The Road to Mt. Whitney

I have a T-shirt to prove it.

The Road to Mt. Whitney (Part 5: The Summit)

Like the mornings of many life altering events, our journey to Mt. Whitney started at IHOP.

The group met at our house at 8:00 a.m. and was knee deep in syrup and eggs by 8:30.

Once we were fully charged with sugar and carbs, we hopped in the car and started the 3 hour drive to Lone Pine. On our way, Tom, our training aficionado, our group leader, or Lt. Tom as Natalee and Kristine began to refer to him, made a right turn off the highway towards Fossil Falls, about 45 minutes from final destination.

In scientific terms, Fossil Falls is the product of the diversion of the Owens River over a basalt flow in the Indian Wells Valley.

In my terms, Fossil Falls is a collection of nifty black rocks piled up at perilous heights that you can sit on and make your dad’s knees knock together at the speed of light.

Observe:

me

(That’s me in the white circle)

We arrived at our home for the night, the Dow Villa Motel, around 3:00. We dropped our stuff off in the room, changed into our hiking boots and grabbed some lunch at the Totem Café across the street. (I recommend the Totem Bird Sandwich)

On the agenda after lunch was a short acclimation hike. It was our way of reminding our hearts, heads, lungs, and legs of the task at hand. The hike was easy, a quick mile and half jaunt up and back on the same trail we would be hiking the next day–minus our 25 lb packs.

At 5:30 the next morning, our alarm clocks started sounding. Maybe it was the nerves, but I swear to you my alarm clock had never sounded so ominous. It was like Jaws was swimming in the carpet beneath me, ready to pounce if I didn’t hit the off button.

We met at the hotel restaurant right after the doors opened at 6:00 a.m. and sat down for what would be the last supper…well no. The last breakfast? Not quite. The last hot, non prepackaged meal we would eat for the next two days. Closer.

When looking at the menu, I kept in mind the food I had packed for the next two days:

-2 packs of cinnamon Poptarts

-4 Clif Bars

-2 Ziploc bags of pretzel crisps

-2 Ziploc bags of wheat thins

-2 packs of Mentos

-1 apple

-1 Subway sandwich

With that in mind I had 2 big pancakes, fruit, and 4 glasses of water.

At 8:00 we arrived at the base of the trail known as the “Whitney portal”.

First things first, we peed. We wanted to take advantage of the last “real” bathrooms we had access to. The quotes are necessary. There was no real plumbing, so the toilets were more like the entrances to a black hole that has no apparent bottom. (Let’s just say that if someone in China has finally discovered how to dig through the center of the earth to steal an Eggo waffle, I hope their path doesn’t come in contact with the Whitney portal.)

With bladders empty and stomachs full, we strapped, clicked, buttoned, and tied everything on our packs into place, took a few photos at the Whitney sign, and took our first steps onto the trail.

DSCN0205 (2)

We had 6 miles to cover on our first day.  Starting from the sign, we walked 1.5 miles up to the shady spot we found on our acclimation hike and took our first break. On our way there we passed a few hikers who had completed their hike and were on their way out. Some of them looked more tired than others, but all of them smelled the same. As we greeted and congratulated them, we all made a silent vow to finish the hike smelling slightly less toxic.

Our second break was taken at this log that marked the halfway point to trail camp.

DSCN0211

Sitting atop the log eating a Clif bar, Lt. Tom informed us of what was to come on the rest of our hike to trail camp. There were a lot of hand motions and directional words involved, but once I heard the word “meadow” everything else turned to Charlie Brown mush. With such an immense task at hand, the thought of there being a meadow, a location whose name alone relaxed me, made me almost giddy.

Observe the giddiness:

IMG_0718

If there was a way to describe the meadow to someone who hasn’t been there in the midst of a Whitney hike, I think I would say it was like being hugged by a laughing baby. You just didn’t want it to end.

But it did.

After the meadow the trail began to weave into some granite stairs and gravel switchbacks. In the miles leading up to the meadow, Lt. Tom had warned us to conserve our energy for the infamous granite stairs. Each step counted, he said. Each avoided deep knee bend, counted.

I spent the first 3 miles of the hike staring at the trail like a video game, picking the least steep, least energy exerting route. Step, step, move 2 inches to the left and step on a rock, step, step, move 4 inches to the right and step on another rock. It was a science.

The buildup to the stairs didn’t disappoint. After the gravel switchbacks faded into stairs, the stairs turned into more stairs and all that was left to do was step and breath. My trekking poles were a God send; I used them like a second pair of legs. I was like a deer learning to walk, except more sweaty and not as adorable.  And while at times the stairs seemed never ending, there were occasional breaks:

IMG_0730

Eventually though, the stairs stopped coming. Eventually we found ourselves at trail camp, eating apples and giving collective fist bumps to every member of the group.

This is when things got weird.

While training for Whitney, you hear a lot about the physical obstacles. You prepare for the altitude, you prepare for the mileage, you prepare for the weight in your pack. There are some things however, that you cannot prepare for.

1) Camping. Now, this may be small potatoes for some. Some of you might Bear Grylls the crap out of the wilderness and eat raw Ostrich eggs and make shelters out of moss. I, however, had never been camping. Not any kind of camping. Not backyard camping, not childhood summer camp camping. Nothing. And if you would have told me a year ago that my first camping experience would be on a mountain at 12,000 ft. I would have laughed in your face. But there we were Thursday afternoon, unloading our bags and setting up our tents. I was rooming with my dad. We staked down our residence on a nice gravelly patch and my dad built a 1 foot high stone wall to block the wind. I blew up my thermarest (a pad that goes under your sleeping bag to keep you from rolling onto a rock dagger in your sleep) and laid out my sleeping bag. I was ready to camp, I thought. I had all the right materials.

What I thought would happen: Once the sun went down I would hop in my sleeping bag, sleep a nice long sleep, and then wake up and kick the rest of the mountain’s ass.

What actually happened: At 5 o’clock, a breeze picked up. Our bare arms were covered with sleeves and then our sleeves were covered with more sleeves. Our heads were covered with beanies and then our beanies were covered with hoods. We walked around, shivered, paced around, shivered, ate some snacks, shivered. Was the sun ever going to go down?! We paced a little more, trying to warm ourselves up. We played 1 ½ rounds of charades, threw rocks at marmots, but the breeze kept at it, sending most of our group into their tents to escape the cold. Then, at 6:30 there was a break. Lt. Tom and I could feel it. It had to be 10-15 degrees warmer without the breeze. We set a goal, 8:30. We figured that would get us past sundown and give us 10 solid hours to sleep on and off. We started talking about the hike we had ahead of us the next day, Lt. Tom tracing the path in the air with his index finger. Suddenly we heard a loud dragging noise coming from behind us. I, of course, thought that it was a bear barreling toward us to rip out our throats and steal my poptarts, but it ended up being nothing more than a rockslide on the mountain face behind us. I say “nothing more” not in a lighthearted way. By nothing more I mean I assumed there was nothing more for me to have to worry about. I thought I had the paranoia covered from every angle. But as I stood there, watching the boulders race down the mountain, leaving dust in their tracks, I quickly added “death by rockslide” to my list of worries. I put it right under “sleepwalking into a stranger’s tent” and right above “freak tarantula plague”.

At 6:50, the breeze came back and we only made it 20 minutes before retreating to our tents. Once in my own tent, I was faced with a whole new set of obstacles. I was too hot, I was too cold, my legs cramped up, my butt cramped up, I couldn’t breathe, I was starving, I had to pee, I couldn’t sleep, and was that a bear lurking outside or just me breathing loudly into my own hand?

At 1 a.m. I couldn’t take it anymore. The last thing I had eaten was a Subway sandwich at 4 o’clock and after listening to the war cries of my stomach I was afraid it was on the verge of morphing into a cannibalistic Tarzan. To add to that, my bladder had started to feel like one of those big buckets at a water park that begin to tilt over and spill when a few too many drops land inside. So, in the dead of the night, with the stars blazing brighter than I’d ever seen before, I went charging out of the tent in my underwear and a head lamp to water the gravel. Going pee was actually the easy part. It wasn’t until I’d opened our bear container and spread our food out on the ground in search of my pretzels that I began to rethink the whole midnight snack idea. I whipped my headlamp back and forth in the dark, hoping the light would not be met with some unfamiliar beady eyes. I was convinced that a creature of the night was hiding behind a boulder and had been waiting for someone to unlock the container designed to outsmart their claws.

I JUST WANT SOME PRETZELS, I DON’T WANT TO DIE. 

I didn’t die.

I munched, got at least 45 more minutes of sleep over the next 5 hours, and emerged from the tent the next morning, with my camping cherry popped.

2) Marmots. To be fair, on this topic, we were warned, but we still didn’t really know what to expect. Marmots are essentially like beefy squirrels. They would be used as the before picture of Extreme Makeover Acorn Addict Edition, except they don’t just eat acorns, they eat anything and everything that can get their grimy little claws on. It took about 15 seconds after our arrival at trail camp for us to have our first marmot sighting. It was an average sized guy, we’ll call him Dave. He popped his head over one of the rocks at trail camp, eyeing all of our backpacks a.k.a food gold mines. Troy proceeded to throw a rock at Dave. (Don’t worry PETA, he missed.) We also missed Ben, Nathanial, Ethan, Diane, Jason, Jessica, and Crush, but that didn’t stop them from dropping by, every few minutes, all evening.

3) Wag Bags. One of the first things we had to do when we reached Lone Pine was pick up our hiking permits that we drew at the beginning of the year. While retrieving those, we were given a rundown of the rules of hiking Whitney and 7 wag bags, one for each of us. We were to put these bags in our packs and use them, should nature of the non-pee variety ever call.  I stuck mine in the top pouch of my pack next to my headlamp and my poncho, I figured they could hang out; start a club called “the things she probably won’t use.”

After we arrived at trail camp, it took a solid 20 minutes for our bladders to catch up. Maybe they had gotten stuck on the granite steps, I don’t know, but when they woke up, it was like they’d been dormant for weeks. All the liquids we’d been drinking to stay hydrated began to race to the finish line, every 15 minutes. Any inhibitions about peeing in the wilderness immediately went out the window. An hour into being at trail camp we were climbing up boulders to find new pee spots, and bragging about new real estate we found to recycle our hydration.

As far as the wag bags go, we made up a song, a snappy little jingle that had accompanying head bobs and rhythmic clapping. We figured that if it happened, it happened, and if it did, there should be a theme song.


 

Day 2 on the mountain started at 6 a.m. which could not have come soon enough. After spending 11 hours in our tents, we were all ready to get our legs moving up that mountain again.

The summit was 5 miles from trail camp. The plan was to hike to the top, do a little dance, hike back down to trail camp and pack up, and then head back down to the land of pizza and toilets.

First on the agenda: the 97 switchbacks that led from trail camp to trail crest.

Now, picture a switchback as an M laying on its side. The trail leads you from the bottom of the M to the top, then brings you back to do it all over again. Now picture 33 sideways M’s laying on top of each other, and you’ll have a pretty good idea what we were looking at from our tents.

Due to the up and back nature of the morning hike, we were able to leave our big backpacks in our tents and change into our daypacks that only held our water and snacks. This would prove to be immensely helpful as the elevation began to rack up with every switchback.

DSCN0289

By the time we reached trail crest we only had 2 miles and 1500 feet left to the summit.

The trail began to wind around the back of the mountains we saw from trail camp, giving us a beautiful view of the land and lakes on the opposite side.

After about a mile, a grey hut on top of what appeared to be a distant hill came into view. This hut acted as an emergency shelter for hikers in the case of a sudden onset of inclimate weather. It also marked the top of Mt. Whitney.

By the time this hut began to look like a human wielding structure rather than a lego, my adrenaline had reached an all time high. Any shortness of breath, body fatigue, or dehydration I had felt before vanished with each step towards that summit.

The last half mile was probably my favorite part of the whole hike. Hikers heading down from the summit gave us the right of way as we took our last steps toward victory. We were congratulated, commended, and high-fived and before we knew it, we were sitting at the top of the highest peak in the lower 48, looking out at the world beneath us.

As I looked out, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and accomplishment. When I looked up, I saw nothing but sky. There was absolutely nothing above me. In that moment on that mountain, I was on top of the world. (You know, kind of.)

IMG_0795

If you are ever feeling uninspired or unimpressed with yourself or your accomplishments, take a moment to look back at where you started. Chances are you have no idea how far you’ve come.

When we started our hike down that mountain and let the summit fade into the background, we had no choice but to relive every step of the hike we had just completed.

We hiked the 2 miles back to trail crest and went down all 97 switchbacks. We packed up our camp and reassembled our backpacks and hiked down every granite stair and gravel switchback. We soaked in the meadow, ate Clif bars on top of our log and passed by our shady rock. Then, with a final wind of the trail we saw the sign, the car, and the end of a successful trip.

As I relive the experience and look at the pictures that are almost a week old now, I can’t help but smile. A year ago I would have never imagined that I would be able to do anything of this magnitude and today I’m already dreaming about what I can do next. Don’t let doubt or fear control anything that you do. Our bodies, minds and hearts are made to do great things if we give them the opportunity. So get out there and do something.


 

Here is some additional information for anyone that might want to try this hike or hiking in general:

These are all the hikes my group and I did while in training for this trip. (All are located in California)

Camp Seely (3 miles): Crestline

Mission Peak/Three Trees (4 miles): Granada Hills

Hummingbird Trail (4 miles): Simi Valley

Lizard Rock/Wildwood Park (5 miles): Thousand Oaks

Towsley Canyon (5 miles): Santa Clarita

O’Melveny (5.5 miles): Granada Hills

East Canyon (6 miles): Santa Clarita

Mt. Baldy (13 miles): Mt. Baldy

Mt. Lowe (13 miles): Upland

Mt. Wilson (14 miles): Sierra Madre

Backbone Trail (15 miles): Malibu

The Road to Mt. Whitney (Part 4)

I have a white board calendar hanging on the wall in my room that I change at the beginning of every month. I spend a solid 15 minutes marking up all the happenings of each month, studying the days ahead. So it was surreal writing those 9 letters on the third week of the month.

Mt. Whitney.

It was really happening.

With the messy black writing staring back at me, I knew that we had officially entered our last month of training. That being said, this month would have to be given the same amount of respect as the past two, if not more. There was no time to be lazy. There was no time to be tired. Cue the music. IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN.

After our last midweek trip up Baldy, we set our alarms for 6:30 the following Saturday for a hike in Malibu at Will Rogers’ State Park. This may still sound early, but it gave us 2 extra hours of sleep than we’d been getting on Friday nights. I stayed up until midnight, like an ANIMAL.

The next day, we did a 4 mile round trip hike and were exhausted, but pleased with the views we found around each turn.

Fast forward to present day, we were heading back to the same trail, but with a little twist.

After completing the same hike a few times over the last year and a half we had become curious as to how far it went in. You start at the park, winding around on a dirt road until you reach a bridge that overlooks the Santa Monica Mountains. Many stop here to take in the green, picturesque views, but we always liked to push past it to a straightaway that sits a little higher up. Normally once we reached the straightaway and took a water break we would head back down, but after some research we discovered that continuing forward puts you on road called Backbone trail. So, with these months of training under our belt, we decided it was time to take on Backbone trail.

In doing research for the hike, it was strange for me to scan the stats, seeing that the roundtrip hike would be around 13 miles, and not being slightly intimidated. 13 was just a number to me now, and it didn’t scare me.

The hike ended up being nice. It was long and dry and hot, but we did it. The big letdown of the whole day was the end. In the past, our training hikes have concluded with big views and cool breezes. Backbone trail however, ended with dirt and a sign. This could have something to do with the fact that it is primarily a mountain biking trail, mapped out to provide a nice 13 mile loop, however I wish there had been more bold print on the write ups I read online.

Examples:

There are no real peaks to signify the end of this trail.

There is a lot of dirt, everywhere.

When in doubt, listen to Katy Perry to get you through this hike.

If you miss the sign you might end up walking an extra mile and a half and possibly get lost in the plethora of dusty forks in the road.

Yes, we did end up walking an additional mile and a half, but not because we missed the sign, more because we kept hoping there would be some sort of satisfying ending. A kind of “Ahhhh, here we are” type finish line that reminded us why we started this hike in the first place. However, there never really was, and by the time we reached 7.5 miles in, all we really wanted was some shade.  All in all however, I would never say that this hike was unsatisfying. We ended up finishing with 15 more miles under our belt and we celebrated with some lunch at a restaurant called “Duke’s”.

Quick tip: 6 words to make any trip to Duke’s a success: Sweet potato fries & Hula Pie.   

After the Malibu hike, we visited our old friends Towsley and Mission Peak for a few mid-week hikes, and started setting the plan for the final week of training.

It started on a Saturday.

You know the drill. The alarm went off at 4:00, we were in the car by 5:00, and we were climbing Mt. Baldy by 6:30. Baldy had become somewhat of a frenemy at this point. I knew its curves and its ups and downs, and I had become incredibly acquainted with the turkey sandwich served at the restaurant at the bottom of the hill. Mt. Baldy didn’t scare me anymore; I knew I could do it. And each time I saw the top, I reminded myself that I could be just as successful on Whitney, as long as I keep my attitude in check.

We did Baldy again that Wednesday and were all happy to wave goodbye as we drove away from its base for the last time (at least for this training session).  I looked longingly at the Andy Gump, silently thanking it for the joy it brought me on that first trip down and hoped that I would never have to squat in it again.

This 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 mile holding back tears and cursing at every inch of my shoes.

At the time, I hadn’t figured out the right combination of socks and shoe inserts and each step of the downhill made my toes feel like they were the target for a sledgehammer in a carnival game. Today however, my feet had never felt better. With my regular shoe inserts, Super Feet inserts, sock liners and wool hiking socks, my feet felt less like the sledgehammer’s bitch and more like that giggling baby sun in Teletubbies. (Wait, what?)

The drive home from Mt. Lowe was very quiet. We had officially completed our last training hike. It was our last drive home from a Saturday morning hike. It was our last celebration coke at McDonalds. The next time we put on our hiking boots, we would be taking our first steps on Mt. Whitney.

The next few days will consist mostly of packing, organizing, and deep breathing. But also reflecting. While Whitney offers our biggest challenge yet, it is important to realize all the challenges we have overcome to get where we are. I think in a way we have already reached the base of our summit.

Even though I may be sitting on my couch and not looking at the peak of Whitney just yet, I’ve hiked 150 miles to get here. It was no easy feat and when I take my first steps on Whitney I will take note of every bead of sweat it took to get me there. I will remember every 4:00 a.m. wake up call, every sore muscle, every blister, every bruise, because with every ounce of discomfort they brought, I lost a pound of self-doubt.

We leave Wednesday morning and we have a lot to do by then. The climb is going to be far from easy, but with fear and doubt at rest in my mind, I’m already dreaming of where I can go next.


 

The Road to Mt. Whitney (Part 5: The Summit)

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.


 

BEEEP BEEDOBEEP BEEEP BEEP BEEDOBEEP BEEEEP

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

The Road to Mt. Whitney (Part 2)

When applying for a permit, two of the biggest questions you have to answer are:

1)      When would you like to hike Mt. Whitney?

2)      Are you going to bonsai (hike all 24 miles in one day) or hike to base camp (6 miles) one day and then hike the summit and back down the next (18 miles)

Assuming you get the permit, answering these questions is like determining your own personal D-Day(s).

Our permits show that our group will be storming our own personal beaches of Normandy on August 21st-22nd. May the odds be ever in our favor. (Yes, that was a Hunger Games reference directly following a World War II reference, you’re welcome)

After we got the good news about the permits, I immediately began to hear the clock ticking. And if I’m being totally honest with you, it was a pretty bitchy clock. It constantly whispered things in my ear like, “You’re not ready” and, “What makes you think you can do this” and, “Change the batteries of the clock in your office so it stops makes that annoying ticking noise.” I had to hand it to old clockster though, it was right. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know if I could actually do this. And the batteries in my office clock were almost dead, which was why it was tick ticking rather than tick tocking.

While the tide of panic was receding, my sister, Kristine, and I decided to map out a training schedule before we found ourselves underwater. In total, we planned about 20 hikes for June and July. It seemed like a lot, it seemed like not enough, it seemed like we all needed a drink.

We were doing this. We were actually doing this.


Our first hike back from a long (almost 7 week) hiatus was June 1st at Lizard Rock.

This was a hike we had done a number of times before and as such, we considered it to be a good jumping off point; a nice dive into the pool of sore quads and Nalgene bottles. Much to our chagrin, we found ourselves panting and discouraged as we ascended the final 6 switchbacks of the hike.

If we were exhausted doing Lizard Rock, how in the hell would we make it up Mt. Whitney?

A week later, the second of our 7 scheduled June hikes came a knockin’. It was O’Melveny park, an old foe. This would only be the 2nd time we’d done this hike, the first time being a dark day in the history of my fitness regime.

Let’s just say there was a lot of “UGHH” and “WHYYYY” and “I AM GOING TO SLAUGHTER MY BROTHER.” (You know, just your usual out of shape hiker mantras.) With that on my mind, added to my previous disappointment of my performance at Lizard Rock, I was determined to make this second hike up O’Melveny better than the first.

And it was.

We all made it to the top without stopping and without making violent threats at any siblings. (If that’s not success, I don’t know what is.)

Over the next couple weeks we followed our schedule pretty good. We did a 5 a.m. hike up Mission Peak and an afternoon hike while on vacation in the mountains. We were feeling strong, we were feeling good. Then Tom’s email came.

Tom is a longtime friend of my dad who has climbed Whitney countless times. From the start, we all made an unspoken agreement that he would be the Eisenhower to our D-Day. He knew the ins and outs of the mountain and he knew the training it took to get there.

The subject of Tom’s email? Baldy.

No, this was not a hurtful nickname he used to refer to my brother’s near hairless chin, this was the name of a milestone in our training process.  It was the name of our next challenge.

To give you some background: Mt. Baldy is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains with a summit of 10,068 ft. and yes, it’s also shaped like this:  Δ

This would be our first test in Whitney-esque elevation which to me was the scariest part. I figured that if I put my head down and trained my butt off, my body would be strong enough to finish any hike I started. Strength however, was only 1 ingredient in the recipe for the Whitney domination cupcakes. (Can these be real?) Elevation training was one of, if not the most important kind of training needed to hike up a mountain of Whitney’s caliber.

“Headaches or nausea.” That’s what Tom said to look for. He said some people experience the symptoms mildly and are able to work through them, while others exhibit severe symptoms and are forced to decide whether continuing is a healthy choice.

This was not the only obstacle being added to our workout, however. We also had to dip our toes in the world of packs.

An overnight hike up Whitney requires a pack that weighs approximately 25 pounds. In previous hikes, the most weight I’d ever carried was a water bottle, so it was safe to say my lift game could use a little work.

My pack for Baldy contained the following:

  • 1 32oz Nalgene water bottle
  • 1 16oz blue Gatorade
  • 3 Chocolate Chip Brownie Clif Bars
  • Advil
  • Chapstick
  • A long sleeve shirt
  • My hiking poles
  • My iPod
  • All of my hopes of dreams of climbing Mt. Whitney

I didn’t weigh it, but a safe guess would be about 4 pounds. (Hey, it was a start.)

Tom met at our house at 5 a.m. We loaded up the trunk of his car with our packs and buckled up for the 45 minute drive we had ahead of us.

At 6 a.m. the car was parked and our packs were on. We made a pit stop at the Andy Gump (you’re welcome for sharing) and then we got on the trail.

The first 3 miles were less than intimidating. The trail was a wide dirt fire road that led up to a restaurant called The Notch, where we took our first break, and let our bodies adjust to the rising elevation.

This is where my first mistake came into view.

As I unwrapped one of my Clif bars, I looked over at my brother who, brilliantly, decided to pack fruit. He was at a table with Ziploc bags full of grapes and strawberries. I looked on as they glistened in the sunlight and soon my Clif bar began to taste like a loaf of chocolaty dirt. It was so dry, it was so hot, it was so not fruit. Why the hell did I not bring fruit?! Amateur.

Once rested we zipped, buckled and strapped our packs back on and started the second part of the hike. This part of the trail offered loose rocks, perilous drops, and lots of elevation gain.

It’s kind of a funny thing, altitude, I started to think that I was miraculously unaffected by it. I wasn’t having trouble breathing, I didn’t have a headache or feel nauseous. Was I seriously in that good of shape? Nope, it was hitting me, I just didn’t know it yet.

Not long after my cocky “how great of shape am I in?” moment, the muscles in my legs began to ache. Shortly after that, I became minorly convinced that my ankles were going to explode. That was when I realized that my stride was nearly non-existent. On an average hike I would say my stride is about 1 ft-1 ½ ft wide, but on that mountain, I’d say it was 4-6 inches. Each step felt like a victory, but the end was nowhere in sight

Then suddenly, I saw it. A head. A glistening bald head. A few more steps showed me that this head was attached to a neck. And a few more revealed the neck was attached to a whole human, who sat next to a group of other heads attached to other humans.

I was at the top.

Upon this realization, a sound emerged from my mouth that could best be described as the love child of sigh, a grunt and a cry. A crysigrunt if you will.

I had really done it!

Pride began flood my bones, silencing the ticking clock, the doubts, and the discouragements in its wake.

Maybe I really could climb Mt. Whitney.

IMG_2071

After a long while of savoring our accomplishment (and pretty much everything in our packs) we packed up and strapped on our packs again, knowing full well we were only halfway done.

The route down, while it offered a change of scenery from the way up, quickly went from exciting and new, to monotonous and long. By the 4th mile down, I was ready to be in the car. I wanted to take my shoes off, I wanted to take my pants off, and I wanted a big turkey sandwich.

After what seemed like forever, the single track trail finally opened up into the fire road we started on. When I saw the asphalt I knew we were really close. And when we turned the final corner a second crysigrunt emerged from my lips. “THE ANDY GUMP!”  I had never felt so emotionally attached to a hut of poop (and hopefully never will again) but the sight of meant one thing: we were at the bottom.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of eating a turkey sandwich in a chair that sat below a giant taxidermy moose, jumping into a pool fully clothed, reminding my legs that they were legs, and watching 3 episodes of Orange is the New Black.

Mind you, that was intense training hike #1.

We’ve still got a long way to go.

 


 

The Road to Mt. Whitney Part 3

The Road to Whitney (Part 1)

Like any great goal, the decision to climb Mt. Whitney started with some dirt in the crevasses of my elbows. Okay, so maybe it’s not exactly like every other goal, but the journey has been similar. My family has been keen on hiking for a few years now. It’s an exercise that brings together a number of my favorite things: adrenaline, great views, and celebratory Mexican food.

At the start of this year, my dad sent out an email asking which mountain we wanted to climb.

“Mt. Whitney or Mt. Langley” was the subject line, and “Neither, I want tacos” was my internal response.

I’ve always considered myself as a low caliber athlete. I can be active and fit when I want to be, but I’ve never wanted anything bad enough to push myself to my deepest of limits. Every January, like millions of others I’m sure, I tell myself that I want to work out more, to get in better shape, to win awards for the best body in the universe, to evoke tears of jealousy from millions, the usual. Come summer time however, I never find myself reaching those goals. You could call it laziness, lack of time, or discouragement, but I think the biggest thing holding me back would be desire. Somewhere between January 1st and the first pool party invitation I lose my desire to reach those goals. And that’s not because I couldn’t reach them, it’s because I didn’t want them for the right reasons.

Did I want to be healthy and fit and have a tear inducing body? Sure. Did I want it solely to bring myself more happiness and self-confidence? No. I wanted it to impress others and to fit in with the tanned swimsuit generation that keeps me indoors.

That’s where Mt. Whitney comes in.

While I may lack the motivation to clone the stomach of Gisele Bundchen and the legs of Blake Lively, I pride myself on the stamina and determination I have to achieve other goals I set for myself. When I fully commit to a goal, I will finish it, no matter what. That’s why the decision to summit the highest peak in the lower 48 was so complicated for me. I don’t handle failure well, and I’m not a quitter, so I didn’t want to commit to something I wouldn’t or couldn’t complete. But in the end I decided that I would benefit more from trying than I would watching.

To give you some background on Mt. Whitney, it’s located in Sequoia National park and like I stated earlier, it’s the highest summit in the contiguous U.S.

Also, it’s shaped like this:  Δ

In order to climb Mt. Whitney, one must first obtain a permit. I for one, enjoy this requirement. If you don’t have a permit, you don’t hike. Conversely, if you have a permit, they know you are hiking, and they can come retrieve you when your legs forfeit life and leave you lying in a pile of rocks and red ants. Them (obviously) being a group of buff men, one of which will carry me to their helicopter, only to realize that I fit so perfectly in his arms that he never wants to put me down.

The down side of needing a permit is, due to Whitney’s continuously growing popularity, and the fact that permits are drawn by random from the pile of applications, obtaining one is slightly difficult.

Thus my dad’s pending question: Mt. Whitney or Mt Langley?

It wasn’t really a question though. Mt. Langley was a backup plan.

The goal was Mt. Whitney, and the first step was the application for permits. All he needed to know was who was in.

After some consideration (maybe too much on my part), the responses to my dad’s email put me, my dad, my dad’s friend Tom, my sister Natalee, my brother Troy, and our two friends Geri and Kristine, as  possible photo bombers in the selfies taken at the 14,000 feet.

4 months later, we successfully drew 7 permits.

 


 

The Road to Mt. Whitney Part 2