimatize above about 9000-10,000 ft (I have had two friends with that problem, plus my Primary Care Physician has that problem, although he and his wife are avid backcountry skiers and hikers).

11:17 a.m. on February 4, 2013 (EST)
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Bill,

Thanks for the post.

July 23, 2014
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