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

review of “half the sky”

HTS-book-cover-200-300My brother got this book for me for my birthday, and I am SO grateful that he introduced this book into my life. It seriously has rocked my entire worldview. I had no idea how many women are living in terrible, oppressive situations around the world. Reading this book makes me feel so grateful for things I’ve taken for granted: having enough food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in, feeling safe when I walk down the street, being able to get an education and pursue a career I’m passionate about… and on, and on, and on. After reading the remarkable true stories of survival and strength in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, it is impossible to even feel a moment of self-pity. Instead, you will feel empowered to take advantage of all the blessings you have been given.

I also really enjoyed the writing style of the authors, husband-and-wife team Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: detailed journalism combined with personal stories that touched my heart. The book was surprisingly uplifting at the end, with a passionate call to action and a list of ways you can help. Here are the four main ways the authors list:

1. Go to www.globalgiving.org or www.kiva.org and open a microlending account to help women entrepreneurs in developing countries. {I’m planning to do this today!}

2. Sponsor a girl or woman through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service. The authors add: “Sponsorship is a great way to teach your children that not all children have iPods.”

3. Sign up for email updates on www.womensenews.org and/or www.worldpulse.com.

4. Join the CARE Action Network at www.can.care.org which will assist you in learning more about these issues and becoming a citizen advocate for women’s rights issues around the world.

The authors also have a website for the book, called the Half the Sky Movement, where you can learn more and also watch a trailer for the film version of the book.

I’ll leave you with this powerful informational poster I found on the Half the Sky website:

violence against women

What books have you read that changed your life?