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Celebrating a Mt. Whitney Adventure!

Recently, my son and I summited Mt. Whitney for the 5th time together (his 6th). While the Mt. Whitney trek is really a two or three day hike (which we’ve only done once on that trail), In order to make the round trip in one day we would typically take several training hikes over the three or four weeks prior. Preparation like trails Mt. Baldy and San Gorgonio would be included. I would also increase my daily run time up the local hills, but we were too busy to prepare this time…

I wasn’t sure I would be able to summit this time and drawn to Mt. Whitney like a magnet just planned on giving it my best effort. If we had to turn around it would be a great day in any case. I even had a slightly unconscious thought that there might be too much snow and ice to summit without special gear we decided not to bring (cramp-ons and ice axe).

For this one day adventure, we rolled into the Lone Pine Ranger station at 11:00 am the day before to secure our permits then ate a last meal in one of only a few restaurants in town. Following the early dinner, we drove up to the Whitney Portal trailhead. We had a leisurely stroll around the Portal Store, the fishing pond and campgrounds. We prepared our gear, did a little reading then slept as best we could in the car in order to acclimate a bit to some altitude (about 8,000ft).

Waking to an alarm cold and uncomfortable at 2:30 am made it easier to get moving. We shuffled our gear together, retrieved food from the bear bin and were on the trail at 3:00am under an almost blindingly bright moonlight! We barely had need for our headlamps!

Knowing that Charles and his friend had summited last August in only six hours, even a couple years more mature and not have trained as usual, I was determined to reach the top quicker than I had before. Beginning at about 8,000 feet, the initial two miles of well groomed trail rapidly gains 2,500 feet in elevation and reminded me of my mortality right from the start:-). A combination of the effort and beauty of the moonlit trail distracted us from the cold and lack of sleep. The good news at numerous points of the hike was that just when I was feeling as if I were moving like 125 year old tortoise, my face and fingers frozen, with my heart trying to rapidly pound itself out of my chest, and the thinner air barely squeezing into the deeper recesses of my lungs, we would be passing other hikers on the trail! I would realize I wasn’t doing so bad and would have a renewed surge of energy to my body… Reaching trail camp lake at 12,600 feet my face was so frozen I had difficulty form words with my lips and our fingers were too numb to get gloves on ourselves. Once we had gloves on and a balaclava pulled over my face, it was time to get moving again.

The higher we climbed the more winter damaged the trail presented. While some hikers were using crampons and ice axes over a handful of tricky snow and ice patches we seemed carefully mange to negotiate them without. The last few miles to the summit where many people had already turned back, and still short of 14,000 feet, navigating loose rocks and boulders, my body was saying “uncle,” it had enough even before the 99 switchbacks. But, my mind was urging me to “just keep moving your feet.” Sometimes strides were long and other times gained little more than a dozen inches. I had trekking poles lashed to my pack and while probably at that point with an occasional stagger could have used them, I didn’t want to stop. Any extra physical effort even moving gear around would just render me more breathless so I just kept moving.

The fantastic surprise, was finally arriving at the summit with only two other young men up on top (thanks for the photo guys…). What seemingly was one of my most difficult Whitney hikes, turned out to be our fastest ascent together. I had shaved an hour and a half off my previous time! I was ready to do it again! Magically the ache in my hips, the pounding heart and labored breath vanished. And thank you my one week old Vasque Breeze 2.0 boots for being the most comfortable shoes I’ve hiked in.. and having the best possible hiking partner…

Hiking Mt. Whitney in one day is a huge physical and at times painful effort. But, even more important than physical conditioning, is the required degree of desire and commitment. It is the ability to stay focused, one’s mental endurance, mind over matter that keeps you moving through so many adverse physical and environmental conditions…

Just like most challenges in life!

12.5 hours of hike time, 22 miles, summit at 14,496ft…

Life is Good!