This July, my two best friends and I will be summiting Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in 48 states. The challenging 22 mile hike climbs 6,100 feet to an elevation of 14,505.
In 2009, my cousin, uncle and I attempted to summit Whitney over two days in running shoes and 30 pound packs. The weather was hot near the trailhead, so my uncle used a pocket knife to transform my cousin’s pants into shorts.
After only 6 miles, I began to slow down to the pace of a desert tortoise. Every step was a struggle. By the time we reached our “campsite” for the evening, my head was pounding, my speech was slurred, and I had lost all interest in the dehydrated spaghetti I had been looking forward to all day. I had a bad case of altitude sickness.
Trail Camp is what I imagine it would be like to camp on the moon. The altitude is too high for trees to grow, so we found a spot between two boulders to pitch our tent. As soon as the sun ducked behind the mountain, the temperature dropped from 75 to 17 degrees Fahrenheit.
I spent the night wide awake, listening to the wind scratching at our tent. In my exhaustion, I convinced myself the rodent-like marmots were trying to break in and steal our food. Around 4AM, I watched the light from the headlamps of the day hikers dancing on the sides of the tent.
We all got up around 7 am. Only 99 switchbacks stood between us and glory, but we were in no shape to reach the summit. I took one last look at the peak as we began our descent and said, “I’ll be back.”
Several months ago, my aunt gave me a collection of home videos to watch from my Austrian grandparents who I never had the privilege to meet. And there it was: my grandfather and my great uncle in lederhosen and knee socks dancing the polka on Mount Whitney.
It’s been over two years since my back surgery, and I finally feel strong enough to revisit the mountain. I won the permit lottery, and I will have my chance to summit in July. I believe if I prepare my body properly for the altitude and distance, I should be able to dance the polka up Whitney in the footsteps of my ancestors.
When I was creating a training plan, I came across the “Six Pack of Peaks.” Jeff Hester of SoCalHiker.net created this challenge to train for his second trek along the John Muir trail. What could be better than ending a full-day hike with a refreshing brew? I am sold.
But I can’t do it alone! I invite you all to join me as I summit the six of the tallest peaks in Southern California! If you are interested, please sign up at Meetup.com.
Since I started this group in April, I’ve met so many inspiring folks. With your support, I have no doubt I’ll be ready for Whitney. I look forward to meeting you on the trails!