The Road to Mt. Whitney (Part 3)

It’s not every day you wake up knowing that in one month’s time you’ll be climbing the highest peak in the lower 48 states. It’s also not every day that your alarm goes off at 4 a.m. and you wake up thinking about turkey sandwiches.  On this passed Wednesday morning however, all of these things were true. We were climbing Mt. Baldy again. Yes, our old foe. But it wasn’t as scary this time. Our training had been in full gear for about a month and I’d come a long way since the crysigrunt.

The morning after our first trek up Baldy, I got a telegram from my legs. It was brief. Two words, 7 letters, first word starting with F. We worked through it though. We spent some quality couch time together, had a few glasses of water, and read a few chapters of our favorite book.

3 days later however, it was go time.

We did a quick 5 mile jaunt up and down Towsley Canyon that Tuesday, just to keep the muscles fresh. Mt. Baldy was a major accomplishment, but it was only training hike #1.

That Saturday, my alarm once again sounded at 4:00 a.m. I pulled on my leggings, slid into my shirt, slipped on my hat, braided my ponytail, and ate my Clif bar. The task for the day: Mt. Wilson. It was a little bit closer than Mt. Baldy, so when we arrived and slipped on our shoes, the sun had just barely poked its head out.

We started on asphalt, our trekking poles clicking with each step, then took a right onto a single track dirt road. A sign welcomed us to the trail and listed its 4 checkpoints, the last of which was the summit.

I personally hated this. I’m the type of hiker that likes to just put my head down and walk. I don’t like to know which mile I’m on, I don’t like to know how much time it’s been. I just want to get in the zone and get to the top. But alas, we had checkpoints, and we were going to follow them.

The first checkpoint was called “First Water.” It was about 1.5 miles in and like its name stated, was intended to remind you to take your first water break. The hike promised 4,000 feet in elevation gain, so it was imperative not to read into the steady beginning.

The second checkpoint remains nameless in my mind because we missed skipped it. In a communication error, we all passed it and ended up walking 4 straight miles that were 80% incline. As a result, I had a lot of homicidal thoughts upon ascending the last slope to the 3rd checkpoint. Luckily, I packed a flawless snack bag this time, so no murders took place.

The last couple miles were a nice break from the incline. They were still challenging, but it was refreshing having the hardest part of the hike in the middle, rather than the end. Upon reaching the top, we were stopped by a man who recognized us. He first stopped Tom and asked if he’d met him at the top of O’Melveny. Then, before Tom could answer, he pointed at me, my sister, and Kristine and said he was sure he had, because he remembered standing at the top, panting, while we paced back and forth doing squats and walking lunges (an extra workout challenge we’d taken on). He said he thought we were crazy, we took it as a compliment.

The hike down to the car was not fun. I knew this hike was 2 or 3 miles longer than Baldy, but I didn’t expect that to make such a difference in my stamina. My feet were killing me. Each step I took jammed my toes into the front of my shoes and the rubber handles on the trekking poles had rubbed the skin raw on both of my thumbs.

About an hour into the hike down, I was done. The funny thing about hiking though, is that every mile you walk in, you also have to walk out. It didn’t matter how tired I was, I had to get back to that car on my own, no one else could do it for me. So, I kept walking, I kept sweating, and I kept breathing, and before I knew it, I was eating chips and salsa at Islands.



That’s my best impression of the alarm that went off the next Saturday at, you guessed it, 4 a.m.

Annoying right? Yeah, I’m thinking about sending it a telegram.

Mt. Lowe was on the schedule that day.

“It’s an easy one. It’s only 10 miles. It should be quick.”

Three sentences. Three lies.

If a hike is 10 miles, one would assume that the summit is at mile 5, correct? It’s simple math. But as I came around one of the many bends of the Mt. Lowe trail and found Troy waiting for me next to a sign that said “Base Camp,” he led me down to the group, where Natalee was looking at app she uses to track our hikes. It’s reading: 5 miles.

This couldn’t be the top?

Tom smiled, “This hike is a little bit longer than I thought…”

That being said, I headed straight for the bathroom. I didn’t know how much longer we had, and I was not about to pee my pants on the summit.

Some background on base camp: It was actually the previous resting place for the Mt. Lowe tavern, which was a popular tourist attraction in the early 1900s. The original tavern burned down and was in production to be rebuilt before it burned down again. I thought about the memories that part of the mountain must hold for so many, I thought about these memories, until I reached the door to the bathroom. It was a wooden hut and the door was closed. Some might see this as a good thing: if the door is closed, nothing can get in. I was thinking the opposite: if door is closed, anything that got in, can’t get out. Essentially, I was sure that there was a fleet of tarantulas, a few snakes, a couple rabid squirrels, and a bear just waiting for me to grant them their freedom. When nothing emerged after I hid behind the open door and kicked the side of the hut, I decided it was safe to go inside.

The summit only ended up being 2 miles from base camp and boy were those 2 extra miles worth it. Not only did I get to finally have the “apple at the top of a mountain” moment I’d longed for since Baldy, the summit also offered a view of every mountain we’d check off our hit list. There was a semi-circle of binoculars sat on top of poles that were all labeled with the name of the mountain. The idea was, each pair of binoculars offered a view of the mountain they were labeled with. For example, one said “Mt. Baldy.” If you looked through those binoculars, you would see the peak of Mt. Baldy. There was also a pair for Mt. Wilson, and a few more for some mountains TBDL (to be dominated later).

We decided to take a different way down–a shortcut they said–in order to see some new scenery. I paired up with Kristine and we started cruising down a little ways back from the group. As time went on however, we started to question how far we had gone. It seemed like we should take a break, or see something, anything, that we recognized. Around the next corner, we saw Tom.

“What a shortcut, huh?”

He followed this up with a laugh and an index finger pointed into the distance.

“That is where we are supposed to be.”

A mile later, we were at base camp. We had walked 4 miles, and were only at base camp?! In other words, something went wrong, very wrong, and we tacked on an extra 2 miles.

When we finally reached the bottom, Natalee’s phone marked our “quick” “easy” “10 mile” hike at 16 miles. 6 ½ hours total.

I was slightly convinced that I would have 2 sets of nail-capitated toes when I removed my shoes, but much to my delight, they were only slightly deformed.

16 miles. I couldn’t believe it. Sure we were bruised and in desperate need of a nap, but we had hiked 16 miles, and we felt…good?

That’s why this past Wednesday, when the alarm started singing its horrific death jingle, I turned it off with a smile. I knew Baldy wasn’t going to be easy, but I wasn’t afraid anymore.

If all this training has taught me anything (and it’s essentially taught me everything) it’s that your mind gives up a lot quicker than your body does. Which coming from a person that has consistently let their mind control their motivation, this has been invaluable to me. It may seem like a lesson you can only apply to exercise, but I know that it will take me a lot farther than the top of Mt. Whitney.


The Road to Mt. Whitney Part 4


4 responses to “The Road to Mt. Whitney (Part 3)”

  1. This is amazing! I can read your stuff all day!

  2. Candee Messmore Avatar
    Candee Messmore

    I’m sure I would have died! I’m so proud of you hikers!

  3. […] morning we did Mt. Lowe for the second time. If you’ll recall, the last time we did Mt. Lowe we got turned around trying to take a shortcut and I spent the last […]

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