Truth-be-told, I never really thought about hiking Mt. Whitney until I heard back from the registration lottery that I had a secured a pass. Then there I was, about a month out from the confirmed date (June 16), in a state of gear and shape that would (and is) not recommended for successfully climbing the highest summit in the contiguous U.S.
The longest hike I had under my recent belt was six miles. I didn’t have hiking boots, a backpack, poles, or any of the gear and endurance needed to hike 22 miles total and reach an elevation of 14,505 feet.
The first step (literally) was to train. Simply, we hiked, and starting with a local eight miler we increased the mileage and altitude every weekend. Our second hike was another local 12 miler. Then we checked off real day hikes (Baldy, 12 miles and 10,000 ft elevation) and lastly Mt Gorgonio (20 miles, 11,000 ft elevation). Granted, we had no idea how our bodies would feel over 12,000 feet (typically when altitude strikes with ailments) but we trained what we could control.
We had purchased hiking boots early on to break them in, but the school-sized backpacks needed an upgrade. Since most people hiking Mt. Whitney in a day spend 14 plus hours on the mountain (the average for amateur hikers sans altitude sickness being 16 hours) there is a lot of necessary gear needed for survival. And coming from someone who hiked Gorgonio with two water bottles and a book bag, the cost and length of this list will make even the most eager and curious outdoor patron cringe and possibly turn on their heels with hands in the air (as I did several times). In addition, there are dozens of even more recommended items that come from blogs, websites, and stores that can further the tizzy: What do I need? How much? Which one? What size? What kind? How many? Why?
Luckily, there are a number of local and nationwide resources that made my attempt of becoming a Mt. Whitney success story possible. If I can go from a few miles to 22, and a Volcom blue-and-yellow book backpack to a safely and frugally equipped backpack of gear, so can you. Unlike climbing Mt. Whitney, which requires training and a strong will, you can easily secure what you need to try hiking this summer without breaking the bank (or cluttering your closet).
There are some items you must buy. Boots and clothes, accessories, and non-reusable items like sun block are final purchases. The best way to get these pieces is to shop clearance and sale in local stores so you can try things on for correct fit.
I ended up borrowing a backpack and filter from friends, renting poles, and buying everything else. I probably spent a total of $180 on gear and clothes, which would have been closer to $300 plus if I had actually bought everything I needed.
And yes, I made it to the summit of Mt. Whitney – and you can too (or any of the sister mountains) without spending too much out-of-pocket.