mt. whitney wednesday: the descent

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

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.

day before hike day

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.

whitney mountains

saturday upsides, christmas chili & les mis

Happy weekend, everyone! We made it back to southern California safe & sound tonight after visiting my extended family up north. It was a quick but jam-packed visit, filled with fun family time, delicious home-cooked food, and lots of laughter. Here is a pic of my brother and me with our Grandma & Grandpap {on our mom’s side}:

with gparents

One recipe I forgot to share with you earlier this week is my Christmas chili! It’s the same as my California chicken chili recipe, only I added red and white kidney beans, regular chili powder instead of the “white chicken” kind, AND festive red and green bell pepper. {Which is why I call it my “Christmas chili”!} The reason I used the regular chili powder is that I couldn’t find the white chicken chili kind out here in California … but it turned out to be one of those serendipitous things, because I think this is my best chili yet!

christmas chili

I don’t know about you, but around this time of year I nearly always battle the post-holiday blues. It’s true: I love Christmas! I love the joy and excitement of the season of giving. I love being home with my family. I love not having to worry about the normal day-to-day stresses of school and work. I love baking cookies and special holiday treats. I love watching Christmas movies with my Gramps. I love small things, like the special flavors of Hershey’s kisses and chai lattes at Starbucks. {Greg snapped a picture of me on his smartphone at Starbucks, enjoying a gingerbread chai … mmmmm.}

gingerbread chai

I always get a little sad when the holidays are over. Does anyone else feel the same?

Then I went to see “Les Miserables” with my mom, aunts and cousin Arianna yesterday afternoon. I had never seen the musical before and did not know the story at all. It was beautiful. I loved the music and thought the film was very well-done. {Best supporting actress: Anne Hathaway gets my vote!}

And my goodness, what an emotional story that really makes you feel grateful for what you have. I am SO lucky to have a roof over my head, enough food to eat, a warm bed, a loving and healthy family. Those are my Saturday Upsides every week!

saturdayupsidesbutton

And another upside? Having people to miss is a blessing because it means you have people to love!

What are your upsides this weekend?