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0 for 2: Whitney’s Winter Conditions Prevail
July 1, 2017
Elevation: 14,501 feet
Starting Point: Whitney Portal Trailhead
Total Miles: 21.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,500
I have attempted two high pointers so far this year and have been shot down twice. What a blow to my ego and such fuel for my eating disorder. My logical self knows that I could have done Whitney if the conditions were right. But, the reality is, I was having to wade across ankle deep creek crossings and flooded trails for the first 2,000 feet and then I had to trek across snow with wet frozen feet for the next 2,500 feet until I got to about 12,500 feet of elevation where I could go no further without an ice axe and crampons. As all of you know, I own both of these things, but when you are living out of a van for two months, you only pack the essentials. I didn’t think of an ice axe and crampons as essentials when traveling to the southern and northeastern parts of the United States in late June to August. I know that an ice axe and crampons are needed on Whitney earlier in the climbing season, but apparently the crazy winter that we got in Oregon extended into the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains as well. In fact, two days after my attempt, a local told me that they got record snow fall this winter.
Perhaps I should change my goal to the following: I will ATTEMPT every high point and eat local grub in each state. I could make it into an IEP goal where I attempt each mountain for the first reporting period, summit X amount of mountains by the second reporting period and meet my targeted goal to summit all high points by the last reporting period. Unlike an IEP though, my goal is projected to go well beyond the annual reporting period. I am thinking maybe reaching the fifty high points before I am forty…"50 before 40”…I like the sound of that. Perhaps that will be the next book title. Any ways, perhaps I should make myself an annual goal. It would seem a lot more attainable then just saying I will summit all high pointers. If I were to make an annual goal, it would sound something like this:
“When given a van and an atlas, AJ will attempt 20 state high points and summit at least 15 (75% accuracy) during the 2017-2018 climbing season and she will eat local food in at least 20 different states in order to maintain sanity and to continue kicking her eating disorder in the ass!”
Those of you who have never worked in education probably think I am an obsessive compulsive dork. Well, you are right. I am definitely OCD and am for sure a dork (thanks dad). For those of you who are educators, especially ones who work with students on IEPs, you know exactly what I am talking about and recognize that my goal meets Common Core State Standards for the development of annual IEP goals.
Regardless, I will take off my educator hat now and transition back to being an adventurer who is enjoying their summer off. Despite experiencing a back to back summit failure, it was still quiet the adventure. Even the drive south from Oregon proved to be exciting. Somewhere along the Lassen Scenic Highway, I was obsessively staring back and forth at my fuel gauge, worried that I would run out of gas. I looked back up at one point and realized I was seconds from hitting a coyote. When I finally found a gas station, where I paid $3.59 a gallon, I decided to use the facilities to potty and wash up. While cleaning my face, a frog jumped out of the little hole in the front of the sink and frightened the shit out of me. Yes, the solo mountain climber was scared to death by a thumb sized frog.
Thankfully, I was able to put the frog and coyote experience behind me and I made it to the Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center by 3:00 the next evening in order to pick up my climbing permit. Here, I was horrified by the pictures displayed of cars in the trailhead parking lot that were ripped apart by bears. I don’t know why I was so surprised. I have seen enough episodes of “Yogi the Bear” to know that this wilderness area is the same place where Yogi and Boo Boo made a living out of stealing picnic baskets. The ranger who issued me my permit, made it abundantly clear that anything that was scented in my car needed to be removed and placed in bear proof lockers at the trail head. Let’s just say it took me about an hour to forage through my van to locate every scented item, from vitamins, to baby wipes, to food. Afterwards, I hesitantly walked away from my van worried that I’d forgotten one little scented item, such as a breath mint, which would convince a bear to tear my van apart. However, once I hit the trail, that worry was overshadowed by the exertion I had to put forth on a constantly uphill approach.
Although Mount Whitney is not technical, it is strenuous. To summit, you have to hike 21.4 miles with about 6,500 feet of elevation gain. That is a hell of a lot of elevation! So, once I started hiking, with a full pack mind you, I just put my head down and put one foot in front of the other with sporadic stops to take in the views and catch my breath. Eventually I reached Outpost Camp where I set up my tent and called it a day. It was a short day, but by the time I got my permit and cleaned all the scented items out of my car, I only had so much time left for hiking. My feet were absolutely soaked, so I attempted to dry out my socks and boots, but there was no use. I ended up hiking with wet feet for the remainder of the trip.
That night, I was lulled to sleep by Lone Pine Creek, which becomes a raging waterfall right at the camp area. The next morning, I thankfully left the tent, sleeping bag and bear canister behind and departed camp with a much lighter pack. I did not have to cross anymore creeks or flooded trails, but it didn’t make any difference, my boots and socks were still soaked from the day before. Snow became my next obstacle. The snow made the trail difficult to navigate at certain points, but I was able to figure it out. However, when I got a little beyond the high camp, I could go no further. Part of me was devastated to not summit. Another part was relieved to have to turn around because I was exhausted, and the eating disordered part of me responded very loudly and was not at all pleasant to listen to. She told me I was weak and out of shape. “Of course you are relieved to turn around with all that extra weight you are carrying up this damn mountain,” she told me. That pesky bitch also said that if I don’t summit than I don’t deserve to eat local grub and just have to deal with boring trail food. Well, I told her to shut the fuck up and then I took in the beautiful view, snapped a couple pics and headed back down the trail and eventually to a local brewery for some tasty food. Overall, it was a wonderful adventure in the breath taking John Muir Wilderness.
Food: After the hike I enjoyed a Mediterranean Chicken Sandwich at Mountain Rambler Brewery in Bishop, California. It had fresh mozzarella, tzatziki, sundered tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and chicken on ciabatta bread. It was amazing and I deserved to eat it just because I exist on this earth, not because I attempted to climb a mountain.