Over the weekend we spent two days summiting Mt Whitney. Two days of hiking all day, hanging out and eating. Now I sit in front of my computer restless, introspective and starting on my second breakfast.
Briefing. Mount Whitney is the tallest peak in all of the contiguous United States, standing at 14, 505ft. Saturday, we backpacked 6 miles starting at 8,500 ft elevation to Trail Camp and then rested the night. The next morning we woke up at 4am to start the summit, which is a 10 mile round trip from camp with a 2,500 ft elevation gain starting at 12,000ft. It took us 11 hours to make the summit and back to camp. Then we hiked another 5 hours back to our cars to make the drive home.
The Journey. I love backpacking because you can do so much in one day. We were only gone for the weekend, but we accomplished and learned so much about each other, about hiking, about backpacking, and probably so many other things. It started in January when I wanted to plan and do an awesome backpacking trip. The tallest peak in all of the contiguous United State sounded good and it’s only a 3 hour drive away. So in March we applied for permits and got a weekend in October.
We were 12 with a wide range of experience levels. Out of the group, 8 of us attempted the summit and we all made it up. I was impressed, touched, and humbled by all the support everyone gave each other. The hardest part of the hike was the altitude and the conditions. By chance (despite a heat wave) 4 ft of snow covered Mount Whitney last weekend and we had to hike through packed snow. We started hiking in 35 degree weather and then hiked to camp under the hot sun. Many got headaches, some felt nauseated, and it was tough to breathe. We underestimated how long it would take to summit and return, some people ran out of water or food. But whatever one person didn’t have, someone else shared. At one point I was separated from everyone and the heat, fatigue and altitude got to me all at once. During the last mile from the top, I was a mess of emotion, dehydration and probably altitude sickness. I can’t remember the last time I cried so uncontrollably.
I wavered under the pressure I was put on myself as the organizer to make sure everything went smoothly and that everyone was cared for. At points I even forgot to take care of myself and that made tough parts of the hike even tougher. I was beating myself up over forgetting sunscreen or not having enough food or water. I stressed over missing friends and blamed myself for not being more attentive. I felt like I could have done more to prepare myself and everyone else for the situation.
But could I have really or am I being too hard on myself? I tried my best and it was hard to manage all 12 people in our group. I’m glad we had some that were more experienced and provided valuable input. I’m glad people knew enough to make rational decisions. I’m glad we stuck together and supported each other. Richard reminded me that everyone was there to help and that it’s ok to rely on them. Sometimes I get lost in my pride or I try to do too much. I always try to do too much.
Probably the most beautiful part was hiking up in the snow under the starry sky. I loved the green, red, and orange meadow. I got to talk to everyone at least once for enough time to know how they are doing and what they are up to. I got to sleep under the stars with Richard. Everyone talked openly about their farts and poops and it was great. There was flowing water everywhere. I got a taste of winter weather. As cold as it was, fresh white snow is always beautiful. Every lake was beautiful. We reached the top. We conquered the mountain. We did it together.