Friday, October 3, 2014

I climbed Mount Whitney. Unbelievable.

I'm not even sure when the idea got into my mind, but once it was there, it stuck. I kept thinking "I want to climb Mt. Whitney" over and over until one day in June 2014 I bought a climbing permit for September 30th. My thoughts were "this is only $21, I can always change my mind". In June and July, I found myself finding ways to take longer hikes, subconsciously starting to train for Whitney. In the beginning of August, I made the choice to start training for Whitney. And that's when I knew I would really do it.

On September 1st I booked a room at the beautiful Dow Villa Motel in Lone Pine, CA.
I hit the road on September 29th, set the GPS for Lone Pine and I was on my way. First stop, the ranger station to pick up my climbing permit. Myself and 50 other brave souls had permits for the day (they only issue 100 per day).
Then headed to the trailhead to check it out. It's about a 20 min. drive from Lone Pine.
Checked into my hotel, set the alarm for 2:30 am and couldn't sleep. Was overcome with excitement, terror and confidence, so I knew I was on the right track. Hit the Whitney Portal trailhead at 4 am (after a brief bear sighting by the recycling dumpsters) and started climbing in absolute darkness with only my headlight lamp to guide the way. I can't even begin to tell you how amazing the stars looked. Occasionally I'd stop, switch off  my headlight and just gaze at them. Spectacular. Sunrise finally came around 6:30 am.

I was finally able to look around and drink in the beauty of this place. I hadn't seen many people on the trail, but it is an 11 mile stretch and all the hikers were pretty well spread out. A group of 4 from Oceanside, CA passed me up and we did some friendly hiking chit chat. I love meeting other hikers on the trail and hearing their origin stories. Everyone is always happy to be there.
 Did see this critter. Was not even a little afraid of me.
Finally, at around 12,000', I hit the dreaded 99 switchbacks. And they were covered with snow from Sunday night. The permit ranger told me I wouldn't need my micro-spikes and I silently questioned his advice. A few people had turned back and didn't want to chance it, but I came so far, I had good Merrell boots and trekking poles, so I powered on up. Brutal. Loved it.

I frequently stopped to catch my breath and adjust to the elevation, I was feeling a bit sick and dizzy, but slowed it down and drank water. Another hiker told me about Diamox, you can get your doctor to prescribe it and you take it before and the day of the hike. Oh well, next time. Had lots of stops to take in the views.

I finally hit the saddle at Trail Crest at 13,600' and could see the west.
Now onto the summit. Breath, hike, rest, drink, repeat. I finally hit the summit at 2:18 pm, it took me 10 hours and 18 mins to climb Whitney. I can't even tell you how amazing it was to see the iconic shack and have my fellow hikers fist bumping and trek pole bumping and yelling "you're awesome" and "hey Chicago, you made it!" (must be the Bears hat). I was standing at the highest possible peak in the entire 48 United States. There was no other natural peak in the entire country that was higher than where I was standing. Unbelievable.
 
 
The iconic Mt. Whitney Summit Shelter:
 
After the elation, I realized I had to ascend 11 miles to get back to my car and a hot shower. Time to go.
The sun set and I put the headlight lamp back on. By now I was in a survival state of just breathing and walking. Had to remember to drink water and was fighting a headache probably from dehydration and a neck ache from looking down at the trail for many hours. But powered on.
I finished the hike at 8:50 pm. The total time round trip was 16 hours, 50 mins. with a total distance of 22 miles. Elevation gain was 6,273'. I texted all my family, they all responded immediately with congrats (I'm a lucky girl!).

Am I sore? You bet. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? YES!

If you want to see what gear I wore and what was in my backpack, check out this blog post.

If you've ever hiked Whitney or have any hiking stories to share with me, comment below, I'd love to hear from you!

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