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I'm currently in the US for an internship and the idea of climbing Mt. Whitney appeals to me. I know you need a permit, but there is a good chance on getting one spontaneously. I know about proper equipment and I have hiking experience from the Swiss and French Alps, up to 13,000ft, but this is 2 years back.

However, I find it hard to estimate if I'm physically fit enough. The trip would be about 22 miles (in 2 days) and 12,000 ft. of elevation gain and loss, not to forget the thin air.

I regularly go running and do weight training.

Is it possible to compare stats from this to what is required to be able to do this hike? Say like running 15 miles in a certain time?

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    My advice is ensure the "little things" are ready. By little things I mean joints/ligaments/tendons... Yes, maybe you can run a certain distance in a certain amount of time but have you walked a long distance with a pack on? if not generally your hips are not stable and then your knees and ankles become stressed and you get injured and cannot complete the trek. I'd suggest varying your workouts to match the intended activity, run for cardio, walk around with a heavy pack to get used to it, do body weight stabilization exercises for joint stability and improve ligament and tendon strength... – AM_Hawk Jul 8 '14 at 19:02
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    You should be fine doing it in 2 days. People often do it in 1. But don't underestimate the difficulty of getting a permit. Have a backup plan, such as Mt. Langley. – Ben Crowell Jul 8 '14 at 22:31
  • You may want to start doing the stairmaster in lieu of the running. This will more accurately simulate hiking while still giving you an aerobic workout. – Michael Martinez Jul 18 '14 at 18:43
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Is it possible to compare stats from this to what is required to be able to do this hike?

VO2 max is the best indicator of fitness.

Running will increase your VO2 max. VO2 max is the amount of Oxygen your blood can hold per Kg per minute. This is an important factor in all endurance exercise, especially exercise at altitude.

The higher your VO2 max is, the better you will cope with climbing/walking. So running is an excellent training mechanism for walking/climbing.

You can get this tested though it is not straight forward.

One thing to bear in mind is that as you climb the amount of Oxygen in your blood will decrease. The rate of this decrease is complicated and reliant on lots of philological factors. Two seemingly identical people will have varying decreases in this depending on many, many factors.

When you do not have enough Oxygen in your blood you enter an Anaerobic state. Climbing and walking are slow twitch excercises. These work best in an aerobic capacity. So the more oxygen in your blood the longer you will be in an aerobic state and the better you will perform.

That said anaerobic exercise is good at increasing your VO2 max capacity.

Say like running 15 miles in a certain time?

Running 15 miles in a certain time (or whatever) is not a good scientific measurement of fitness. Did you go up hill? How much do you weigh? etc. etc. So no I would say there is no measurement (like running x miles) that is a good indicator of your performance in a climb.

Running is a great exercise but a bad indicator of climbing endurance. Mountain climbing is very different for many reason from running. The best test for mountain climbing ability is to climb mountains. From a practical point of view, try steadily, increasingly, difficult climbs. This will allow you to gauge at what point you start to struggle.

Good luck!

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  • Just wanted to state that your answer is perfectly fine. Like I said in my answer, you can't really compare the two activities. Nonetheless you still can practice stamina really well with running trainings. – Wills Jul 9 '14 at 13:18
  • Yep, completely agree. Simply pointing out that running isn't a good indicator of fitness. It's very hard to measure. – user2766 Jul 9 '14 at 13:22
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I don't think it is difficult to give an exact correlation between running time and hiking endurance. I think this is impossible.

I will give you an example from myself: I am not a good runner because my lungs aren't the best. Nonetheless I can hike quite a lot and had no problems at 12.500 ft. Also 6000 ft a single day up/down were possible. Still I am getting problems when I have to run for an hour straight. This is just different stress for the body. I can't give you a reference for 12000 ft on 2 days, this will be tougher when you get a bit heavy-legged on the first day. But still, having the target of a wonderful summit in front of you will push you and will let you get over some pain more easily. Your mindset is very important here.

Another point is the baggage or weight factor. I don't know what kind of tour this is and if you have to take food and water supply for 2 days and where you will sleep. Usually while doing mountaineering in the Alps you will get to pretty comfortable huts and therefore the weight on your back will be quite low. So the weight factor might not be of great importance.

The oxygen factor might be very important but once again this will differ from human being to human being. This predisposition is very individual but like being said, giving your body the chance for proper acclimatization will help you really a lot! Coming some days before the tour starts, doing some moderate hikes and sleeping on 8000 to 10.000 ft give you a good chance that the 14.500 ft summit might not be recognized by your body directly. So it's possible that you aren't even getting a minor headache. Though, don't forget to drink, drink, drink.

If you have some time until the tour starts, go for shorter hikes with similar equipment. One-day-trips will do it, just make sure you aren't over-exercising and exhausting your body too much because regeneration costs time and you will be weaker afterwards. You can increase your training tours slowly.


Like I said previously, a proper psychological attitude with the will to reach your aims can give you quite a boost and will lay the groundwork for success. If you are physically fit, have the technical requirements and experience (maybe due to a guide) you should go for it. At least this would be my approach to the tour, sounds like a desirable summit.

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I think it is difficult to give an exact correlation between running time and hiking endurance, but distance running as a fitness regimen is excellent training. It sounds like you have a pretty good idea of what you are in for so I would advise that if you run a couple days during the week and hike when you can, you should do fine.

If you can get an extra day or two to acclimate to thin air before hand, that is a good idea. Back in the Stone Age, my father and I got a ride to Whitney Portal (8,000 ft) one day and started up in the morning. By the time we reached about 11,500 my teenaged lungs were barely pulling oxygen.

One possible thing to consider is that the air in the Sierras will most likely be considerably drier than in the Alps.

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