Moose’s Grand Adventure IV: Overloaded

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 8-24-07

Ladies and Gentlemen, break out your Tom Harrison Mt. Whitney Highcountry Trailmaps and start your engines. I’d like to take you all on a little ride…

The Basic Stats:
Overall Trip Mileage: 118 miles
Overall Elevation Gain: ~27,583 ft
Average Mileage for Hiking Days: 11.8
Average Elevation Gain for Hiking Days: 2758 ft.

Layover Days: 2
Fishing Days: 2 (3 caught for dinners! 3 C+R)

My weight at Trip Start: 211 lbs.
My weight at Trip End: 202 lbs.

Pack weight at Trip Start: 63 lbs. (saved on weight by not taking DEET)
Pack weight at Trip End: 43 lbs.

Peaks Bagged (Including Acclimation Weekend): 6
Cirque Peak (12,900 ft)
Mt. Langley (14, 027 ft)
Centennial Peak (13,228 ft)
Discovery Pinnacle (13,750 ft)
Mt. Muir (14, 015 ft)
Mt. Whitney (14,497.61 ft)

Putting a map in front of me is dangerous. Doesn’t really matter what kind: I’m going to look for the most random route off the main roads to get where I’m going. I still want to come into the Eureka Dunes in Death Valley from Big Pine (anyone willing to let me borrow a high-clearance 4WD? I don’t think the TOF could quite make it).

Last fall, after my first MW summit, Kurt Schenk posted his TR of the HST, and I was hooked. I immediately bought the map, bookmarked my resources, and started dreaming. Then WhitneyMike posted about spending the night on the summit; in the middle of the week; why would I take a week off to go to Whitney at this point? What else could I tack on to that? I waited impatiently to receive notification of my permit, and once received, the plan started to blossom.

I’m not the first woman to go solo into this backcountry, by far. I wasn’t initially supposed to be on my own for the whole trip. But things happen, and I adjusted, and I trained. But the training of both mind and body were adventures that took me to new heights and areas that can only be seen if you work to get there. I met amazing people and made wonderful friendships that will affect me for the rest of my life. One just can’t help but become stronger from all of it.

OK, here we go. Let’s go play.

ACCLIMATION WEEKEND (August 4-6, 2007)
I wasn’t scheduled to leave the Portal until Tuesday, so I had the choice of sitting on my butt at sea level in LALA land (blech!) or hitting the high country to shock the ol’ bod a bit. Mike, as always, was a willing accomplice, so I snagged a permit for the Cottonwood Lakes TH and we cruised up to South Fork Lakes Saturday morning. I’d not explored the Horseshoe Meadows area at all, and he was an awesome tour guide. On Saturday we climbed Cirque Peak via the NAP trail and then the north face (cut across just before/at High Lake), finding a nicely marked use trail. From the top we also looked at a pretty phenomenal chute that headed straight back to the western-most SFL where we were camped. Definitely on the list for next time. We were up early the next morning (well, I was up early and got bored so I woke Mike up) and headed up NAP then across to the giant sand dune monolith that is Langley. For those that know me, if there’s a possibility of postholing, I’ll find it. Snow, sand, no difference. Mike floats. I trudge. He asked me once how I was feeling. “Sorry for myself” was my reply. Hmmm… just a shade competitive, don’t you think? But I was legitimately worried about if I could handle the trip coming up on Tuesday: If I can’t get up a sand hill with a summit pack, how the hell am I supposed to lug the monster over Trail Crest? “Are you having a moment?” he asked me as I cried on the summit overlooking the north face, and wisely let me be when I nodded yes. We cruised down OAP on the descent, so he could show me the Cottonwood Lakes. I knew I’d be back there to explore, fish, hike. It’s gorgeous. Mike left that afternoon to head home, so I officially had my first night alone in the backcountry. I hiked out the main CL trail the next day for a different perspective (Mike and I had taken a nice use trail at the first water crossing that took us directly to SFL), and headed back down to town for my big permit, a shower, and Pizza Factory.

AUGUST 7, 2007 Whitney Portal to Guitar Lake, via Main Trail and Trail Crest
11.4 miles, 5310 vf
“Why do I climb mountains? Quite simply because the Mountains and I had to meet.” – Colette Richard

Doug Forbes picked me up at the High Sierra Café at 3 a.m., and after an oatmeal breakfast we headed up to the Portal. Just before 4, I was weighing my pack, gasping at the 63 lb. outcome, and slinging it over my shoulders. The Osprey Crescent 85L fits me well, which was good, since I wasn’t resupplying during the trip and all my food was on my back. Doug was my ‘turtle’ for the morning, hiking with me to Lone Pine Lake and keeping my pace below 1.5 mph. After a snack and sunrise, I was off on my own, and Doug headed home. I paced myself on the switchers by pausing for ‘station identification’ every 10, sitting on a rock with my pack on for a moment to catch my breath. The last 7 switchers were brutal, but by noon I was on top, the longest climb under my belt. It was windy and cold up there, so I moved on to Guitar Lake. It was a pee break on the descent where I realized that the switchers had taken their toll: the seam of my pants was ripped wide open from sitting on the rocks. People, this was day one!! Thank G-d for duct tape. Guitar was crowded, windy at first, but I got to sit and stare at Whitney all afternoon, trying to figure out where Richard and Mike might be climbing that weekend. Cold that night: 32deg per my watch, and my sunscreen actually had crystals in it.

AUGUST 8, 2007 Guitar Lake to Junction Meadow
11.2 miles, 235 vf
“I do it because I love the beauty and simplicity of a way of living which brings confidence, which confirms resolution and calls for courage.” – Colette Richard

It’s mostly downhill from Guitar to the Kern Canyon, but there’s a bit of a roller coaster ride along the JMT as I headed north. My legs reminded me of the promised downhill every time I hit an incline, and they were a bit perturbed from the monster of yesterday. I hadn’t felt much on that first day ascent, which means I was feeding relentlessly from the adrenaline stores! This stretch felt a bit like the 405: little bits of open road followed by traffic jams. At least everyone was heading in the opposite direction! Had lunch at Wallace Creek, then headed west along the HST to drop into the Kern. Fantastic views of the Colby Pass trail and Kern-Kaweah River drainage from here, and I started wondering about my heavy pack vs. 4000 vf as part of the original itinerary. I met a few people who had come over the pass and described its relatively poor condition, so I started evaluating my options. The trail here, btw, was a long, slow grade of climb, which I tucked away for when I would return in a week. All at once, I turned the corner and the Kern Canyon yawned below me to the south, filled with tall pines and cliffs echoing the river from far above. There were nine of us at Junction Meadow that night, and we all gathered around my campfire and gabbed until past dark.

AUGUST 9, 2007 Junction Meadow to Moraine Lake
14.4 miles, 2572 vf
“Truly, happiness is not achieved by doing things easily.” – Colette Richard

I reversed my overall loop course and headed south through the Kern Canyon, essentially following the HST backwards. The early morning sun was brilliant against the western cliffs 4000 ft over my head, but the dense pine forest keep the floor cool and shaded all morning. I spotted a pile of bear scat, but no critter ever made their direct presence known. Plenty of deer, rodentia, and lizards as I dropped in elevation, and the water tumbled to my right along it’s course. I rested after a few hours on a tall boulder overlooking what in a good year might be a Class 3 rapid. But this, and all the other stream crossings for that matter, was low and easy to navigate without the customary changing of the boots. After 3 hours, a meadow opened before me, and a deer jumped away to reveal the Hot Springs! YEAH, BABY! Added bonus: I had the place to myself! The natural circuit was hot soak, cold splash, lay out on granite to warm up and eat lunch. Repeat. The sky was crystalline blue and the sun hot, a breeze playing in the grass. No noise but the river and my splashing. It reminded me of New Mexico along the Valles Caldera in summer. I knew I had a long climb ahead, and just as I got my things together and took one last, longing look at my clean legs, two guys showed up from the south. Time to get back to work. The climb out of the Kern is south-facing, dry, and long. Early afternoon is perhaps not the optimal time to hit this section, but it was to be my only afternoon climb, so I sucked it up. By 3:45 or so I was finally looking at Sky Parlor Meadow, and then Moraine Lake at last. There is no water between the Kern and this point, btw, so make sure to get some from your starting point. The setting sun reflected bright pink and orange off its warm waters, and with night we watched the hot spots from a fire to the SW flare up and down.

AUGUST 10, 2007 Moraine Lake to Hamilton Lake, via Kaweah Gap
14 miles, 2478 vf
“Climbers do not really conquer mountains; climbers conquer themselves.” – Ann E. Kruse

I had company for the first half of today’s walk. I met Ben and Roleigh at Moraine Lake where they offered to help set up my tent and shared their fire. Neither of them could get over my pack, being lightweight people themselves. Although Roleigh kept bringing forth pieces of gear that had to be adding up after a while. Ben did assist with some pack reconfiguration, however, putting my bear vault in the lower compartment so it sat just above my hips. And if anything was made for carrying, it’s my hips… Traversing the Big Arroyo was amazing: the left side of the trail fell away to nothing but treetops 2000 feet below, and the Great Western Divide stood guard in the not-so-far distance. We ate lunch in a meadow at the Big Arroyo junction, under the cabin, and Ben waited patiently for Roleigh while I pushed on. From that low point, the trail climbs slowly up the BA and turns north so that Mt. Stewart, Lion Rock, and Triple Divide Peak all come into view at the back end of the bowl. Black Kaweah reared above me to the east, and the headwall leading to the Nine Lakes Basin signaled the turn up the switchers to the Kaweah Gap. From this direction, getting up there is a relative piece of cake. It was the down that floored me. I started the descent, and I could hear the water dripping into Precipice Lake. Its dark sapphire blue almost looked like a shadow under the vertical cliffs of Eagle Scout Peak. There was not a ripple in the still air. All was completely silent as I stared, in awe, of this place. Nothing could ever do this justice in words or photo or paint. And with a turn of the trail, all of Valhalla yawned under my feet. I could barely make out the trail chiseled so delicately into the granite walls. Hanging gardens of green hung at my sides and feet where water dripped into the chasm. Again, in times of better water, I am sure the wildflowers are more abundant, but those present attempted to make up for quantity with brilliant color. Finally, Hamilton Lake appeared 2200 vf below me. This was the one agonizing part of the trail: no matter how long I walked, I just didn’t get any closer to the lake! I started looking at the steep gullies to see if I might scree ski to the bottom and be done, already. I finally pulled into the granite slabs along the shores and made camp near the bear box. After four tough days, I was looking forward to a day of rest tomorrow.

AUGUST 11, 2007 Layover at Hamilton Lake
“We do not need to see mountains in order to love them, any more than we need to see, or even hear, a person who is dear to us. Their presence is enough. For me it is enough that mountains exist.” – Colette Richard

Left the watch in the tent this day. I didn’t care about time, or elevation, or mileage. I cared about catching my dinner. And doing chores like laundry. The two men who stayed at the Lake last night were off around 8, and I set to scrubbing the dust out of my clothing. Then I took to scrubbing the dust out of me! I’ve never been SD before, until now. I swam out about 50 yards, then back, then lay out on the granite like a lizard feeling the warming sun of morning all over me. The clothes hung all over the small pine tree in front of my tent. I wandered around a bit, looking for a walkway to the small island on the west end of the lake, since it looked like a great place to fish. I did eventually get dressed (again, advantageously, just before the unexpected hordes from Bearpaw arrived). Ben showed up around 11 or so, explaining about the High Sierra Camp there and the dayhikers who would come up this direction. He went to swim and I to fish on the island. I caught a nice 8-9inch Golden fairly quickly, which made a wonderful lunch. I had my camera with me, and it came back to the tent area. A few hours later, as I was writing in my journal about Precipice Lake, I decided to look at my pics of said Lake. It was then I realized the camera was gone. I scoured the lakeshore, every crack, crevice, and bush for four hours, but it was gone. So was the dream of making a DVD slideshow of my adventure to share. I was heartbroken, and ate dinner in pain and silence. I considered ending the trip, to just walk out at Crescent Meadow the next day and try to get back to Lone Pine and home. Sleep did not come easily that night.

AUGUST 12, 2007 Hamilton Lake to Roaring River, via Elizabeth Pass and Deadman Canyon
16.6 miles, 4000 vf
“One needs to try one’s strength and one’s willpower, to triumph over one’s destiny, to remake oneself, to put one’s muscles to use.” – Colette Richard

With a heavy heart I loaded up early this morning in the dark. I knew I had another big climb ahead of me, and I wanted to try to get as much done before it got too hot as possible. The spot on my left chest strap felt hopelessly empty as I headed away from Hamilton Lake. An anguished wind had come up in the night, making the water lap loudly against the granite shoreline. I did not look back. I cruised down Valhalla until the junction about 1.5 miles from Bearpaw. If you turn right here, I promise there’s a trail. It’s overgrown with ferns, wildflowers, and other greenery, but it slowly switchers up and out of the Lone Pine Creek drainage against the eastern wall. Another junction signals the turn to Tamarack Lake, where I was originally slated to stay, but I pushed on, across the flat to the western wall, already hot in the sun at 8:30 a.m. This is the southern climb to Elizabeth Pass, where all you do is point your boots up and put your head down. 4 miles, 4000 vf. I thought switchers were supposed to assist with getting up a face, not make you crawl because of their own verticality! There is a good water source a little over half-way up. Trust me, you’ll need it. Only once did I stop and yell at myself to stop beating my own head over the camera. It was gone, and nothing else could be done. I started thinking in 100 vf increments, and would reward myself with each small step towards the heights. I met two young men coming down, who told me the trail was much better maintained on the opposite side of the pass. And still it went up, through the rock and tundra above treeline until at last, the sign marking the pass was in view and I stood triumphant in the saddle. After two long whoops, I burst into tears and couldn’t stop crying. I mourned the loss of my equipment and dreams of sharing the landscape, but I also was overwhelmed by the immense scene at my feet. To the south, the cliffs of Valhalla poured into rolling hills of forest, and the Central Valley peaked through the SW end of the canyon. Deadman Canyon sprawled to the NW, a perfect trough where glaciers pressed the stone into a glorious U. Glacier Ridge to the east and the Big Bird Peaks to the west reached their pinnacles to the heavens, and I listened to the headwaters of the Roaring River percolate from the remaining snow fields through the moraine as I descended the terminal bowl. It was along this path that I found another Trailside Meadow to relax, and it was here that I decided to attempt to connect with this place using my other senses. Cameras only record sight, and I would remember the taste of the water, the smells of the wind, the gurgle of the stream, and the warmth of sun and rock as I lay and dozed. I was resolved to walk as far as my feet would take me, and without hesitation, and avoiding a few small snakes, I ambled down the canyon’s steps and followed the river through its groves and meadows until reaching the outpost of Roaring River. I was tired, but not exhausted after such a long day. From here on out, I was heading home. And besides, they had a pit toilet…

AUGUST 13, 2007 Roaring River to Colby Lake
10 miles, 3184 vf
“I can’t remember when I didn’t want to have adventures.” – Kristen Laine

I filed a report with Ranger Cindy at Roaring River, who, coincidentally, offered me a beer. That definitely took a bit of edge off. I had met another nice group of guys as they camped at RR, and they were headed in my direction, if not a bit behind me. Once again, I had a gradual climb through the woods of Cloud Canyon, another glacially perfect U to the east of Deadman. I came up through a grove of quaking aspens, just high enough to obscure view of most of the area. And then, a few steps out, Big Wet Meadow opened at my feet. To the SE, the Whaleback stood guard, it’s sides cleanly cleaved. Cloud Canyon continued on to the south, and I could see the headwall to be gained to reach both the lake and the pass. Sun and breeze were combining again to make a perfect climbing day, and I could see a few puffs of clouds to the east, but nothing of any concern. I strode around the meadow and started the final climb up to Colby Lake, which began the unmaintained portion of the trail. It’s loose and rocky, but this side wasn’t so bad. I had been told there was a bear box at the lake, but I couldn’t find it, and I wasn’t going to spend time looking for it! I set up camp above the NW corner of the lake, scrambling down the slabs to the edge for another cold jump-in. The sun reflecting off the water and granite in the afternoon was relentless that day, and I stayed covered up to avoid a bad sunburn. The fishing, however, was ‘off the hook’. I had two fish swallow the hook within 15 minutes (hence, dinner!!), and three more that got reeled in and thrown back because it only went as far as their jaw. The alpenglow against the walls of the pass was a brilliant orange and pink as the sunset, which was a sign of the encroaching smoke from the fires burning so far away. I thought I had set my alarm for midnight to catch the second day of the meteor shower. Woke up at 4 a.m. Oops.

AUGUST 14, 2007 Colby Lake to Junction Meadow, Centennial Peak, via Colby Pass
~13 miles, ~3000 vf
“To move beyond a plateau requires making changes in ourselves, and if those changes are significant they generally have a profound effect on us.” – Susan Edwards

It was somewhere around 54degrees in my tent at 5:50 a.m. this morning, and I had only just crawled into my sleeping bag a few hours before after using it as a blanket that night. I don’t think it was supposed to be that warm at 10.6K feet, but it definitely signaled another warm day. Colby Pass was only 1.5 miles away, but also 1500vf above the lake, so I set out slow and easy. The trail winds around the eastern end of the lake, and ascends the face to a level cirque of sorts before the final climb up and out. The rock was looser along the moraine, deepening to dust and sand just below the Pass. Perhaps because of the brevity of distance, I was there by 8:30 a.m., looking at a few puffed clouds to the south, the Kern Canyon once again below, and the eastern Sierra stretching above this gap in the Great Western Divide. I dropped my pack and reconfigured the topper into a fanny pack. I had never scrambled solo to the top of a 13K+ peak, and now was my opportunity, with Centennial Peak arcing above the ridge to the north. I admit to sitting down after about 15 minutes of climbing, doubts running through my head. I was second-guessing myself again, a really bad habit. The climb wasn’t difficult or technical. The thoughts were simply those of ‘safety’, ‘you’re alone and there’s no one to help you’. The little voices were asking where my friends were. Screw it, I finally decided. This trip, and this peak, are for me today. I tried to follow the ridge as closely as possible, and my legs protested quite a bit. Although relieved of the weight, they were not inclined to continue up today, especially with the change from trudging to scrambling. I picked my way across, finally reaching the summit plateau and about 3 million false summits. Oich. Then I noticed the clouds had, well, consolidated and their bottoms grown a bit more grey. I summitted, changed hats for a moment, gulped ½ a liter of water, and headed down. I did not waste time looking for the register. My focus was on getting back to the Pass, my pack, and heading down away from those clouds.

In short, I moved too fast on the way down, taking a bit too much advantage of the sand/scree and overshot my elevation. I almost got screwed on one occasion, where a big flake of granite broke free and dropped 15 feet, leaving my big toe glued to a slab as I hugged the rock, spread eagle. I never knew that sliding granite smells of smoke. I kept scrambling until I realized that my shortness of breath was from panic over the clouds. I paused, and realized there was no wind at the moment. The skies would let me continue safely, for now. I came around a small ridge and there was the eastern trail! As I re-ascended the Pass, a man’s head popped up. It was Booger, whom I had met at the Pizza Factory last week. He had entered via Shepherd’s Pass and was out for 16 days total. After a nice chat and re-energized from the rest, I scooted down the trail like a downhill skier. It was steep initially, then leveled as I crossed below 11K. I took note of the trail, however, knowing that originally I was to have come up this way. When I reached the drop into the Kern-Kaweah River drainage, however, I knew that if I had ascended this route, the backcountry would have slapped an “Access Denied” stamp across my forehead and sent me home with a stern warning. “Come back when you’re ready, little girl!” The trail here seemed to be attempting switchers, but the dirt was falling away with every step into the trees. It would have been like walking the dunes with a 50+lb pack.

The rest of the descent was long, hot, and rocky, but doable. It wasn’t hell, it wasn’t debilitating, but it was a brutal day. I would not take this route if I were leading beginners. It is the same length as Trail Crest to Portal, and less overall vertical (4000vf), but because of the trail’s condition and steepness, I would equate it to the MR between UBSL and Iceberg. Or worse. The final portion of the descent brought me through manzanita, which by it’s nature is a heat source. I could hear the falls of the Kern-Kaweah to my south, but all I could see was that I was dropping once more into the Kern Canyon. The loop portion of my balloon was almost over. I pulled into an empty Junction Meadow, set up camp, and jumped into the River. That night it really hit me that I was on my way home, and I was ready to climb out and away.

AUGUST 15, 2007 Junction Meadow to Crabtree Meadow
8.8 miles, 3000 vf
“I climb from a deep love for the wilderness, for my partners, and for my own body and its amazing strength.” – Maureen O’Neill

After a quiet night at Junction Meadow, I awoke ready to face the long climb out of the Kern Canyon, back up to Wallace Creek. I remembered liking how the campsites were setup, so I decided to gauge how I felt when I got there and then determine whether to push on to Crabtree or not. It was this day that I felt just how much stronger I had become over the trip, because I seemed to cruise up the trail, making the 4.2 mile/2400 vf climb in under 3 hours! It was only 12:30, so after lunch and grabbing water I packed up and headed up once again. There were a few spots on the roller coaster of the JMT that slowed me a bit, especially compared to all the ‘lightweights’ out there. You know, there may be something to that concept… I rounded the corner after the first junction, and Whitney’s west face came once again into view. I smiled broadly, knowing I still had some miles to go before I slept once more in a soft bed, but also knowing how many miles I had put under my belt. Whitney was a familiar friend, stoically welcoming me back. I strolled into Crabtree and headed for the Ranger Station, presumably to get a weather report (when in actuality I was looking to make more friends, thank the rangers, and see if they had beer like Ranger Cindy in RR!), when who should appear on the deck but Erica, the BC Ranger Supervisor Mike and I had met two weeks prior in Horseshoe Meadows! “It’s the Moose Lady!” she cried. I ended up shooting the breeze for an hour or so with the rangers, getting the scoop on fishing the Crabtree Lakes (layover day tomorrow) or climbing Hitchcock. Unfortunately, the rangers were preparing to leave for an S+R and couldn’t relax longer. From what I could tell, they would have preferred to stay, often reiterating, “It’s August.” I found a nice campsite near the Bear Box at the eastern end of the upper meadow, and was joined by a few more people later that afternoon. Crowded? Definitely. Noisy? No. Once again my new acquaintances and I chatted into the evening.

AUGUST 16, 2007 Layover Day at Crabtree Meadow
“I go for my pleasure and to conquer myself. I know of nothing more deadly than inaction, whether physical or mental.” – Colette Richard

There’s not much to see in Crabtree Meadow itself. The meadow is completely dry and withered; the creek is small and timid. Even the Hitchcock Ridge is hidden behind the trees and Mt. Young basically looks down with a laid-back aire saying, “Wassup? I’m a big pile of scree. Whaddya wanna do about it?” But if you’re looking for a place to lean against a log, eat as much food as possible, write in your journal, or maybe even see friends who happen to be finishing the JMT even though you had no idea they were doing it (?? My friend Lubos from SoCal showed up randomly with his friend that afternoon looking for food!!), it works. So I sat. I whittled away the day with almost nothing, then found new friends to sit with and talk about nothing. It was today that I met my ‘chaperones’ for the remainder of the trip, Herb, Dwight, and Bill. Three good ol’ boys from Tennessee who were appalled at my pack (wasn’t everyone at this point?), amazed I was out on my own, and were obsessed with my Ka-Bar. But at least they were heading my way. We decided to camp together the next night above Guitar Lake, then summit and out Saturday. I couldn’t resist the thought of cold beer and burgers with these boys. So it wasn’t an inactive day. Just a relaxing one.

AUGUST 17, 2007 Crabtree Meadows to Above Guitar Lake
3 miles, 1060 vf
“As described by the movements themselves, I felt more gentle, deliberate, delicate, relaxed, flexible, and, at the same time, more powerful.” – Susan Edwards

I awoke to what I thought was fog this morning, only to realize that the smoke had thickened the air overnight. All local features were hazed out, leaving nothing but vague silhouettes of the peaks. Herb headed out about 15 minutes before me, and then I hit the trail heading back to Guitar Lake. It was an exquisitely calm morning, and a buck wandered across the trail 100 yards ahead of me. I stood and watched him attempting to find breakfast until he finally noticed me and bounded back up the hill to the trees. Pushing up to Timberline Lake, I found the small meadow on the right of the trail that would take me back to the slabs I had crossed 10 days earlier. Whitney Creek rolled to my right, and a few marmots skittered out of my way as I strolled across the broken granite. I popped right up at the head of Guitar, and, calling out to Herb, startled him out of his socks as he stood in the meadow on the northern shore. After a few minutes rest, we walked on, looking for the spring above the tarn above Guitar, and made camp. We had the whole day ahead of us, and not far to go. Clouds built and dissipated, winds blew and calmed, sunlight burned and weakened, and we sat on our duffs, looking at the backside of the Crest and making out the ant-like hikers 3000 feet above us. The next day was the big one. Another 16 miles, but bringing me home.

AUGUST 18, 2007 Above Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal, Mt. Whitney/Muir/Discovery Pinnacle
15.6 miles, 3000 vf
“On this climb, my body will feel pain and will suffer injuries but will recover and forget. My soul, however, will experience a deep peace and soaring exhilaration from which it will never recover.” – Ann E. Kruse

This was it. My last day. Even with the measurement of time meaning so little out here, I was amazed at how fast it still flew. I awoke to my alarm at 5, and immediately started packing. First the sleeping bag; the cocoon; deflate and roll the air mattress; get them outside; clean out the tent; drop the tent; roll it up and bag it; where’s breakfast?; oh yeah, not cooking this morning, grab the Luna bar and there’s no coffee left anyway; got enough water?; it’s a long way to water on the other side; quick, take the immodium so you don’t have to poop today; but keep the wag bag ready JIC; need anything out of the bear can?; ****, where’s my watch?; gol-darned zipper, get around the can!; this nervous excitement is killing me. By 5:45 I was on the trail, trudging up towards the junction. But then, it wasn’t as far as the first time. Whaddya mean I’m at 13K already? It’s only 6:50? Crap! Mike’s not going to be here until 9 a.m.!! What the hell am I supposed to do until then? Oh, well, there’s Discovery Pinnacle, at least that’s in the sun. Woohoo! (15 minutes later) Back down to the junction, don down jacket, heavy gloves, and snow hat, which has antlers, btw. Yup, got a lot of interesting looks from the folks coming down from Trail Crest.

I waited until 9:10, when my fingertips and toes started to go numb. Dammit! I wanted to make a run for the summit in case the boys were still there, for someone to take my picture there, weary but proud. It would be my third summit this year, all from different directions. In May, the MR. In June, the MT. Now, from the west. I dashed across the traverse in just under an hour. So this is what it feels like to be completely acclimated! I whooped at the summit hut and joined the crowd and the party. I was home again, and I lay down across the signed rock to hug her hello. She had a perfect day set up for me: it was cold but brilliant and not a cloud in the sky. The smoke had cleared from the west, and I was able to see where I had been. The paths I had ambled and worked and laughed and cried on now lay at my feet. Not conquered, not beaten, but shared. Those paths had allowed me to cross safely and return to my high home.
On the descent, I was caught up by a young man named Dannywho had just climbed the MR and was heading for Muir. He was a better climber, I knew the route. Our paces were equal, so we strode south along the traverse and I showed him the cutoff. We ascended the scree, and we took the left-side route up (the one BobR likes to come down; that mantel move on the beginning of the right-side still freaks me out). There were plenty of hand and foot-holds, and I wondered what had stopped me in June from this first little climb. Then we got to the nose: a stinkin’ little corner of granite sticking out over a slanted slab. For his long arms and legs, he swung right around. For mine, I simply went into full panic mode; read: whimper, cry, frozen, send me back!! Danny summitted, I pouted. When he came back and asked if I wanted to try again, I looked at him, then at the rock, and said, “Yes.” He grabbed my arm, my leg, tried to place my foot, and all of a sudden I was around and hugging the nose into my belly. From there it was a done deal, and Muir was in the books. When we came back down to the nose, I took two steps and swung around without issue. Danny looked at me incredulously and asked how the hell I just did that. I replied, “I dunno, but it’s done, and I want to get down now.” There was to be another bottle of champagne when I got home.

There was a note from the Tennessee Boys in my pack at the junction, and I loaded up and started to fly down the trail. I mean that literally. My feet didn’t touch the ground the entire descent. It was ski-time with the poles as I passed everyone heading for home. I even looked at the chute from Trail Crest to see if I could scree-ski it, and then wisely hit the switchers. It’s all about momentum, people! I ticked off every checkpoint on the trail: switchers 3,2,1; Trail Camp; Consultation Lake; Trailside Meadow; Mirror Lake overlook; Mirror Lake; Bighorn Park overlook; Outpost Camp; shhhhh… ‘shortcut’; logs to cross the creek; bottom switchers; John Muir sign; OLD TRAIL; “DOUG FIRE UP THE GRILL MAMA MOOSIE’S HUNGRY!!” Three hours top to bottom with a 43 lb. pack.

After a hug, shower, and beer (not necessarily in that order), I was home.

For those of you still with me here, I ate with a great group at the Portal Saturday night, then got my ride down to the Truck of Fun in Lone Pine. I was about to drive out to Portagee Joe’s to camp that night when I checked my cell, and there was a message from my parents. They had driven out to LP from San Francisco to welcome me home!! We had a tearful and happy reunion at the Mt. Whitney, where I had a chocolate shake for dessert. The next morning it was back up to the Portal for the pancake breakfast and Moet and Chandon (you see where I get it??), and for Doug Sr. to meet my parents. They left to drive home around noon, and I hung out for a few hours waiting for some friends to come down from Horseshoe Meadows. We met up at the Roadside Café in Olancha, where they excitedly reported finding the champagne I had left for them two weeks prior on the summit of Langley.

I am now home in lala land and was back to work Monday morning. The air is thick, like soup, here, and my legs are a bit confused without the sustained activity. I have a sense that I am in the wrong place here, a desire to stay high. I’m going to hold onto that as long as I can.

“I have been to a place I have never been before and that few people have the opportunity to see firsthand. I have seen sights so dramatic that no artist could possibly capture them in words or on canvas. I have pushed myself to my utter physical limits and then said ‘no further’ while my fingers and toes are all still intact.” – Ann E. Kruse

I’ve already been asked about my next adventure. I think I’ll let this one sink in for a while.

I Can’t Give Enough Thanks:
Mom and Dad: It is your strength reflected in me. I could never ask for more. I love you both.

Doug Sr: I never been grabbed so hard by any sport and shaken until I realized that it might be a calling of sorts. Thank you for helping guide my passion and giving me the encouragement. I am still a fledgling and have much to learn, and I could sit and listen to you talk story for days.

The Contributors of the WPSMB: It’s only been a year since I first heard of this, as well as my first summit of Whitney. With all of your help, advice, conflicting opinions, trip reports, photos, arguments, reference articles, and humor, I’ve come to realize that Whitney is so much more than a mountain. She is a gathering point, a rallying cry. Let’s do all we can to promote her protection.

Ken Murray: How many talks about lightening the load? At least everything I took had at least a dual function, although I didn’t get around to using the book pages as TP. We have work to do, and I look forward to it.

Richard: To think it all started with South Hawkins and Copter Ridge. Next thing I know, I’m at LP Lake and it’s 10 below and I’m stripping to base layer because I was racing to catch you and T up. The rides only get better from here.

Tina: “The more time I spent with these strong women, the more I learned to love myself as a strong woman.” – Kristen Laine There are more out there like us. You are an inspiration and motivation. I promise not to be cranky going up Bear Canyon ever again.

My Instructors from WTC (Sierra Club), particularly Virgil Shields, Bob and Allison Dryden, Bruce Michaels, Gerard Lewis, and Paul Garry: I’d like to think I took hold of the ropes you tossed down and hauled myself up fairly well. Now I’ll repay you by setting the toprope myself.

Mike: My ever-willing partner in crime, thanks for always being there to hit it no matter what craziness I threw down on Monday or Tuesday morning. And, yes, I will eventually have to try the ‘GigaMike’ route up Gambler’s Special, as long as you’re handicapped with a 50lb pack.


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