Fitness column

In September of last year, three of our family members and two of their friends took a long walk for fun and challenge. The challenge was a 14,497.61 foot mountain called Mount Whitney.

My husband, at age 60, was the oldest member of the cast with our eldest son at 37 and grandson at 13. The three generations and one of the friends made it to the top of the tallest peak in the Continental United States.

Reservations for the climb must be made six months in advance with the National Parks since only so many climbers are allowed on the mountain overnight at one time.

This allows you time to prepare your body for the strenuous climb. Our oldest son began the strengthening work about four months before the climb and my husband and grandson started six weeks before. They were included in the group when other reserved members dropped out. Three times a week these last two practiced climbing steep hills for building leg muscles and working on endurance and cardiovascular conditioning. They carried packs that weighed approximately the weight they would be carrying up the mountain.

Here in Carson City we have the added advantage of exercising at an elevated altitude. The other three members of the group were from lower altitudes in Arizona and California. One of the men who was from Tucson was on his second try and didn't make it to the top because of altitude sickness.

To put together the needed items for an overnight camp at 12,200 feet, water included, and to be able to carry it is part of the fun and the challenge. They began the hike at an altitude of 8,361 feet at Whitney Portals. From there it is 3.5 miles to Outpost Camp. Then it is another 2.5 miles to Trail Camp at 12,200 feet. They set up camp, ate their trail mix and MRIs and prepared for a cold night.

At 2 a.m., they left the packs at Trail Camp and four of the troupe finished the final 4.7 miles to the top to be in time for sunrise. It's a total of 10.7 miles to the top of the mountain and they came down in one day; a total of about 21.4 miles.

The trail goes up over the crest of the Sierra and drops down about 300 feet, then they had to climb up again. There was an ice glacier to cross, plenty of steep drop offs (which is why I didn't go) and thin air. From Trail Camp to the crest of the Sierra there are approximately 100 switchbacks.

By 5 p.m., all members of the group were down. They were tired, thirsty and very hungry! The key items to consider when you have a challenge such as this is the weight of the pack, the condition of your legs and lungs, the possibility of altitude sickness and the weather. They were fortunate to have clear days with no wind. Take along plenty of warm clothing and proper food that you are used to. Having enough water is a key factor. My husband took along a filter bottle, but past Trail Camp, there was not much water available.

Would they do it again? The comment was, "Ask me again in a month." The next challenge is the Grand Canyon.

Jerry Vance is certified by the American Council on Exercise and teaches fitness at the Carson City Community Center and for the American Lung Association.

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