Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mt. Whitney

This week, I left Jenetta and the kids at home and adventured to the top of Mt. Whitney in the Eastern Sierra Nevada range in central California. Mt. Whitey is the tallest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,497 feet.

I made the trip with my friend Craig Rodriguez and some of his co-workers in Phoenix. Other than Craig, I was a stranger to them at first, but a trip like that builds bonds quickly, and I look forward to seeing them all again soon. (In fact, the couple in our group, Jeff and Grace Yates, will be in San Diego in two weeks for a half marathon that I am also running, so we plan to get together again for that.)

The trail is surprisingly easy to hike and it is very well maintained. We saw evidence of that where a flash flood a few days before our trip washed out some water crossings, so on the way up, we had to remove our socks and shoes and roll up our pants and just cross the streams, but on the way down, these crossings had been repaired.

The big challenge is altitude. I live at about 620 feet above sea level and very rarely am above 1,000 feet. I had an altitude headache in the parking lot! The first day was strenuous, but do-able. We hiked 6 miles and gained almost 4,000 feet. We camped that night at 12,000 feet, and we all had a miserable experience. I was exhausted - I wanted to sleep so badly, but I just couldn't. Finally, at about 4 am, I drifted to sleep for about an hour. When the sun came up, we ate some breakfast and drank as much as we could. Even though I was tired and still had the headache, I felt OK enough to continue. By the time I had reached 13,700 feet, I was having trouble breathing, and I started to feel slightly nauseous. I was not able to eat much of my snack at that point. But we were less than 3 miles from the summit and only had another 700 feet to gain, so I felt OK to continue.

When we made it to the summit, I was starting to feel that I had made the wrong decision. I was tired and having trouble breathing, but the big worry was the nausea and light-headedness. I can honestly say that I enjoyed this peak less than any other peak I have been on. We did a few photos, I tried to eat a bit but couldn't, and I called home to talk to Jenetta and the girls. Then I got out of there.

By the time I made it down to 13,000 feet again, I knew I was in trouble. I had some digestive symptoms that I won't get too detailed about, I had a fever coming on, and I was getting dizzy. I knew that I needed to get down, so my new friends were very helpful and encouraging to me, and I slowly made my way back to our campsite at around 4:30. It was a 2 hour hike downhill to the next camping location, and even though both Craig and I were not feeling well at that point, the decision was made to pick up camp and head down to 10,000 feet so we could stand a better chance at recovery.

Although those 2+ hours were about the most miserable hours I've ever experienced, it was definitely the right choice. Craig and I hobbled down hill and made sure that each other was OK. I actually fell at one point and cut up my arm a bit. I started to think about those stories of survival and how thoughts of family kept people going, so although my body did not want to continue, I thought of my girls and Jenetta and continued to put one foot in front of the other. Eventually, we made it. We set up camp and tried to eat and forced ourselves to drink electrolytes and water. Then we went to bed at around 8:00. I got a good 8 hours of sleep that night and felt much, much better the next morning.

We got up on Friday and ate and drank a bit and then made our way back to the Portal store and parking lot where showers and huge breakfasts awaited us. We talked about our shared experiences and laughed together. As we drove home, we joked and talked about the next hike we might take as a group.

So there a few things I've taken away from this experience. First, I don't think I will venture much above 12,000 feet without serious elevation training. Secondly, I don't want to say never (because we met people on the trail from all over the world, and many of them were much, much older than I...), but I think I am done with Mt. Whitney. Craig and I both had a been there, done that attitude. But lastly, I experienced a bond with kind strangers that I really enjoy. I guess many of my family members have experienced this kind of thing on group trips to Israel and other places, but I really have not as an adult, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Here are a few photos from the trip:



If you are interested in seeing videos of the trip and hearing how wimpy my voice sounds at elevation, you can watch them here:

Wednesday August 3 - Portal to Trail Camp.

Thursday August 4 - Trail Camp to Summit and then back down to Outpost Camp.

Friday August 5 - Outpost camp back to Portal.

1 comments:

Marge August 14, 2011 at 3:23 PM  

Wow what an adventure!! Did your mother know you were doing that??!! haha Thankful you made a successful trip back down that mtn. I was reading and I was having trouble breathing. Happy you made it safe and sound.
Love you,
Aunt Margaret

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