Climbing Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineer's Route

At 14,505', Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the continental United States. Planning the hike is challenging, especially via the mountaineers route, which requires extra gear. I’ve detailed our group’s schedule and what we brought in this post.

The upper route marked here is known as the “mountaineers route”. It’s shorter, steeper, and requires more technical climbing skills. The lower route is Mt. Whitney Trail. It’s longer and easier, but only passable in summer months when the snow has melted.

The upper route marked here is known as the “mountaineers route”. It’s shorter, steeper, and requires more technical climbing skills. The lower route is Mt. Whitney Trail. It’s longer and easier, but only passable in summer months when the snow has melted.

Timeline

Permit pickup is at the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center on the south end of Lone Pine. We arrived when the office opened at 8:30am on the day of our hike. If you want to start your hike earlier in the morning, make sure to stop by the office the day before.

There are two campgrounds in the area I’d recommend staying at. The most convenient will be Whitney Portal Campground, which is right next to the trailhead. A close alternative is Lone Pine Campground, which is a couple of miles down the road.

A quick note on dates: we started the hike on May 2, and came down on May 3. This is the very beginning of permit season. There’s snow on the ground for most of the hike, but it’s warm enough to wear a t-shirt while hiking. Temperatures drop below freezing at night. If you can’t get a permit, you might be able to get similar conditions at the end of the non-quota winter season, which runs from November 2 to April 30.

Day 1: Hike to Upper Boy Scout

We started the hike fairly late in the day, around 11am. I recommend starting a couple of hours earlier. The hike begins with a gradual uphill until a river crossing about a mile in. This was where the snow began for us. From then on, it’s a continual climb until Lower Boy Scout Lake. We arrived there around 3pm.

Lunch at Lower Boy Scout Lake

Lunch at Lower Boy Scout Lake

After a quick lunch, we put on snow shoes and skis, and continued the ascent to Upper Boy Scout Lake. While the grade was about the same, this portion was easier, since there were no longer rocks or trees. The snow was easily traversable. We arrived at Upper Boy Scout around 6pm, and set up base camp. We had initially considered going all the way to Iceberg Lake, but chose to do the climb the next day with lighter packs.

The ascent from Lower to Upper Boy Scout Lake

The ascent from Lower to Upper Boy Scout Lake

Basecamp at Upper Boy Scout Lake

Basecamp at Upper Boy Scout Lake

Day 2: Summit and Descent

After unloading our packs for the night, we chose to wake up at 4am to start the climb from Upper Boy Scout Lake. We reached the summit at 1pm, which means it took us about 8 hours to go a mile and a half with 3000 feet of elevation gain. Here’s the rough schedule:

  • 4am: Wakeup

  • 5am: Departure from Upper Boy Scout Lake

  • 8am: Arrived at Iceberg Lake, and the bottom of the Chute

  • 12pm: Reached the top of the Chute

  • 1pm: Summit 🏔️

A photo of myself on the summit wall

A photo of myself on the summit wall

The descent was grueling. While we took the mountaineering route up to the summit, we tried another path back to the top of the Chute to avoid the steep summit wall descent. This was a mistake, since it meant traversing some soft snow fields where self-arrest wasn’t possible. After reaching the top of the Chute, the skiers strapped in, packed up base camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake, and made it down by 7pm.

The non-skier timeline looked like this:

  • 3pm: Top of Chute

  • 6pm: Upper Boy Scout

  • 7pm: Lower Boy Scout

  • 10pm: Arrive at Whitney Portal

Gear

While you can divide gear amongst the group, expect your pack to be between 50 and 70 pounds.

Clothing

  • Mountaineering boots. I used the North Face Verto S4K. Make sure your boots are hard enough to attach crampons, normal hiking boots will not work.

  • Three pairs of socks. I used SmartWool socks. These should be quick-drying. You will sweat in your socks during the day, and they will freeze at night if they’re still wet. A good trick is to throw all of your socks in your sleeping bag at night to keep them warm and dry.

  • Underwear and long underwear. These should also be athletic and quick-drying.

  • Hiking pants. These should be lightweight for the hot hike on the first day. I have the Quandary Pants from Patagonia.

  • Snow pants. I have an old pair of Oakley snowboarding pants. They have two layers: a tight layer in the inside that wraps over the boot, and a thick outer layer. There’s deep snow, so it’s important that these are water-proof. Also consider how they’ll work with crampons. Pants that are too long will catch on the spikes.

  • Long sleeve base layer. I wore an Under Armour ColdGear compression shirt similar to this.

  • T-shirt. Also quick-drying. I went with a North Face FlashDry shirt.

  • Mid-layer. I have the Marmot Variant jacket.

  • Insulating layer. This is preferably a heavier down jacket. I have this down sweater from Patagonia.

  • Hard shell. This is a lightweight, water-proof jacket to keep out snow and block the wind. Skiing or snowboarding shells without any liners work well here.

  • Buff. These can make a huge difference in keeping you warm and preventing sunburn.

  • Gloves. I used a set with built-in liners, but would have preferred a separate liner-glove combo. It’s important that your gloves can stop the wind.

  • Beanie. Keeping your head warm makes a huge difference.

Think about how you will layer your clothes ahead of time. The temperature changes dramatically throughout the hike, and you’ll also quickly swing from hot to cold as you start and stop hiking. A friend of mine joked it was like a fashion show: you’ll go through several different outfit combinations throughout the day.

Day-time (warmest): Underwear, hiking pants, t-shirt

Night-time and early morning (coldest): underwear, long underwear, snow pants, long-sleeve base layer, t-shirt, mid-layer, insulating layer, hard shell, beanie, gloves. As the sun came up, and I warmed with hiking, I was able to shed the hard shell, mid, and insulating layers. When stopping, I’d put on the insulating layer to conserve heat.

Tools

  • Ice axe. The ice axe is the most crucial piece of equipment. It’s the only way to stop a fall and get up steep slopes. I used the Black Diamond Raven.

  • Crampons. I walked about 10 miles in these on summit and descent day. Make sure they fit tightly. I used the Black Diamond Contact.

  • Helmet. Get something rock rated. I have the Black Diamond Vector.

  • Avalanche Safety Kit. Includes a beacon, probe, and shovel. Every team member should wear a beacon and carry a probe and shovel. Learn how to operate the beacon, and review avy safety guidelines with your group ahead of time. Black Diamond also sells this as a set.

  • Multi-tool. I don’t have a Leatherman, but I’d like one. Something with a knife and a can opener.

  • Sunglasses, preferably glacier glasses. Normal sunglasses are often not sufficient. Without sunglasses that wrap, you can burn your corneas and lose vision.

  • Sunscreen. I put on sunscreen regularly and still got a bit burned. Essential.

  • Spork and collapsible bowl. Sea to Summit makes some great sets.

  • Power bank. I have the Goal Zero Venture 30, which is a bit more rugged. Helpful to recharge your camera, phone, or other equipment.

  • Sleeping Bag. Rated for at least 20° or lower. I have the North Face Furnace, a 20° bag, and still ended up sleeping with most of my clothing on.

  • Sleeping Pad. NEMO makes an awesome, 3-inch thick mountaineering pad. Since you’ll be camping on the snow at night, it’s crucial that you have a thick enough pad.

  • 4-season tent. We were warm enough with three people in a 3-season tent, but 4-season is the way to go.

  • Head lamp. Black Diamond makes these as well, great for all camping situations.

  • Trekking poles with snow baskets. Trekking poles make a huge difference when carrying a heavy pack. Make sure to get the snow basket attachments.

  • Fuel and stove. We used the MSR WhisperLite.

  • Snow shoes, skis, or a split-board. These worked well for the trek from Lower to Upper Boy Scout, although in the conditions we had, I could’ve likely done the entire hike in crampons. Skiing or split-boarding is the true way to get down. You can get from summit to Whitney Portal in about two hours this way.

  • Bear canisters. These are required not for bears, but for marmots. You can rent them at the visitors center when picking up your permit. Unfortunately, they’re pretty big, so they might throw off your packing a bit.

  • Gaiters. I didn’t end up needing these, but would recommend bringing them along just in case.

  • Climbing gear. I brought a harness, a locking carabiner, an ATC, a PAS, and 30 ft. of rope. Just in case.

  • First aid kit. We brought two for a group of five.

  • Ice screw and snow pickets. Didn’t need to use these, but just in case.

  • Camera equipment. Personal preference. I brought a Sony a6000 and a GoPro.

Food and Water

The day before the climb, it’s important to drink a couple of liters of water so you can start the hike hydrated. I carried 2 liters of water with me, one liter in a Nalgene, and another in a flexible HydraPak. At base camp, we boiled snow to have water with dinner, then again to refill up to max capacity for the morning. All in all, I probably drank about 5-6 liters while on the mountain.

Climbing will put you at a massive calorie deficit. It’s helpful eat small meals constantly throughout the day. For snacks, I packed dried mangoes and Larabars. I also had Snickers bar, which I ate at the summit. I made two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches wrapped in foil for lunches. Finally, for dinner, we made quesadillas on the Whisperlite, with some Patagonia Provisions soup.


Wrapping up

The mountaineers route is challenging, and I was fortunate to find a group with some serious mountaineering experience to learn from. If you’re interested in doing this kind of stuff, feel free to reach out with any questions.

Best,

Austin

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How I use Notion for journaling, todo lists, and everything else

I wanted to follow up this tweet with a post on how I use Notion.

Getting to Notion

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First and foremost, it’s important to make Notion easy to get to. I’ve put the app in the bottom row on my phone, and installed the desktop app on my laptop. Building a journaling habit is hard, but reducing friction here can make it easier.

The Home Page

Home in Notion

I’ve created a home page at the root of my workspace. It’s like an index on a 90s-era website. This is for notes that I access frequently, or want top of mind. I’ll go through a couple of these pages in detail below.

I also keep a section at the bottom for when I want to quickly write things down without thinking about how to organize it. Someone recently recommended the book Tribe by Sebastian Junger, and I’ll eventually move that into the Reading page.

The Weekly Note

The most important note is at the very top: “Weekly (2019)”. I have one page for each week. Instead of using the dates, I count upward from one to fifty-two. There’s a sense of urgency in thinking about it this way — as I’m writing, we’re already in Week 11, and it seems like the year just began.

  • Within each weekly note, I’ve added a header for each day of the week. I use the space right below the header for journaling throughout the day. The length of my entries vary from a few sentences to several paragraphs depending on the day.

  • Below the journal entry, I track daily habits. These are the same every day, so I can copy and paste them from previous days.

  • Below the habits, I try to select three things to focus on that day. These are well-defined tasks, like “Next Actions” in GTD.

  • Finally, I have a section for Quick Tasks. These are things I can do in about five minutes or less if I have time in between other events.

At the very bottom of the page, I have a Backlog. I often choose my daily tasks from this list, and copy it over from week to week.

I have a public template with all of these components — feel free to copy it.

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The Notes Note

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These are notes that I don’t use often enough for the front page, but need to keep over time. Some examples:

  • Weekends — a note with headers for each weekend this year. I felt like I wasn’t getting the most out of my weekends last year (it’s hard to find good camp sites at the last minute), so this note has helped me be a lot more intentional about how I spend that time.

  • College Debt Math — I’ll finally be college debt-free next month! This helped me plan that out.

  • Painting — I went through a phase where I got really into painting. I collected inspirational photos, videos with techniques, list of supplies, etc.

  • Adventure Goals — separate from my 2019 Goals, these are bucket list items. One example is getting a P2 paragliding license.

Other Home Page Notes

There are a couple of other notes that I like to have on the home page.

  • 2019 Goals — I keep this near the top as a reminder of what I’m working towards this year. Looking at your goals every so often is a good way of staying accountable.

  • Standard Day Plan — I’ve been iterating on a daily routine to follow.

  • Reading — my reading note is actually public, and you can follow along here. This tracks every book I’ve and read and thought was “worthwhile” in the last couple of years. Also several books I’m planning to read soon.

  • Product Management — I collect resources related to product management here. I might make this public, eventually.


Wrapping Up

I’ve built this system over time, and I’m sure I’ll continue to keep iterating. If you have a system that you love, let me know!

@austinlouden
















What's on my home screen? (2019)

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I’ve put a lot of thought into what goes on my home screen. The home screen is fascinating because it’s a place where small changes significantly affect my behavior. I pick up my phone between 80 and 100 times per day. It’s likely that less than half of those pickups have a specific goal in mind.

That makes positioning important. Some apps are on the home screen for convenience, while others I truly enjoy. I’ve gone through each app one by one, and written a bit about why it’s there.


The bottom row

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I’ve kept the bottom row for apps that I open several times a day. Starting from left to right:

Messages

Messages is the only Apple product on my home screen, and also my least favorite. My biggest qualm with Messages relates to syncing across devices — I constantly see texts missing or out of order. I would gladly switch to Signal if my friends were there as well.

Google Calendar

I used to use Sunrise up until they were acquired by Microsoft, and haven’t found a replacement since. That said, the Google Calendar app is good. It’s one of the few apps where I’ve left push notifications on. You can customize when event notifications are sent, so I get them one minute before my next meeting starts. Typically, all of my meetings are on the same floor, so it gives me enough time to check the meeting room and walk over — I’m almost never late to a meeting.

I’ve tried the Apple calendar app, but the syncing also seemed a bit unreliable. I usually find myself forced to go to calendar.google.com anyway to do anything advanced.

Gmail

I’ve tried a lot of email apps (Sparrow, Airmail, Mailbox, Polymail, Inbox, Astro, Handle… I could go on), but find that Gmail is consistently good. I get a fair amount of email, but feel like it’s not enough to justify the $29/month of Superhuman. I typically process email on desktop (using the multiple inboxes feature, filtered by star type). The mobile app is mostly used to read and respond quickly. I’ll occasionally disable notifications for Gmail to focus or relax.

Notion

Notion is everything I wanted from Evernote and more. I do all of my journaling, note-taking, and goal-tracking in Notion, and will likely follow this up with a post specifically on how I use Notion. I keep Notion in the bottom right to encourage myself to write more. Most of my subconscious pickups lead to consumption. I open my phone, and go to Twitter, or Instagram. I’m trying to see if I can wire subconscious pickups to lead to creation, even if it’s just opening my journal and writing a bit about what I’m doing. That can often help me refocus.

The page

Spotify

Spotify has changed the way I listen to music. They’ve excelled in music discovery in a way that sets them apart from other streaming apps, specifically Apple Music. The concept of dynamic, personalized playlists was a major step forward — I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t like Discover Weekly.

Breaker

I recommend Breaker to anyone I talk to about podcasts. I listen to podcasts when I go jogging, so I usually get through several a week. There are a lot of small things that come together to make Breaker great. Their playlist concept works really well. Here’s my profile.

Instapaper

My favorite type of content is long-form. 400-word news articles are typically too short to build any meaningful understanding of an issue, so I often look for longer articles that I send to Instapaper. I like Instapaper compared to other alternatives because it’s dead simple and looks great.

Kindle

I bought a Kindle a couple of years ago, but do most reading on my phone now. I’ve been split for the past few years on whether I prefer Kindle over physical books, but I’ve landed on something in-between. I’ll read a book on Kindle first, and if I like it enough to read it a second time, I’ll buy a physical copy. One feature I love that Kindle recently added was “Continuous Scrolling”, so you can read a book as if it were an article. I also have night mode on all the time. Paired with iOS’ Night Shift, I can read with my phone in bed and still fall asleep immediately.

Slack

I check Slack often enough to keep it on the home screen, but I’ve disabled badges. I prefer to use Slack on desktop, so I only use the app to read or send quick replies.

1Password

I signed up for 1Password back when they allowed a one-time purchase with Dropbox integration, but I don’t think that’s possible anymore. I’ve also heard good things about LastPass.

The best thing you can do to keep your accounts safe is to use a different password for each (and enable 2-factor), and that’s essentially impossible without a password manager. Account takeovers typically happen when one, less-secure site is hacked. Then, spammers will try the leaked email and password combinations on a variety of more secure sites to see if they get lucky.

Chatterbug

I’ve been a serious language learner for a couple of years, and Chatterbug is my current favorite language learning app. I’ve also put significant amounts of time into Duolingo (German Level 13, Spanish 7, French 5, Italian 5) and Memrise (1.4m points), Lingvist, iTalki, Yabla, and LingQ.

Chatterbug excels because it combines several different exercise types into one app. Just hit “Start studying”, and you’ll get a balance of listening exercises, reading, writing, videos, and flash cards. They also help you schedule lessons with instructors at a super reasonable price (which I’d recommend for anyone learning a language — practicing conversation is key). I’ve improved my German substantially using exclusively Chatterbug.

Strava

I’m on Strava almost every day uploading runs or bike rides. In my experience, the community has been incredibly positive. It’s encouraging to follow your friends and see where they’re running.

Google Photos

Google Photos is my favorite Google product. The unlimited, high-quality storage was a masterstroke. The app also makes it easy to delete photos that have been backed up. Compare this with Apple’s offering:

I don’t often get the “this is magic” feeling of seeing new technology work well, but Google Photos brought it to me the other day. A Chromecast can be set up to play Google Photos albums in the background, and albums can be configured to automatically add of photos of certain people. I’ve set up an album to add photos of friends and relatives. After getting back from a trip, I saw photos of my parents I had just taken show up on screen. I take so many photos, but never go back to look through them. Now, I love having the TV on scrolling through old memories.

Chrome

I use Chrome on desktop, so I use it on mobile as well. I tried switching to Firefox a couple of months ago, but there were a couple of work-related apps that required me to switch back. I’d likely use Firefox if I had no other constraints.

Google Maps

Google still dominates the mapping game. I recently took a road trip through rural Austria, and at one point, begged my friend switch from Apple to Google Maps because of poor directions. The offline mode is substantially better. I’ve also found that Google is slowly gaining on Yelp when it comes to restaurant review data. In the past, I’d use Yelp to find a restaurant, and then Google Maps to get there. Now, I’m increasingly just using Maps.

Twitter

Twitter is the most used app on my phone, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that. It can be an incredible tool for learning if you’re diligent about who to follow. I’ve found people on the platform that have influenced my life in meaningful ways.

Other times, I feel like I consume too much, and move it off the home screen or delete it for a while.

Pinterest (Enterprise)

I work at Pinterest, so I naturally use this app quite a lot.