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WHY WHITNEY? THE COLLECTOR'S EDITION

What? Me Worry?

OK, all you would-be summiteers who insist on exhibiting non-Phi Beta Kappa behavior. Here's a cheat sheet to avoiding success at all cost.

October 14, 2003|Martin J. Smith

Spiff up for

the occasion

Buy some snazzy hiking boots the week before you start, and get the cheapest ones you can find. And please, don't break them in, because this is a special climb and you want them to look really nice. Thin cotton socks are more than adequate.

Make this your mantra: How hard can it be?

Skip the training. Because there's no technical climbing involved, Mt. Whitney must be a cream puff of a mountain. The elevation gain is only like walking up the stairs of the Empire State Building five times in one day.

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Get dizzy over

the high life

Don't acclimatize to the high altitude. If possible, start at sea level and push as quickly as possible to the Whitney Portal trailhead. Start walking immediately. Sometimes it helps to prepare your body with multiple shots of tequila the night before.

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Permit, schmermit

Who needs a hiking permit? This minor oversight will allow the ranger to order you off the mountain, and give you a chance to donate a fine to the wilderness cause, ranging from $250 to $5,000 per person, with a mandatory court appearance if you exhibit just the right attitude.

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Leave the pesky extra

clothes at home

Underdress. Nylon shorts are fine. And why haul a windbreaker, hat, gloves and other cold-weather gear all the way up the mountain when it's a balmy 65 degrees at the Portal? Just make sure to spend extra time basking at Trail Crest, at 13,777 feet atop the infamous 97 switchbacks, because windburn can give you that special glow.

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Hydration is so

overrated

Don't drink too much water. Your adventure will be more memorable if you start off as parched as a husk of Halloween corn. Those Nalgene bottles just take up room in your pack. Besides, a dehydrated body is that much lighter for a ranger or coroner to carry down the mountain, and you won't have to walk back. If you insist on hydration, take advantage of the lakes and streams along the way filled with cold, crystal-clear mountain water. No need to worry about intestinal parasites such as Giardia and the need to filter, boil or chemically treat that water. How can something you can't see hurt you?

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Mmmmm, chips

Eat a lot of heavy, greasy food to sustain you during the ascent. If certain foods make you gassy -- peanuts, spicy beef jerky, beans -- pack plenty of those. Gas expands at high altitude, and your famous "pregnant lady" impersonation will never be better. And thanks to one of the side effects of altitude sickness, you may get a chance to enjoy those great tastes again and again.

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Thunder is your friend

When you see afternoon thunderclouds start to build, try to reach the summit as quickly as possible. And if you're cold at that point, try this: As soon as the ambient electricity in the air makes your hair crackle and stand on end, lift your metal trekking poles as high above your head as you can. You'll be warm in no time.

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Tips on how to fail provided with the help of Brian Spitek, wilderness manager for the Mt. Whitney area of the Inyo National Forest; Lynn Bauer, wilderness ranger; and K.C. Wylie, interagency visitor center director.

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