Apparently, one-third of the people who attempt to reach the summit of Mt. Whitney fail. On August 21, 2013, my friend, Charles, and I learned first hand why so many do not complete this hike. We woke up at 12:30 AM to the light of the full moon and were at the trailhead by 1:30 AM. The first four hours flew by. Then the rain came followed by lightning and the sound of an angry whip cracking in the sky. Charles forgot to bring a raincoat so we made a poncho out of a slightly used trash bag. Mother Nature’s unexpected surprise stunned us into a kind of stupor. We asked other hikers what they were going to do. They decided to wait it out for a while and see if the rain would let up. With wet clothes and dampened spirits, we found partial shelter under a large rock. That’s when the mind games began.
For 45 minutes we shivered and weighed out our options. The temptation to turn around and get a comfortable hotel room and hot food was so strong. We rationalized our decision to go back with the unpredictability of the weather. Still, a small voice inside me said, “What if the weather gets better?” By this point Charles was ready to call it quits. Then the little voice inside me grew stronger. Could I really give up that easily after the many months of training, time, and energy I had spent preparing for this hike? The little voice spoke up. “We have to try,” I said gently to my friend. The rain began to let up and the clouds appeared to be moving away from us. I took that opportunity to coax my friend to walk a little further. “We have to try,” I kept on saying. And so we did.
We passed by several hikers who decided to give up. Every person had a different excuse.
“My hands are too cold.”
“The wind is freezing.”
“I’ve got bad knees.”
“My back hurts.”
“I’m wet from the rain.”
“The lightning scares me.”
“I’ll try again tomorrow.”
“I’m a wimp.”
Lightning is certainly not something to mess around with, but we paid excruciatingly close attention to any weather changes. We were prepared to turn around if absolutely necessary. Each excuse we heard made us question our decision to move forward but we trudged on. We had to try.
Physically, we had many factors working against us. I had a bad case of diarrhea during the entire hike from drinking too much coconut water the night before. I hiked 10 miles the day before in Mammoth as a “warm-up” hike. I only got 1.5 hours of sleep the night before. I was without water for four miles of the hike. I underestimated the freezing temperatures near the top of the mountain and couldn’t feel my hands for an hour. These were not my finest moments but the worst was still to come. The last mile to the summit was the most brutal. We must have looked like zombies because our bodies were jelly. Our limbs hung lifelessly as we dragged ourselves to the finish line. We had reached the top. Miraculously, I started feeling stronger and more focused almost instantaneously. That’s when I realized just how much of this hike was psychological. Our time at the top was short-lived because we were soon being pelleted by hail bullets. I tried catching the flavorless Dippin’ Dots in my mouth. After 18 grueling hours of hiking we could finally cross Mt. Whitney off our list.
Climbing Mt. Whitney was a mind game. My patience, will, and determination were all challenged multiple times. The occasional marmot siting was a welcomed distraction. All the odds were against us yet we made it. Despite everything I am so glad I did it. I realized that day that I can do anything I set my mind to. The possibilities truly are endless.
For basic information on Mt. Whitney visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Whitney
For permit information visit: www.recreation.gov