Hiking while pregnant generally is considered a healthy and safe exercise for most pregnancies that are not high-risk, but when we found out we were six weeks pregnant I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about our upcoming trek up Mt. Whitney. The peak of Mt. Whitney is the highest in the continental US at 14,500ft. At that altitude, there is only about 60% oxygen compared to what you would find at sea level. Considering I was now breathing for two, this was my main concern with hiking while pregnant.
If you’re unfamiliar with Mt. Whitney, to reach the peak, you cannot just wing it, you have to plan ahead and apply months in advance for the lottery to get to tackle the hike during the quota season. To maintain the trails in premium condition for future generations, NPS has a permit lottery system in place to prevent overuse of the trail. We got extremely lucky with the lottery, snagging a ticket with a fellow co-worker of mine. With a move to Texas coming up, there was no way we would get an opportunity to do this hike again for years and years to come and we decided to go for it.
After speaking with my doctor, she assured me that the altitude would be okay, as long as I listened to my body to take breaks when needed and maintained a proper level of hydration. Being a San Diego girl, and never really venturing very far from the beach most of my life, altitude sickness was another concern of mine. Another concern was the fact that symptoms of altitude sickness are almost the same symptoms experienced in the first trimester of pregnancy! How was a girl supposed to tell what was causing what?
The best way to fight altitude sickness is to acclimate as slowly as possible to higher altitudes. We decided to stay at the base of the trail the night before in the Whitney Portal camp (we snagged one of the tent walk-up sites reserved for permitted hikers) at 8,100ft. The next night, we camped right before the 99 switchbacks section of the trail at 12,000ft in the Trail Camp, 4.5 miles away from the peak. Some people need more time than this to acclimate, but this seemed to feel just about right for me and my husband.
The Mt. Whitney trail is a total of almost 22 miles and 6,100ft of elevation gain, so making sure you are prepared for the hike is key as well. Walking on level ground, let alone hiking while pregnant can be taxing sometimes when you’re pregnant, especially the later along you get when the baby starts pressing up and restricting your lungs. Proper training, for me, was the most important thing I could do leading up to Mt. Whitney, and luckily I lived in San Diego with endless amounts of trails around me. Having good breath control is necessary too, when you start climbing the high altitudes, you have to take more breaths than you normally would to ensure you’re getting all the oxygen you need. I purposely said the mantra in my head as I practiced my hiking, breath-step-breath-step. The day we left for Mt. Whitney I felt seasoned and prepared.
Make sure to check the conditions before heading out, we made the horrible mistake of not doing this, and got surprised when we arrived that there was still snow and ice on the peak in June, and many people were turning back unable to pass the 99 switchbacks. A very kind couple that was heading back from the trail actually gave us their crampons, otherwise we would not have been able to make it. I am forever in their debt for their random act of kindness!
I’ll go over my personal favorite things that we packed, but for a good general list of essentials, check out Mountain Gear or Brian Green’s blog for a more detailed checklist. Do not plan to fail when hiking while pregnant! 2 out of 3 people who attempt this peak do not make it, and I am sure most of it is due to either a lack of planning or a lack of preparation. You will need more water than you need, and way more snacks, especially if you are hiking while pregnant. We stopped nearly every mile the first six, and then every half mile up until the peak to drink water and take a bite of beef jerky or dried fruit. I think these rest stops were the reason neither one of us got sick and we were able to push to the top altitude sickness symptom free.
Hiking While Pregnant: My favorite things we packed
This book was a lifesaver when my GPS watch died and we needed to start telling how far up we were with milestones. It is chock full of great gear recommendations and a history of the park, along with precautions and tips on how to avoid altitude sickness. It’s a quick read, and really prepared me for the hike beforehand.
Hiking while pregnant and forcing yourself to drink tons of water to stay hydrated means one thing: lots and lots of stops to pee. Being able to stand behind a tree and quickly pee while not exposing yourself to fellow hikers was such a huge relief.
Chock full of electrolytes, carbs, and protein to replenish what you lost after a long day of hiking, these meals are my go-to for easy camping food. My favorite ones are the Beef Stroganoff, Macaroni & Cheese, and the Breakfast Skillet (perfect rolled up in lightweight tortillas).
The number one thing I wanted to make sure when hiking while pregnant was maintaining a steady heart rate and making sure I didn’t go overboard. My doctor said I should stay under 140, so having the watch to be able to monitor my heart rate was top of my priority list. If you turn the GPS tracking on, be sure to bring lots of charged battery packs as the GPS function will quickly drain the battery in 3 hours.
The risk of falling is another danger to consider when hiking while pregnant, and having some sturdy hiking poles is another great item to pack. Along with the crampons, I don’t think I would have felt safe going past Trail Camp without my hiking poles to hold on to.
If your feet start blistering, you’re not going to last long on the trail. I wore silk liners and wool socks for our climb up, and my feet could not have been happier. It felt like walking on a silky cloud stuffed with sheep’s wool. I made the terrible mistake of not bringing a third set and had to switch out socks at Trail Camp on the way down, because they got wet from when we rode the chute (rather than take the 99 switchbacks back) down on our butts. I was in MISERY the last six miles, all because I was wearing regular workout socks. The weight of my pack and the resulting pain on my back was nothing compared to the fresh hell that was happening in my feet. Pack at least one more pair than you think you may need, especially if you’re going with snow on the mountain!
What peaks have you climbed when hiking while pregnant? Have you tackled Mt. Whitney? Tell me all about it in the comments section below!