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, 6:37 p.m.
My legs are aching and shaking. My hiking boots seem made of lead. My shoulders need an hour massage and my neck needs acupuncture treatment. My feet feel like I am walking barefoot on hot blacktop. Every step is a challenge.
And yet I feel wonderful. For now, at least, none of the pain matters. We have made it back down to Whitney Portal, to the beginning – and end – of the trail. Our journey has come full circle. We did it. We really did it!
The descent felt longer than the trip up – even though it was two hours shorter – probably because we didn’t have the anticipation and excitement of going up. My goal was to reach the summit – I didn’t even allow myself to think about the 11 miles I had to hike back down the mountain.
After five hours of hiking down, when we were so close to the end and yet still somehow so far away; when we could see the tiny distant parking lot of Whitney Portal where our car with the nice cushioned seats was waiting for us and it seemed if only we had longer arms we could just reach down through the trees and touch it; when I had been awake for fifteen hours and hiking for eleven, and I just wanted to collapse in the middle of the trail and go to sleep; it was then I started to wish we were finished already.
But the trip down was great in its own way. I tried to enjoy the beautiful scenery, and revel in the feeling of accomplishment. Before too long we reached the half-mile mark we had hiked to yesterday, and before much longer we could see the path winding down to the parking lot below us.
Striding down that last step of the trail, I felt like an astronaut taking her first step back on Earth after a trip to the moon. I had actually made it to the top of Whitney and back again. And I have pictures for proof! I can’t wait to get the film developed and show my friends. Mom thankfully saved a few shots and a fellow hiker took our picture by the trailhead, and we bought some postcards and souvenir T-shirts from the nearby Mt. Whitney store. Other hikers smiled at us wearily with looks that said, “Congratulations!” and we smiled back, “You too!” Sinking down into the front seat of the car, I had never felt so tired and yet so happy at the same time. Mom said she felt the same way after childbirth.
As we drove away, winding down the narrow road, I looked back through the car window at the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States with the same awe and reverence I felt when I saw it for the first time. It is hard to believe that just a few hours ago, I was up at the top of that mountain. It was like a whole different world, like a dream. A dream that came true.
Sunday, July 27, Early
We said farewell to Lone Pine this morning and arrived back home this afternoon. It was fun driving past mountain after mountain and being able to say, “We climbed higher than that mountain! And that one! And that one!”
I slept for much of the car ride home, even though the first thing I did last night after taking a long, hot shower and wolfing down three slices of extra cheesy pizza was conk out the minute my head hit the pillow. Usually I have trouble sleeping in hotel rooms, but not last night! I guess hiking twenty-two miles is a good cure for insomnia.
It was wonderful to arrive home, with a “CONGRATULATIONS!” banner on the front door and my dad and brother waiting inside. Yet a part of me misses the wild beauty and freedom of the mountains, the quaint little Lone Pine diners, even the John Wayne memorabilia.
I brought down from Mount Whitney’s summit a small granite stone, a keepsake reminder of something less tangible that I also brought with me: a strengthened belief in myself and the confidence I can face my fears and accomplish whatever I set my mind to. It is a lesson I will carry with me, wherever my travels take me next. Even back at sea level, I still feel like I’m on top of the world.