Our whole summer has been speckled with spur-of-the-moment decisions and seizing the opportunity because we’re there.
This weekend was no different. We had 2-3 days in southeastern California and wondered what to do.
We knew we couldn’t hit the high point of Nevada even though we were driving RIGHT BY IT because the 14-mile road to the trailhead was dirt and disastrous. The owners of our van would not be too happy if we called with 4 flat tires and a broken tailpipe.
Another option was attempting a climb of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in California and in the lower 48 at an elevation of 14,505 feet. Yes, this mountain is higher than Rainier, but we already know Rainier beat me for other reasons.
Spoiler Alert: Amazingly, I made it to the top. Word.
We read all the literature and it just seemed doable if the weather was agreeable. They hadn’t gotten any big snows, so we wouldn’t need crampons and ice axes (this automatically makes me a willing hiking partner). Then we checked with the ranger station and they had permits (required) leftover. It seemed like fate that we would have to make the attempt.
The obvious problem was the elevation. I do not hide the fact that altitude is my enemy.
I had all the cards stacked against me. We just spent 4 days in Vegas, where we lost all our money on slot machines and tables. Wait, that has nothing to do with it. I meant, in Vegas, we were at the very low elevation of 2,100 feet. Our drive to California took us through Death Valley National Park, where we reached SEA LEVEL. I was cruising for a bruising. All the literature on Whitney advised breaking up the elevation over a few days; I don’t think we met with their recommendations. On Thursday night, we slept in a parking lot at an ambitious 3,727 feet. On Friday, we left the trailhead at 8,360 feet to head 6 miles to camp at 12,000 feet with our blue bags for poop and rented a bear canister packed away (I don’t doubt that they have bear roaming, but we saw NO signs of them anywhere and those canisters are NOT light).
But, J & I rationalized that even if I couldn’t make it, this would still be a good backpacking trip. We would get to experience a little of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the backside of Sequoia National Park. FYI, when we first caught sight of the Sierra Nevadas, I wondered why they had the nickname range of light. But, while on our backpacking trip, we saw sunrise & sunset and they truly show a “range of light.”
Anyway, we woke up Saturday morning to a brisk temperature of 28 degrees and made our way the slowly up the 99 switchbacks. On switchback #5 at roughly 12,300 feet, I told J I wanted to puke. He was very patient, as usual, and let me take a break to regain my composure. Then I pressed on back and forth on the switchbacks x 85. I was not turning back so soon.
We made it the 2.2 miles to Trail Crest at 13,700 feet and after I got over the fact that I hadn’t died yet, I was elated to realize we entered Sequoia National Park and were about to step foot on the John Muir Trail. It is always weird to me when you enter a National Park from within the backcountry. Feels like I am cheating the system. But someday (maybe sooner than later?), we will explore Sequoia NP from the regular entrances!
I’m really not sure how I made it the next 2 miles. We had a lady hiking behind us and she was very talkative (I can’t breathe at that elevation, let alone talk) and it really took my mind off my struggles. I am not hiking at this point, just putting one foot in front of the other slowly (J likes to describe it like walking on the moon). Before I knew it, we were at the top and I DID NOT DIE (I am not being dramatic). Now I just had to get myself 10.7 miles back down to the parking lot!
Take that, altitude. I know how to beat you.