Aug. Video Blog: Climbing Mount Whitney!
...and how I cut my training time in half by applying H.I.I.T. principles
**The Highest Mountain in the Lower 48 States at 14,497' elevation**
Located on the edge of the Eastern Sierra's range with a well-maintained trail, Mount Whitney is the most popular mountain to climb in the world with approximately 100 people attempting to summit daily during the summer season! On average only about 25% of those who attempt actually make it to the summit. The view from the top spans west from Sequoia national park all the way east to Death Valley & beyond and is stunning as you are literally standing on top of CONUS.
Whitney Portal camp is located at 8,200' elevation and this is where most climbers begin their hike if they are attempting to hike to the summit in one day. Hiking from Portal camp to summit accomplishes 6,300' elevation gain along the 11 miles via trail #6. The 22 miles round trip, on average takes about 12 to 18 hours to complete.
Max on John Muir trail just past Trail Crest on the way to the Whitney summit led by Zac Titus!
A single day summit presents quite a mental & physical challenge. I would argue the challenge is mostly mental as success might be as simple as just committing to putting one foot in front of the other for 12 hours - eventually you'll get there! Physically, one needs to build up an aerobic fitness base as well as condition their legs for hiking up and down steep rocky trail with a pack. The unpredictable factor that hinders many from achieving a successful summit is acute high-altitude sickness that affects all of us eventually if we go high enough. It is nearly impossible to prepare ourselves physiologically to prevent high-altitude sickness onset unless we are able to acclimate at higher elevations prior to the climb. One's fitness level is not necessarily a factor in acute altitude-sickness, but generally the better condition you are in, the lower your risk will be, along with being adequately hydrated and well-rested.
I could not realistically schedule long 2 to 3 hour training hikes that would also require commute time driving to our local mountains, so I chose to condense my training into 1.5 hour sessions or less. This meant I had to be very strategic in my workouts and every session had precise purpose - no wasted workouts! Keep in mind while preparing for Whitney's 6,300' vertical feet gain & 22 miles round trip, I was still fitting in weight-lifting for muscle-mass preservation, surfing, skateboarding, sand-volleyball, plus, maintaining two full-time careers as an airline pilot and fitness-professional. I can't over-emphasize how significant each Whitney-specific training session was for me, since I spent so little time training in this manner!
Long story short, what made it possible for me to train efficiently and effectively for Whitney was a very steep hill trail located within 2 minutes running distance of my house. About two days per week I would do repeats on this hill with a small day-pack on my back. I would train on this hill for 45 mins to 1.5 hours, sometimes running up and sometimes walking up, but always walking down. Sometimes I would also use trekking poles to simulate my planned hike-day technique up Whitney. The hill repeats were for all intents & purposes, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), reaching 96% of my MHR at the top of the hill and then recovering while walking down. This type of HIIT training also had the added benefit of triggering a HUGE Growth Hormone release, raising my Lactate-Threshold and leaving my metabolism elevated for several hours afterwards due to Excessive Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). The steepness gradient also simulated the trek up the mountain and recruited type-2, fast-twitch muscle fibers, especially on the downhill, eccentric contractions. This maintained my leg muscle-mass, so at least I could substitute for some of my leg weight-training days and save time that way. Then, 1 day per week I would incorporate a medium-intensity, longer, 4 to 6 mile run. I did absolutely NO low-intensity aerobic training - impractical in my opinion when one is limited on time! This comprised my Whitney-specific training.
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