This weekend I set out with a goal of hiking to the top of Mount Langley, a 14,100 foot peak near Lone Pine, CA. Living and working at an altitude of 0 most of my days, I am thoroughly prepared for high altitude trekking right? The goal was to acclimate for a day at 10,000 feet and then just go for it. Well the day at 10k messed me up enough that I knew the hike was not going to go that great. But at the end of the day I am very much a proponent of "shoot for the stars but make it to the moon".
We arrived to the campground at 0930 on Friday morning after leaving sea level at 0500. Camp was set up at 10,000 feet and then a "short" 7 mile acclimation hike to 11,300 feet was accomplished over the next few hours.
Back at camp, it was nice and warm in the upper 50s with mostly full sun. That hike though was a bit much considering my complete lack of elevation preparation. I was fully out of it the rest of the day and the headache never quite went away no matter how much water I drank. Full on altitude sickness set in by bed time, short of any of the dangerous symptoms. Just brain fog, headache, tiredness, and general discomfort. But at least it was a pretty afternoon!
I went to bed at 2000 assuming that the real hike was going to get scrapped. Considering how I felt about doing strenuous activity at 10-11k, adding another 3-4000 feet to that was bound to be dangerous. I was straight up depressed and didn't sleep well, but I still managed enough sleep to wake up rested.
Woke up at 0400, made some tea and oatmeal, packed the car, and got on the trail super late at 0600. With a 23 mile hike with almost 5000 feet in gain in total, you really gotta start by 430 or so to make it back to the car before sunset. But I was just happy to be moving at all as how I felt the night before meant even a 5 mile hike sounded dubious at best. I knew if any of those symptoms came back, I was going to stop and head home for safety sake.
We made it to the first lake though before 9am about 6 miles into the trail and were feeling pretty damn good. This was the first sighting of the peak off in the distance and man were the views amazing the whole way. Cottonwood Lakes is just a spectacular place to be under any conditions. I was still a little bit loopy but feeling high spirited and not in pain so onward we went.
The next task was to make it up to the top of New Army Pass which is at 12,300 feet and involved an innumerable amount of switch backs from the final water refill spot at around 11,000 feet just below the pass. I had set the goal for the day to make it to the bottom of the pass without dying so goal was achieved. But I was able to push myself through the hard work and struggle bus my way up to the top! Goal exceeded and dizziness setting in, it was the end of progress for me on this hike for sure. Some people may push forward and I suppose I could have too, but my self preservation and risk aversion definitely said NOPE.
I was so happy just to have made it there. 9 miles in and lots of effort to make it to the top of that grueling pass sure felt like success to me. Just getting a closer view of the peak and seeing the trail to the top was good enough to me. My friend continued on and bagged the peak but he was a mess afterwards for sure. He's got better altitude conditioning than me but he's also the guy who broke his back when I skiied with him in the past so risk taking is certainly his thing.
Anyways, an absolutely amazing day and while I didn't make it to the peak, I sure did get some good altitude training for the next time I attempt it. It was a perfect day for it with temps in the 40s the whole time, partly cloudy morning, mostly sunny afternoon, and not too much wind. Mentally and physically exhausting but that always describes an excellent sort of adventure to me!
Sea level at home feels so nice now too. My heart rate is actually at a normal level while resting and eating food is totally not difficult. I don't recommend altitude if you're not used to it but it sure is an experience. And now I can just rest and enjoy this long holiday weekend, maybe getting some biking in tomorrow after I recover a bit. I'm sure I'll be able to bike harder at sea level now considering all that extra oxygen there is.