Hi everyone! This post is part of my series the Mt. Whitney chronicles, which is comprised of journal entries from when I climbed Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, ten years ago. If you missed the earlier post in the series, you can read them here.
Saturday, July 26, 6:04 a.m.
Dawn slowly approaches and we stop at Lone Pine Lake to rest and turn our headlamps off. Sunrise on the trail was one of the prettiest sights I have seen, rivaling even a summer sunset over the rim of the Grand Canyon. It is indeed a “Kodak moment,” yet Julianna was right: a picture could never do this justice. It is something you just have to see – and feel in your soul – for yourself.
We have gone 2.5 miles — less than nine miles more to the top. It seemed like we were going at a fairly brisk pace, and yet it has taken us two hours to go just over two miles. I try not to get discouraged; maybe we will get into a faster rhythm as daylight arrives. Not that speed is of the essence. I think of the famous quote by Cervantes: “The journey is better than the inn.” I want to enjoy this journey, and we left so early we have plenty of time to do so.
Yet it is also overwhelming to think about hiking for another twelve hours, another twenty miles, to complete the roundtrip journey. I try not to dwell on it, and instead focus on enjoying the postcard scenery. Mom brought two new disposable cameras, and she takes lots of pictures. I playfully tell her she had better save some film for the summit! We don’t want to be like my funny Uncle Doug, who always comes back from fishing trips bragging about the big trout he caught – without any proof.
We have reached the first camp, “Outpost Camp.” According to my map, we have traveled 3.5 miles and are at an elevation of 10,365 feet – meaning we must still climb more than 4,000 feet in elevation to reach the top. I am grateful Mom and I took medicine for altitude sickness before we left; I don’t feel nauseous, but I do still have a bit of a headache despite the medicine. I drink lots of water, even though I am embarrassed about having to go to the bathroom in the wilderness. Mom laughs and says doing your business outside just proves you are a true hiker.
Speaking of bathrooms, at Outpost Camp we get to use the first of the two “solar toilets” provided along the trail for hikers. It is like a “Porta Potty” except it has some sort of solar device at the top that supposedly uses energy from the sun to compact the waste. A good idea, indeed . . .
. . . but, as we found out firsthand, very, very smelly. In fact, it was THE most disgusting bathrooms I have ever been in! I had to hold my breath. Two things are certain: I will never again complain about the bathrooms at school, for they are heavenly compared to this. And I won’t be embarrassed anymore about doing my business out in the fresh-smelling sunshine of the wild!
We passed by Mirror Lake, which is the four-mile mark, and the trail turned from dirt to rock. The trail has also become much steeper here at the timberline – trees are fewer and farther between, and the landscape is more barren and desolate. I look around and see mountains rising above us on all sides.
We hike pretty much in silence, each of us consumed by our own thoughts. The only sounds are our heavy, even breathing and slow, trudging footsteps up the trail. Occasionally a bird calls out.
From time to time we encounter other hikers; some have given up and turned around, others have made it to the top, camped out, and are making their descent. The latter are always very happy and inspire me to keep going – if they can do it, we can too. Everyone we meet is friendly and encouraging, and we sometimes stop and swap hiking stories and hometowns while taking a drink of water. Then we wish each other good luck and continue our separate ways.
We have reached Trailside Meadow and take a short food break. Even though it is still fairly early in the morning (at least for a teenager like me who likes to sleep in on summer days!) we have been up so long that it seems like lunchtime. I snack on bagels and trail mix while Mom takes more pictures.
The meadow here is so heavenly, more like a stream bordered with flowers than a meadow. There is a gorgeous waterfall flowing down some nearby rocks, fed by melting snow up on the mountain. It is growing warm out now and I take off my outer jacket and replace my beanie with my favorite baseball cap.