Monday, July 19, 2010

First Attempt to Summit Mount Whitney through Dayhike - Success & Failure Story

I, Shahriar and Tanjeem went upto a little over twelve thousand feet (trail camp) of Mount Whitney this 9th July Friday. Despite failing in our attempt to summit, we learnt a lot about mountains and mountaineering in general during this day hike. I loved it!

Shahriar processed all the paper works as team lead in early February this year to apply for 4 passes but finally we 3 friends went there. We picked up the passes one day before the hike from Lone Pine city and went for a practice hike that day. We hiked upto 9800 feet at Lone Pine lake in about 2 hours 20 minutes. This was the last point until which we could have gone without a hiking permit (remember that our hike permit was for next day). This practice helped us making an assessment on where we were physically and team-wise in terms of preparation for the summit. Unfortunately we found that we were under-prepared for this big hike and were not in best of our shape. For example, Tanjeem had a broken sleep cycle last few days due to his office works and some practice hikes very early in the morning. Shahriar although participated in several soccer matches along with the regular weekend soccer, he did as less practice hikes as the other two of us. I, on the contrary, was the least prepared as I found I haven’t even brought the extra food (cake, cookies) and clothes. Shahriar and Tanjeem had extra energy bars, cookies but those don’t go well with me in terms of taste. But still I was full of hope (false hope !?) that we would be able to make it the next day till the peak.

Tanjeem is working in Sillicon Valley as a Hardware Design Engineer. He is another of my friends who are from 1994 HSC batch. He was earlier in Mirzapur Cadet College and Kharagpur IIT. He is consistent in pace in our local hikes from Bay Area Bangladeshi Hikers Group, plays soccer and has done a double trip of Mission Peak hike in 7 hours with Shahriar a few weeks earlier.

Shahriar is working in Cadence as Senior Member of Technical Staff and is the most fit amongst us for physical activities. He plays soccer every weekend and looks for opportunities to stay active. He was also with me in our last year’s hike of Half Dome of Yosemite. He reads about mountaineering, visits REI regularly and follows sites like RMI to stay up-to-date with good hiking and climbing gears as well as latest mountaineering events around the world. This helps me a lot as I often can’t make time to go through this and hence just check what he is with now, and if I like I make a shortcut of picking the same gears.

I am a software engineer by profession and relatively a new hiker by passion since last year . I  was never into physical activities in my life. I have a very weird food habit and timetable that makes me think that I am not the right person for physical activities anyway. However, I have a few advantages like I can stay without food and water for a long period of time. I don’t sweat easily and can ignore pains so that it doesn’t stop me from my regular works or activities. So those of you who think you have physical limitations that you can't get interested on mountaineering, I have a good news for you – you can become a good mountaineer as long as you can grow the passion for it and you are ready to work out on your body. Please remember the best way to see and feel the nature is not by taking some pictures from Vista Points, it's by loosing yourself inside nature - hiking, backpacking.

Our hotel in Comfort Inn at Lone Pine city was at 4400 feet above sea level. This relatively higher altitude may sometimes cause indiscipline in food habit and sleep cycle if you are from a sea level or flat land place like we are from San Francisco Bay Area (or from the flat Island Bangladesh near the Bay of Bengal of South Asia). We went to bed early that night to get a good sleep before our early morning hike next day. Tanjeem and Shahriar couldn’t sleep due to the tension or altitude and woke up early after the midnight. I, as usual, slept easily without interference for 6 hours.

We woke up from bed few minutes after 2 AM, took a little time to get prepared and have breakfast. By the time we started the hike at Whitney trail (8360 feet above sea level) it was 3:45 AM. We took too much weight, mainly water and Gatorade, compared to what we needed. Shahriar took 37 pounds, I took 33 pounds and Tanjeem took 25 pounds weight. Initially, Tanjeem was slower than us, as in the dark trail he felt the constant headache due to high altitude or sleeplessness. But we all thanked the trekking polls that we were using; otherwise we would have slipped often in the trail resulting in injuries. After the sunrise Tanjeem was matching our pace and we thought we started going faster despite some frequent breaks we took. However, we noticed after a while that some other people were crossing us coming from behind. That’s when we realized that we had been going on a too slow pace to reach the peak of Mount Whitney on time. But we still kept pushing ourselves forward. Tanjeem told us that he wanted to go till the Trail camp from where he could have a quick look at the famous 99 switchbacks and return from there. Shahriar and I were still dreaming of reaching the summit that day. Shahriar and Tanjeem were eating energy bars as and when they got tired. But due to my weird food habit, after some Gatorade and breads with nuteela, I stopped eating. This was a serious mistake, as I didn’t get enough food intakes to recharge myself when I was getting tired. Now I believe that it was also a side effect of high altitude – loosing my appetite. So after crossing 12000 feet, I got so tired that I started taking break every few minutes. But by that time Shahriar and I already could calculate our pace and decide that we were giving up for the summit push. A little earlier than that time Tanjeem tried out a steroid food bar as an experiment as he was approaching his physical limit to continue any more. He felt better energy than us after that and went ahead of us till the trail camp at more than 12000 feet above sea level. After crossing 2 snowfields just before the trail camp I told Shahriar that I needed a longer break then, so he could go ahead if he wanted. He was also exhausted but was regaining energy as and when eating snickers, energy bars for calorie intakes. But he decided not to go further as anyway we were nowhere near a summit push. I could realize by then that it was not the heavy weight I was carrying but the combination of high altitude with that heavy weight that took my energy and appetite for food. As I was not eating food or energy bars, I was not regaining energy like the other two. This is why mountaineers talk about acclimatization again and again. Tanjeem was anyway returning back and when he heard that we have decided to go back too, we all turned back from the place trail camp after the Consultation lake. During our descend that started at 11:10AM, we sat down near Mirror Lake for lunch break when we even prepared tea. On the way back, Shahriar slipped once and cut his hand. But he was carrying first aid, so he could cover the cut with a band aid and didn’t complain about the pain. Although Tanjeem bumped into the rocks several times, he didn’t fell down. I was careful enough not to fall down or hot the rock. My target was to go back to Whitney Portal with whatever energy I have left in me so that I don’t have to eat the bad tasty energy bars. I was successful as I only drank water and a little nuts that Shusmita gave during the whole descend. We reached back to Whitney portal at 5 AM with 18 pounds weight apiece in the bag. We had a nice evening meal in Whitney Portal store where we socialized with other hikers. I got energized again after the meal as I didn't eat anything last 4/5 hours except drinking water. Shahriar got fever at night but was ok next morning. Tanjeem was tired so told not to call him before 8/9 next morning. I and Tanjeem forgot to bring cameras, so Shahria's camera was the only one. I carried it most of the time in my neck but we made sure all of us are in the pictures.

We learnt what high altitude means and what happens if we are under-prepared for a big challenge and how important teamwork is. We will use this experience for our future expeditions. But I knew very well about my passion for the mountains. My respect for Mount Whitney has increased several times. I am not going to under-estimate any other mountains; especially the day hikes in future. So in all sense, this trip is a story of our success and failure, success for how far we went high within a day and came back safe; and failure because we couldn't make it to the top. I will attempt it again ext year, but this time with proper planning and preparation InshaAllah.

Here is a good summary of our trip from Shahriar's facebook photo album -!/album.php?aid=467276&id=775925174

Unfortunately Whitney day hike summit wasn't successful, but it was a great experience for all of us as we gained good knowledge and experience about high altitude hike/climb. This mission will help us in the future missions :). InshAllah I will be back for Whitney mission again on 2011.

Few reasons, that we couldn't summit:
1. Very less practice before the Whitney hike
2. Less team work
3. High altitude that made us tired in very short time
4. Back pack was too heavy, we carried too much water! We should purify water in future as there were sources of water in many places throughout the trail
5. Because of #1-4, we took much time to reach trail camp (around 3 hours) which made the day hike not possible. But if we could have stayed 1 night in the trail (one night camping), we could have reached the summit!

Back pack weights:
Shahriar: 37 lbs
Ashik: 33 lbs
Tanjeem: 25 lbs

Here's the trip report:

Got up from Bed: 2.00 AM
Breakfast: 2.40 AM
Lone Pine-> Whitney Portal took around 30 minutes (13 mile drive)...

1. Whitney Portal 8360 feet 3.45 AM 0.00 Miles
2. Lone Pine lake 9960 feet 6.03 AM 2.8 Miles
3. Outpost Camp 10360 feet 7.00 AM 3.8 Miles
4. Mirror lake 14 sb 10640 feet 7.30 AM 4.3 Miles
5. Mirror Lake 7.37 AM (lost around 20 minutes as we lost the trail) 4.8 Miles
6. Trail side Meadow 11395 feet 9.15 AM 5.3 Miles
7. Trail Camp 12039 feet 10.50 AM 6.3 Miles

Returned to the Whitney Portal @5.15 PM (6.3 Miles)
Location: Mount Whitney Trail, CA

I will write a separate entry on our Death Valley report the day after this hike shortly.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

On the way to Mount Whitney Day 1 & 2

Finally we are on our way to Mount Whitney. Yesterday I woke up a little earlier than 6 and finished some packing and grocery shopping for home. By the time Shahriar came to pick me in his Honda CRV it was around 8 AM. We picked Tanjeem from San Jose and drove towards Yosemite. We wanted to take the scenic Yosemite / Tioga Pass route to go the Lone Pine city instead of the boring I-5 route through Bakersfield. Tanjeem was under pressure in office works and couldn't sleep well last few days due to some practice hike disturbing his sleep cycle. So we started little late compared to what we were thinking initially (4/5 AM).

We enjoyed the beautiful trees. roads, mountains and rock formations while passing through Yosemite / Tioga pass road. One thing that struck us much was seeing some people live in rock climbing. we couldn't anticipate how that was feasible for the people in the above video to take that trail (in fact no trail, it's solid rock) and make their foot steps on that one by one approaching to the top.

On the way, Tanjeem fell a little ill but once he took some medicine from a pharmacy and had a sleep in the car, he started feeling better. It will be crucial for him to recover by today as I see him already better last evening after we reached hotel. Tanjeem was in room 204 while I and Shahriar at room 210. We had our late lunch come early dinner with Shahriar's Khichuri, Shusmita's egg curry and chicken but decided to keep Tanjeem's Tuna Kabab for tomorrow and the rest of the days. 

Before coming to hotel we spent some time in Whitney Portal Store which is 11 miles from the Lone Pine city and at the very point from where the Mount Whitney trail starts at 8365 feet above sea level. We could feel the historic and legendary touch in the surrounding environment. I purchased a map from there as a backup although Shahriar has printed out the whitney trail map from office. The cell coverage is available to some extent in Lone Pice city and our hotel but not in Whitney Portal Store. But still if sometimes the coverage gets available somewhere in the Whitney Trail our tomorrow's hike, you can follow me at Google Latitude with . We asked about the current condition of the trail to a few people who just came down. They old there are couple of snowfields, otherwise the trail is mostly in good condition in terms of snows. People have gone without Ice Axe and Crampons as well. This made us feel better and more confident.

I talked to Shusmita when I got mobile network coming back to the hotel. My three-and-hafl years old son Ahyan said that he wanted to go to Hiking and proposed her to pick me from Mount Whitney. Somehow he was able to associate Mount Whitney with Hiking although we never said him if there is any relationship between these 2. We slept around 10 last night. This morning I woke up at 6:30 AM and Shahriar joined me in the complementary breakfast of the comfort inn hotel. I liked the waffle and also had boiled egg, butter, orange juice, milk and coffee. Tanjeem came a little later although he was the first to wake up at 6 AM.

We will be heading towards Mount Whitney for a practice hike now after picking the permit from Lone Pine forest office that opens at 8 AM. We plan to come back early at hotel have lunch/supper early and then sleep as early as possible so that we can start the actual hike very early in the morning tomorrow. I want to be on trail right at 4 AM in the morning which will mean I will need to wake up at 3 AM. But I have to see how Tanjeem and Shahriar are feeling about waking up so early in the morning. Specially Tanjeem has had a bad sleeping cycle last few days (except last night) and hence he might not be in a good shape for such an early rise. Let's see how we go.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Group Trip In Big Sur & My Birthday

As Fourth of July long weekend was approaching, Shusmita wanted to travel to a nearby place and stay overnight to relax a bit from the city crowd. So Monterey/Carmel area on scenic Highway One or Napa Valley came to our mind immediately. I sent an email to my close friends/families here in Bay Area at 3rd week of June asking if anyone else was interested to join us. In a lunch party of Hasinur’s house where we watched Brazil’s win over Chili in Fifa world cup 2010 South Africa, we found many of them there are interested for a group outing. So I, Sumit Bhai & Wali Bhai started searching for good places and hotels in Big Sur as this was what all the group members thought the right place for an overnight stay in the nature. We booked 3 suites in Big Sur Lodge one of which had an attached kitchen.

We started for Monterey from Wali Bhai’s house a little after 8 o’clock in the morning of 4th July. There were 8 cars in total 2 of which joined us a little later on the way. First we went to 17 miles drive where there were some good beaches and vista points. It was windy and I thanked Shusmita for bringing extra jackets. We stopped over Bird Rock and Spanish Bay. As is the case for most of the SF bay area beaches, the water was cold. But that didn’t stop from some of us going down the water and playing with the sand. The kids were happy too.

Our next stop was in Carmel by the sea in a seafood restaurant. We enjoyed the lunch there in a slow manner although we had to walk a bit because of the distance between parking spot and the restaurant. We headed towards Pfeiffer Beach from there but that beach was temporarily closed for 2 hours due to heavy crowd leaving no parking spot available. So we went back to Big Sur Lodge and started settling on the rooms. It was not easy to maintain 8 cars aligned and follow each other in sync but we made it.

We were 15 adults, 4 kids and 2 infants in the group. Let me do the name count here – Ashik, Shumita & Ahyan; Sumit Bhai, Shumi Bhabi & Ayana; Wali Bhai, Asha Bhabi & Omera; Shahriar, Sachi & Safwan; Ezaz, Shaki & Mahi; Nitol & Shoma; Hasinur, Sigma & Nuryeen; Ahmed Amin (the only bachelor guy). We allocated room 17 for the guys, room 19 for the girls and room 59 for Hasinur and Nitol’s families.

Shahriar prepared an excellent puffed rice, chanachur combination with tomato, oil, onion & what what I can’t even recognize. But what I recognize is that by night I finished 5 plates of that mix! J For kids we brought some food from outside but looked like people are not that much enthusiast about those foods and instead preferred banana, nuteela and bread that we brought from Fremont.

We had a grand adda in room 17 till late night. We played Antakhshari dividing the group into 2 teams – Ladies & Gents. The competition end in a stalemate as none of us could defeat the other group although to tell you frankly, the ladies would have defeated us unless we would do some trick to modify couple of songs that didn’t start with the correct words. Or may be the ladies did the same trick against us who knows. The gathering was put to hold after 2 solo performances by Shahriar & Sachi. Sachi was the lyricist, musician and singer of her song and this made me think we have so many talents around us in this group.

We guys sat down in a guys-only chat later in the night where we started re-discovering ourselves from the time when we were back in Bangladesh. While some of us slept after the free-floating adda Shahriar, Ezaz, Wali Bhai & Sumit Bhai had energy left in them to still play 29 for half an hour after that chat.

In the morning, all I know is that Shahriar & Ezaz families went to Pfeiffer beach to see sun rise before others even woke up from bed. I found Shusmita a bit ill, as the trip had taken its toll on her. The fever/cold that Ahyan had couple of days earlier, got hold of her and me. Or may be it was just due to the weather change. We checked out of hotel a little earlier than noon and went to Pfeiffer beach again. This time I, Shahriar and Amin did a little bit of rock climbing there in the left side of the beach. I was very close to the top but decided to stop when I started slipping as after 2 days I have a very important mission to finish and it’s not good time to get injured at this point of time. Shusmita liked the place – a small but beautiful beach with high & colorful waves and told she wants to come back here when the weather will be warm in near future.

We drove back to Monterey to have our lunch at Maha’s Lebanese Restaurant. The food was very disappointing there. I, Shusmita, Ahyan & Amin sat down in a local coffee shop for an hour while the rest of the group went back to Fremont. Needless to say, at night when we came back we were exhausted after crossing all the long weekend traffic & trying to cope up with the runny nose and headaches. It was a great trip considering such a big group could stick together for 2 days.

First July was my birthday and hence when I came back home from office, I found Shusmita arranged a surprise birthday party for me. Last night Shoma and Nitol also came with a cake around midnight and I was surprised even if sleepy. But today I started getting some hints even before coming home. Every year I say Shusmita that I am aging enough not to celebrate birthday with bells & whistles but still she does something every year. And you guess what, I don’t even take a leave from office or allow myself anything special in my birthdays. But this birthday was fun compared to other years. I started the day with a practice hike of Mission Peak with Shahriar for couple of hours early in the morning at 5 AM. By the time I came back from hiking and having coffee, Ahyan and Shusmita were still sleeping, so I could prepare Ahyan for school and drop him on time.

My Aunt (Fufu), my 2 cousin sisters (Rumi Apa & Ripa), their sons (Iram & Siyam) and brother-in-law (Touhid Bhai) came to New York the same day. Ripa and Siyam will come to my house 11th of July and the others will go to Toronto. But they will also come later in the August in my house. So I had to be on the phone for long time last few days.

Finally the day has come to start for hiking Mount Whitney. Should I say it hiking or climbing? Looking at the snow level in pictures posted in forums by people who recently went to Mount Whitney, it may be either of the two. This time we are under-prepared compared to our Yosemite Half Dome hiking last year. I have recently purchased trekking poles from REI that I have never used in my life. However, I am still positive to go till the summit and I hope Shahriar & Tanjeem are too. We decided to start at 6 AM in the morning tomorrow and come back Saturday night (10th July) staying 3 nights at Comfort Inn of Lone Pine. Our hiking permit is for 4 persons at 9th July and as Sayeem couldn’t join us, it will be 3 of us. Shusmita has cooked some food for us and I know Shahriar & Tanjeem are also bringing some foods for the next 4 days.

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