mt baldy

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