Footwear tips for hiking Mt. Whitney
July 12, 2009 4:37 PM   Subscribe

Can I hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney in running shoes?

I sold my hiking boots last summer and I don't want to buy new boots for the trip, as I won't have a chance to properly break them in. I do a fair bit of hiking, so my feet and angles are in good shape. Last week I was in Yosemite and I hiked up Half Dome in running shoes without issue. I'm not as familiar with trail conditions on Whitney, so any insights or suggestions are appreciated.
posted by HotPatatta to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total)
Maybe if you bring some crampons for them (make sure they fit and are appropriate for something with flexible soles - most crampons are not). I advise you read this thread. Whitney can have snow any time of year.

Problems arise in the mountains because people have a lot invested in their trips, and are reluctant to turn back if unexpected weather arises.
posted by exogenous at 5:17 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks, exogenous. Perhaps you can lend me someone from your stable of French boyfriends (Rutger?) to act as my sherpa should conditions on the trail deteriorate.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:41 PM on July 12, 2009

Although Rutger is a certified mountain guide, I have it on good authority that he is afraid of heights and takes arsenic to calm his nerves, so he's probably a bad choice.

Seriously though, I will never forget the time I tried to cross a slope of hard old snow while hiking near Lake Tahoe in May or June while wearing light, low top "approach shoes" with flexible soles. My companions all had proper boots and could sort of kick steps and make it across safely. My footwear just folded over and provided no support, to the point where I decided to wait for them for a couple of hours while they went up to the summit.

Be safe and have fun!
posted by exogenous at 6:23 PM on July 12, 2009

No. Don't try it.

(it would probably be fine, but why risk an ankle etc.? and you know the new boots barely need breaking in, bring some moleskin)
posted by caddis at 6:47 PM on July 12, 2009

You might want to read some trip reports from Badwater Endurance Race (which incidentally starts tomorrow). Athletes cap their tremendous 135-mile achievement by running to the peak of Whitney. They run it in running shoes.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:37 PM on July 12, 2009

I just climbed Mt. Princeton (14,197ft.) with my brother in law. He is a runner with running shoes, and from Portland. I am a chain smoker from Colorado (6,500ft). We both summited in 4 hours, me in Sorrel winter hiking boots and he in running low tops.
He had a hard time on the boulders since almost everything above treeline was walking on the broken peaks of boulders, and his ankles were suffering.
I did fine, except for my knees on the way down.
Neither of us had poles, which we probably needed, especially down.

It can be done, but ankle support is a very handy thing.
posted by Balisong at 7:51 PM on July 12, 2009

Ages ago, when hiking Mt. Whitney with my parents, we were passed by a woman with only a bottle of water jogging up the mountain. She was wearing running shoes and summited and came back down quite quickly. So it can be done, I've seen it. As to the wisdom of this course of action, I don't know. I'd recommend boots. (This happened in the middle of August, but there was snow on the ground there, just not on the path.)
posted by Hactar at 8:16 PM on July 12, 2009

I wouldn't attempt it in running shoes. Lots of folks bag Whitney with the wrong gear because the conditions cooperated- you can't count on that. Besides the weather (your feet could get completely soaked from melting snow then frozen) and rocky conditions, if you twisted your ankle you'd be ruining at least one other person's day as well as they have to help you get back down. Save the running shoes for the tamer, more predictable stuff.

And do read the thread exogenous linked to. I serendipitously missed out on that trip due to a work conflict. My friend of a friend is lucky she wasn't seriously injured or worse. Whitney is no joke.
posted by rama at 8:48 PM on July 12, 2009

There are a couple good intermediate shoes between hiking boots and runners. Neither will require the time or money commitment that a good pair of hiking boots need, and both are designed for outings similar to yours.

-Trail running shoes are very similar to regular running shoes. They have a couple advantages, however. The material on the upper will usually be of a tougher material than just mesh. Ripstop nylon and lightweight Gore-Tex are common. They're usually waterproof, or at least water-resistant to some degree. The tongue is usually gusseted, to seal an entrance point for small pebbles. The midsoles are just like regular runners; lightweight, flexible, and springy. The soles are tougher, usually with larger lugs and much more vulcanized rubber (regular running shoes often use foam on the soles to reduce weight and provide more cushioning). They also incorporate hard plastic shielding between the outsole and the midsole, to reduce excess flexing of the footbed and to protect your foot from sharp rocks.

-Light hiking shoes will be more like your standard hiking boot. They can be anywhere from low-top (cut below the ankle), mid-top (cut just above the ankle), and occasionally a full high-top (cut an inch or more above the ankle). The upper is more robust than a trail runner, and will be stiffer. They're made out of tougher synthetics like Cordura (thick woven nylon, like on a duffel bag), or thicker Gore-Tex. Tongue gussets and full waterproofing are common. The toebox is more reinforced, and leather is common in high-wear areas. The midsole is made of a more durable foam, and is shaped specifically for trail use. They're less flexible and less cushiony (that's not bad though -- you're not generating the same amount of impact as you are when you're running so you don't need it, and you waste less energy because you don't have to fight it on push-off with each step). The outsole is nearly the same as a true boot, fully rubber, thick, and with nice, big, gravel-munching patterns.

Since it seems that you have a good chance of seeing some ice and snow, I'd recommend at least a mid-top light hiking shoe.
posted by clorox at 9:28 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Last time I made the summit of Half Dome (maybe a year or two ago), my brothers and I passed plenty of your typical tourist hikers on our way down - many of them within a mile or two of where the wires start, and asking us if there was water up there, as they had run out. We had purification tabs and knew we could load up at the river, so we shared with this one group of Japanese who had only an empty half-liter plastic bottle each.

A bit after we passed them, when you get to that long meadow above the falls, we passed a dude coming up on his own. This is what he was wearing on his feet.

So, yeah. You probably can hike Whitney in running shoes and be just fine, assuming you don't hit a patch or two of snow. The question is, do you really want to?
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:02 AM on July 13, 2009

(You'll also note, ironically, our footwear in the next picture if you click through to it - we usually speed climb trails like Half Dome through, when they are dry.)
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:04 AM on July 13, 2009

« Older How can I update a textbox in a slide object in...   |   Leaving google? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.