Saturday, January 7th, 2017
Thursday, October 30th, 2008
I climbed Mount Whitney a few weeks ago. The trek was hands down the most physically demanding hike I have ever undertaken. Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states with a summit reaching 14565 feet into the clouds. Our group of 11 started the excursion at Whitney Portal, elevation 8000 feet, in the blackness of 3am. After about 3 hours of hiking by moonlight, we were treated to sunrise at Trail Camp around 12,000 feet with the summit in view. The climb gets exponentially more difficult the higher you go. At this point, 1 member of our group had already turned back. The thin air is only half the challenge as the trail gets significantly steeper and more covered with snow and ice. The next 2500 feet demanded 6 hours of climbing a steep slippery, switched-back trail through a treeless, lunar landscape. At times, precipices of many hundreds of feet abutted the trail. Our team had splintered into groups of 2 or 3, each moving at their own pace. Nearing the summit, each step became a trial in endurance. My head throbbed from lack of oxygen. 9 hours after beginning the climb we reached the peak. While the excitement and sense of accomplishment were quite rewarding, and the views spectacular, the knowledge that I had 11 miles of hiking before I was done dampened the thrill a bit. The thin air plays tricks on the mind. I misspelled my own name trying to sign the summit log. After a subdued celebration, it was time to start the long climb down. Having gravity on your side makes the hiking go faster, but the lengthening shadows turned much of the snow covering the upper portion of the trail know as “99 switch backs” to hard, slick ice. A fall at this point could have easily been fatal, so the going was slow. At 7:30 pm, our endeavor ended as it had started, in the dark. We had hiked 22 miles in 17 ½ hours covering 15000 feet in elevation change. 8 of our original 11 made the trip to the summit and back. After dinner and a beer, I slept the whole drive home. The next day, I was off to San Jose to continue photography on the Blood Work tattoo book project.