One of my goals for the year was to climb Mt. Whitney.
After 16 hours of hiking, I was able to cross that off my list.
It was one of the most mentally and physically challenging events in my life. There were 7 guys that set out on the journey at 5am beginning from Mt Whitney Portal (which is at 8,365 ft) with the goal of finishing the first half of the 22 mile round trip by 1-2pm. Most of the guys are in generally good shape: one of us had hiked Whitney twice before, one guy is a trainer, one guy is an elite marathoner (Long Beach time: 2hrs, 36mins) and the rest of us resistance and cardio train fairly regularly.
The lower trails are generally well-marked and made of packed dirt with the occasional rock strip that prevents water from washing the trail away when there is rain. Even in the summer months, there is always a little snow along the trails, but this year was a particularly long winter. So, about 3 miles in, we were hiking through snow. This slows your progress considerably and makes things much more of a mental game. As you hike through the snow, sometimes you’re on top of it and sometimes your foot sinks in up to your knee. This is frustrating and where you can start losing that mental game. About 6 miles into the hike, there is a spot where you need crampons and have to ascend roughly 1500 ft in a little less than a mile (see pictures). This is where, for about 2 hours, I was thinking, “Why am I doing this?”
Once you reach the top of that soul-crushing hill, it’s about 2 more miles of hiking (at 13k ft elevation) to reach the top. At this point we started running into some problems with altitude sickness. Everyone was affected by the altitude (generally described as a REALLY bad hangover), but four of the guys were affected more violently (vomiting, vertigo, dementia-esk symptoms) and were forced to turn back to lower altitudes. Three of us were within a half mile of the top and weren’t stopping for anything. There was one last 1/4 mile snow climb with our crampons and the rest was trails to the peak. About 10 hours after we started that morning, the three of us collapsed at the top. For a brief half hour, we enjoyed our time and began trudging back down. It was slightly discouraging that no one had any food or water left, but we were getting delirious from the altitude at this point so we didn’t mind too much. 5 hours later we were arriving back into the parking lot trying to gather ourselves.
I am really excited that I finished my goal but, I would choose a different month to go next time. All told, there were about three hours where I had to really convince myself, one step at a time, to continue on. My internal monologue was something like this, “This is awful, but doable; I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable; just a few more lengths of turf, this is awful, but doable…” and kept thinking about the ropes or the sled or any of the IR challenges. I made it up and down and I didn’t even get a lousy t-shirt! BUT, for a brief moment, I was the above every person (standing on the ground) in 49 states. The HMFIC (Highest MFer In California); It was worth it.