mt. whitney wednesday: the big day begins!

Hi everyone! This post is part of my 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 any earlier posts in the series, they are all archived here.

mt whitney chronicles

Saturday, July 26, 3:52 a.m.

My alarm went off at 2:30 this morning. I don’t think I have ever woken up this early in my entire life, yet I was surprised to find I wasn’t really that tired. Nervous energy and adrenaline pumped through my veins as I pulled on my hiking boots and shouldered my backpack filled with enough water to get a camel across the Sahara.

I took one last look at the warm hotel room before closing the door behind me and following Mom down the darkened corridor. I wonder if I will return triumphant and proud, or despondent and defeated by the mountain? I tell myself it will be the former!

We met Stacey and some of the others in our climbing party at the hotel where they were staying. As we huddled in front of the cars in the parking lot, waiting while a few of them did a final check to make sure they hadn’t forgotten anything, I was reminded of a group of teenage girls preparing to go TP-ing on a slumber party night: nervous, excited, and taking a little breathless comfort in the thought that, whatever happens, we are all in this together.

We drove up to the Whitney Portal in a small caravan of cars. The road is uncomfortably narrow, so it is reassuring to have another car in front of you to follow. It is so pitch black outside once you leave the few lights of Lone Pine behind. Driving along and looking up at the mountain we are about to climb, with the twinkling stars the only light in the sky, and our feeble headlights only illuminating a small section of the ground ahead, I have never felt so small and yet so big, so alone and yet so connected, so wise and yet so utterly clueless, all at the same time.

We parked and headed up to the trailhead. Most of the stars are blocked out by the towering mountain and the surrounding trees, and it is so dark I literally cannot see my hand in front of my face. It is cold, too; biting cold, and I’m glad for my fleece gloves and warm wool beanie. Mom helps me put my headlamp on, which is basically a flashlight mounted to a headband. When she bought it a month ago at one of the hiking stores I thought it was one of the silliest, dorkiest things I had ever seen, but now I’m grateful for the steady beam of light it provides, revealing the trail ahead.

We start out, talking softly and stepping quickly, full of energy, excitement and nervousness. If I turn and look behind me, the steady line of my teammate hikers, each with a headlamp firmly positioned on her forehead, looks oddly like a group of miners. It makes me think of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.

“Hi ho, hi ho! It’s off to the peak of Mount Whitney we go!” We slip through the silent night, a flurry of boots and beams of light. The woods behind us are quiet, and the mountain ahead is darker than the back side of the moon.

the whitney group

A group shot a couple hours into the hike, once the sun has risen.

mt. whitney wednesday: training progress!

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.

mt whitney chronicles

Sunday, June 22, 2003

We went on an eight-mile hike today, our longest thus far. And — guess what? — I actually felt pretty good! There was a lot of steep uphill, and I was breathing hard, but I was able to keep going at a fairly fast pace and my legs weren’t as sore as they usually are. I can feel myself getting stronger. Plus the wildflowers were in bloom and the sky was a gorgeous, clear blue, and I felt truly in touch with nature. There is something about hiking up to a deserted clearing, and looking out at the greens and browns and blues of the world below you, and breathing in the crisp, cold mountain air that just makes you feel so alive.

Saturday, July 5

It’s still three weeks until our summit attempt of Mt. Whitney, but Mom is already starting to get all our supplies ready. We are taking two medium-sized backpacks, each filled with enough food and water to feed a family of five! But I guess it’s good to be prepared. As Mom always says, “Better safe than sorry — or thirsty!” The last thing we need is to be stuck on Whitney without enough provisions.

However, as I learned firsthand, water is heavy. Today I loaded up my backpack and put it on to test the weight … and I nearly fell over backwards! How am I ever going to carry that thing twenty-two miles?? At least it will gradually get lighter as I eat and drink during the journey.

Saturday, July 19

Today we went on our last real training hike. We will taper off this week to allow our bodies to recover and build up energy for the real thing. It’s crazy to think that at this very time next week, we’ll be climbing Mt. Whitney! We’ve been preparing for so long, yet I can’t believe The Big Day is almost here.