Whitney, California, US
When my co-worker randomly blurted, ‘You and Jack should climb Mt. Whitney with my husband!‘ – I had little idea what I was so enthusiastically agreeing to.
All I knew was at 14500 feet Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the continental United States (Denali would be the highest) and yes, hiking up and down it in a day would be a long day of hiking.
But it’s just hiking.
How bad can it be? <-- one of these days that is going to be my famous last words, I just know it
A month later
The day began at 2 am in the morning: 3 of us left our cozy and warm motel room for the trailhead.
2:45 am: With our headlights lighting the way we started walking. It started climbing right away. The soft sandy trail in the first mile made the going slow.
3 am: *yawn*…
4 am: Still walking.
4:30 am: Still walking. Hmm, this is getting ridiculous. Wonder if it’s too late to go back.
5 am: Ooh, dawn. 4 hours after we started, we can finally see the trail that we’re on and the surrounding view. Lots of granite. Beautiful granite.
5:30 am (6.3 miles in): Stopped to take a break at Trail Camp and watching the alpine glow on the mountain range. People on the campsite were waking up. This is where the smarter hikers would stay and camp when attempting Whitney as a 2-day hike.
6:15 am: Now comes the dreaded 99 switchbacks. The steps are hewn granite chunks that are uneven. There are little runoffs everywhere. I slipped and hit my shin on the edge of one of the steps. It hurt like hell.
7:30 am: Lost count of the switchbacks. Switchback #71?
8:00 am: The length of the switchbacks are only 2.2. miles, but it took us 1.5 hour to do it. But we finally made it to the ridge. It’s only 2.5 more miles to the summit now.
9 am, 10 am, 11 am: The worst hours of my life! Trail Crest was very loose with large blocks of granite. Each step was a wobbly one that threatened to hurl me over the cliff on one side. Many times I was practically crawling on hands and knees. Because of the altitude, we were both hurting for oxygen. Each slow step was painful and belaboring to take.
11:00 am: “Go ahead without me!“, I told Jack. We were only half a mile away from the summit but I’d had enough of the hike. “I think I’ll just rest (nap) right here“. Apparently, being overly dramatic is a side effect of not having enough oxygen. (– everybody knows this :p)
11:20: It was getting uncomfortably hot. The third person in our party (who lagged a bit behind us) finally caught up and woke me up. He and I decided to try to walk to meet up with Jack on his way down from the summit.
11:30: It was slow going but I finally met Jack on his way down from the summit. He was gracious enough to accompany me for the last stretch. This part of the hike was a blur. I was concentrating really hard on just . to . keep . going.
11:40: I made it! I’m the tallest thing on the whole continental US.
Took us 9 hours to reach to the summit. And then it dawned on me: we’re only half way. Oh my God! We’d have to retrace every single bloody step that we just took.
It didn’t occur to me to enjoy the view as proven by the meager 30 photos that we took in the whole trip. All I could think of was the 11 mile hike that was still ahead of us.
My feet were hurting and I started to get a headache. All I was hoping for was to be magically whisked away to a pizza parlor with a cold beer in hand, I’d even take a domestic.
2 pm: ‘Hey Jack, how much do you think it’d cost to have a chopper pick us up?’ ‘Hmm, I don’t know. $3500 – $5000?’
2:05: ‘Hey Jack. Do you want to do it? I think we can scrape by $3500. We can cash out our 401K.’
2:06: ‘I don’t think they’d come by if it’s not a a real emergency…‘
3 pm: Just past the Trail Camp, I threw up. Altitude sickness finally caught up with me. Wonder if that would count as an emergency.
3:30 pm: I threw up. Again.
4:45 pm: I fell and tore off the seat of my pants. I really couldn’t care less at this point. I just wanted to get off this mountain fast.
In total took us 20 hours to complete the hike. We didn’t get to the parking lot until 10 pm. We started in the dark and ended in the dark.
You know what killed me though? I don’t think the view was worth it. It was pretty, but I’ve seen better for a lot less work.
Climbing Mt. Whitney isn’t all about the view though. It’s supposed to be an accomplishment on its own. So I’m pretty happy to have the bragging rights to say that I have done Mt. Whitney in one day.
Let me tell you something though, unlike rolling down a mountain, climbing Whitney in one day was truly once in a lifetime experience.
Honest, I’ll never do it again.
Mt. Whitney facts:
- Distance: 22 miles, round trip.
- Elevation Gain: 6,130 feet
- Permit is required to hike Mt. Whitney from May to November and they’re given through lottery system