One of the primary reasons that I even considered hiking Mount Whitney this summer, was the fact that I have been running quite a lot and am in really good shape. I say this as someone who hasn’t really gone to the gym much in the last several years and am only in ‘good’ shape because I found something I could do regularly and which I enjoy. So in considering Whitney, I thought, I’m not getting any younger, so this will probably be my best opportunity to make it happen.
What I failed to understand is that summiting mountains is entirely different from running a few miles around Castaic or Santa Clarita. Somehow that fact escaped me. So with blind ambition I began the process of training for Whitney. . . without really thinking I needed any training.
One other caveat is noteworthy here. Because of my so-called Summer of Adventure I noted last time, I was only available to hike 2 of the possible 6 training hikes. Again, no problem! I’m in great shape. . . was my thought process.
The first hike I was able to make happened to be Mount Baldy in the San Gabriel Mountains. I grew up in the shadow of Mount Baldy in La Habra. We could always tell if there was snow in the mountains by looking up to see if Baldy had a white head or not. Well fortunately for us, Baldy was not white for our training hike. The 10,000′ peak was primed for our day hike and by the looks of things, there were hundreds of others who decided to climb that very same day.
With a great deal of enthusiasm I joined a group of 5 others on this hike. All of the others had made at least a few hikes prior to this and had a better idea what they were getting themselves into. I was about to find out.
For the first three miles up the trail, I felt great. This was a piece of cake. Eventually we reached the Top of the Notch restaurant where we took a much needed break. Unfortunately that is when things started to take a turn for me. The next mile or two was a steep ascent over mostly loose gravel and rocks. And in the first part of this ascent I snapped one of my hiking poles. While I was mostly near the front of the pack during the earlier part of the hike, I struggled to keep pace and remained at the very tail end of our group.
Eventually we moved beyond the loose rock and into the section known as the Devil’s Backbone. If the name doesn’t say it all, you should know that this section of the trail is a long, steep, completely exposed narrow section that goes on for a couple of miles. It was hot and dusty and the trail was crowded, so we were constantly moving over for people to pass on one side or the other. The hike began to not be as fun about now.
I don’t know if you ever talk to yourself. Well I was having a full on conversation with myself. I was wondering not if I could actually do Whitney, but whether or not I was going to be able to summit Baldy. I was battling between, this is the last hike I will ever go on. . . to what on earth was I thinking? Gone was any semblance of my earlier thoughts of being in good shape. I was huffing and puffing, simply hoping to survive this day.
I was grateful that a friend had loaned me his hydration pack and so I was drinking enough water, but I was not feeling great. As we continued up we began to see the first peeks of the peak. Every step was measured and heavy. Only Kerwin (one of my companions) and I were still making the ascent. Everyone else had already made it to the top. We were taking three steps and then a break. Taking three more steps and then taking a break. The last mile seemed to be going on for eternity. But with dogged determination, we eventually reached the top.
I had packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a protein bar for my lunch at the top. Unfortunately, I was so sick to my stomach I couldn’t even eat half of my sandwich. I am not sure whether it was the altitude or the heat or what, but I was suffering.
We spent another 30 minutes or so at the top prior to making our descent. I was hoping and praying that the trip down would be much quicker and easier. Fortunately it was and my self talk turned much more amenable. Suddenly I was downplaying how difficult the ascent had been and maybe just maybe I’d give it a try for at least one more training hike before deciding whether or not to attempt Whitney.
Before too long, we had arrived back at the parking lot. I was feeling much better, but was racing to get to home. Future summits would be decided on at a later date.