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.
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.