Monday, August 10, 2015

Answering the call of Mt Whitney

Why do you want to climb Whitney? "Because it's there." That's adapting Mallory's famous words about Mt Everest. This was the 4th year that I was going to attempt to summit Whitney. The last three years were unsuccessful due to various reasons including last year when we hit by a thunderstorm. Was 2015 going to be it? The weather forecast called for 40% chance of rain the following day. My friend's altimeter on his watch was beeping with pressure fluctuations. Was that a sign of the storm? Another guy had seen a red moon. Apocalypse anyone?

The day dawned bright and clear, we got an early start at 7:30am and I was feeling alive. Despite having a pack weighing in at 43 lbs, I was hiking at a brisk pace. I briefly stopped to chat with a guy
who seemed bursting with a joy that was contagious. I told him about my three previous failed attempts. He promised to send positive energy my way and said that I would make it this time. I decided that I was gonna summit on day 1 itself. All that interval run training was coming good and I made it to trail camp at 11:30am. I had hiked 6.3miles, 3800 ft in about 4 hours. I emptied my pack, had a quick lunch and refilled my water. I gave myself 7 hours to summit and be back at trail camp. That would be 9 miles and 2500 ft climbing. Doable. And I was off. 

I was feeling good, though the altitude was affecting me. The previous night I had slept at 5000 ft, not exactly at a high enough elevation to acclimate. Trail camp is at 12000 ft. I was getting a slight headache and was feeling a little short of breath. The smoke from a wildfire was irritating my throat.
But I stayed focused on a steady pace with a 10min break every hour. The scenery was stunning. Eastern Sierra is spectacular with a stark beauty of ragged mountains and deep blue lakes. I finally made it to Trailcrest and there was slight downhill of 200 feet that felt great after the 99 switchbacks of climbing. The fork in the trail marked 1.9 miles to go. The summit was in sight. But those last 1.9 miles took a good 2 hours. I had underestimated that hiking gets exponentially difficult as you climb higher. I stuck with my hourly breaks, but I was getting nervous about the time. Everyone was descending. I estimated that I had to summit by 4pm to have a good chance of making it to camp by dark. I reminded myself of the positive energy that was wished to me eons back. I kept my body fueled with water and food. Finally, after almost 9 hours of hiking, the little hut at the summit came into view. What a glorious sight it was! I had summited Mt Whitney! 

I was elated. I was on top of the world or on the top of continental US at least. Fabulous views in all directions, slightly blocked out by the smoke. I took a few pictures and soaked in the magnificent scenery. I wrote my name in the register and took a picture of it for good measure. Time to head back as I didn't want to hike in the dark. I made good ground until I came to the slight uphill of 200 ft. I could barely move. Every step was excruciating. My head was throbbing. I was a little concerned about falling into a stupor and losing my way. So I tried to stay alert by doing math problems. At one point, I wanted to sit and rest, but I was worried that I might not be able to stand again. So I just leaned against a rock and caught by breath. I remembered the positive energy wished on to me. I think that guy was God. He had taken me to the top and would take me back down. I dragged myself to trail crest after which the trail would be all downhill. After a mighty struggle I made it to Trailcrest. As I descended I got my wind back and picked up my hiking speed. I reached trail camp just after 7pm. A long 12 hour hike was done. It was time to bask in the glory of achieving 
something thousands of people do every year. But hey, I had earned it. And I had earned a good night's rest without the need to rise at 3am the following morning to summit.

The next day I woke up at sunrise. There she was bathed in morning light. I snapped a few pictures of the glory of God's creation. I packed up and headed down. Goodbye Whitney, it was nice meeting you. Someday we might meet again.

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