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, 12:16 p.m.
Oh! My! Goodness! I have climbed a granite stairway to heaven. Eight hours and a dozen blisters after we set forth in the cold darkness, I am enjoying the same lofty view Clarence King had more than 125 years earlier.
I am standing atop the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. It took us nearly two hours to get here from Trail Crest, much longer than I expected it would. These last two miles of trail seemed to go on and on and on – I would swear it was a full six miles. Indeed, a mountain sheep would have trouble with the footing on the final two miles to the summit. Add in air so rarefied it makes lungs gasp and heads ache, and each step becomes a challenge. The altitude is definitely exacting a toll as I have had a constant dull headache for the past few hours now.
Another reason we traveled so slowly over this final section is because the trail has become so terribly rugged – we had to climb over huge boulders and cross very rocky terrain, with cliffs dropping hundreds of feet only a few steps away on each side of us. There are no guard rails or ropes as guides, and needless to say I was very grateful for my walking stick. Precarious as it was, I knew I had come so far and trained so hard and had already done so much more than I ever thought I could do, that I never once thought of turning back. The only option in my mind was proudly reaching the top.
This was by far the most trying and difficult part of the whole hike for me. To be so close you could see Whitney’s peak, and yet so far it seemed like you would never get there, was pure torture. The only thing to do was keep going, one step in front of the other, but after a mile or so of this two-mile leg, I began to think that maybe the trail would never end.
And then we saw it. The summit!
The last 400 meters of the trail are a slight uphill to the peak of the mountain. But now you can see the Summit Hut beckoning you along, like a lighthouse guiding ships safely into harbor. After what felt like an eternity, we finally reached it.
Groups of weary hikers lounged around on slabs of rock, taking pictures and having lunch and enjoying the breathtaking view. I signed my name in the Mt. Whitney Summit Book, then pretended to again because Mom wanted to take my picture. She looked like a child with her very first camera, deliriously snapping photos of anything and everything merely for the joy of hearing the shutter click. I smiled at her, glad she had saved some film as I had kept teasing her to do, and also knowing no amount of pictures would ever do Whitney’s summit justice. It’s just something you have to see and experience for yourself.
I walked around, soaking in the “Inn,” as Cervantes put it, of our journey. Clouds were obscuring some of the view, but it was still incredible to look down from this castle in the sky.
Unlike Clarence King, Mom and I took a cell phone to the summit. Enjoying this rocky mountain, I call my dad and talk to him in exclamation points.
“Hi Dad! We made it! I’m at the summit right now! It’s soooo beautiful up here! I feel like I’m on the top of the world!
“It’s breathtaking,” I add, intending no altitude pun.
My dad tells me it is breathtaking to hear me, because he remembers a time I needed breathing tubes when I was born 3 months prematurely weighing a sickly 2 pounds, 6 ounces.
“She’s a fighter,” the doctor told him back then when my fragile life hung in the balance daily, and the doctor was right. With a personal mantra of P.A.S.T. – Preemies Are So Tough – I have now become a conqueror of Mt. Whitney.
I say goodbye on the phone to Dad, and chased by approaching thunderclouds after just 20 minutes of rest, we began our six-hour, 11-mile descent.