Monday, July 17, 2017

It's an Option to Make it Up, It's Required to Make it Down

That's the big learning from this past weekend on Mt. Whitney. It's the highest mountain in the lower 48 and it's not a joke of a climb. If you do it the way we did it's 22 miles round trip. The really important thing is that it's 22 miles and not 11 miles.

Roughly 10 days or so before the date we climbed, I was invited to climb. My climbing partner had the pass for the mountain and his planned climbing buddy had backed out. He had climbed Mt. Raineer and Mt Shasta previously. I had climbed nothing but easy day hikes over the years.  The only thing going for me was my fitness and my thirst for knowledge. I've read so many climbing books that I feel a kinship to climbers.

We started in the dark and the day opened to some of the most beautiful natural colors. 

Mirror Lake sits at 10,000 feet and is 4 miles into the climb. 

The next section began the more technical climbing. There are 12 total water crossings. You can't see it but the water is above my ankles. Yes, I chose to wear the Altra Superior. I had no foot issues so I consider it a success. 

There is of course beauty all along. The hard parts of this section were the 5 snow fields we had to cross. Those snow fields got us to 13,000 feet. 

There are two ways to get to the turn to the summit. They both take some work. The way we went was the wall called switchbacks. It's 99 switchbacks that go straight up the wall. There were also 3 precarious snow crossings. 

At the turn it's 1.9 miles to the summit. It's the longest 1.9 miles I've ever had. 2 hours long to be exact. The payoff was spectacular. 

On the way up, my climbing partner and I stayed together for the first 5 hours. This got us to roughly 1/2 way up the switchbacks. He started to feel the effects of the altitude and the effort and we agreed that I go ahead. By this time I had drunk 3.5 liters of water or electrolytes and I'm sure he had 10 ounces. I made it to the top of the switch backs and waited. I caught glimpse of him and realized he was an hour behind me. I had a decision to make. There were lots of climbers on the route below and based on our discussions, he would turn around or stop and wait if he felt the need. I went for the summit. 

At the summit I had some food, changed into dry socks and felt great. I headed down soon after meeting the mom and son who took the picture and the young woman hiking the PCT. The way down was much easier and much faster. In fact a young woman we met at 13,000 feet was spot on with her time prediction. We met her at 8:00am. She said it would take us 4 hours to climb up and 2 hours to climb down. I hit the summit at exactly 12:00pm. 

At 30 minutes into the descent I ran into my climbing buddy. I was surprised he had made it that far. I gave him as much encouragement I could to make the top. I told him it was only 1 hour away and that I would wait right where we were standing for him to come back. He asked me to summit with him and that was out of the question. He asked for some water which I gave him. I settled into the shade and he started moving. 2 minutes later he was back and done. He basically said "I have no energy left, let's head down" 

I had him lead so I could watch. It took us 2 hours to get to the top of the switchbacks. I would have been there 90 minutes before we arrived. In the nicest way I could I told him to stop and eat. Then I said "We have one goal and only one option and that is to make it down off this mountain" 

Down the switch backs it was more of the same but a little better. The food was kicking in to him and he was able to somewhat follow my pace. I kept the pace very slow. It took us 2.5 hours to get off the switchbacks. It took me 2 hours to climb them. 

From the the 13,000 foot camp I made some poor decisions that cost us some time. Once we found our way I put him in on front and followed his pace. You are only as fast as the slowest in a case like this and it was the safest way to go down. It was slow going. 

We made it down at 9:30pm a full 17.5 hours after we started. Although it was a very tough day it was totally worth it. My buddy went through all of the emotions of failure and by the bottom was in good spirits. We didn't talk much the last 4 hours of the hike but we did have some laughs in the car going back to the hotel. 

There were times on the way up that I sensed we were in for a day like this. The pace early seemed too fast. I was worried about his lack of water consumption. I ate about 3,000 calories he probably had 500. Boiled eggs are not calorie dense. Most of all though I think he just has a tough time in thin air. I don't. In fact the higher I went the better I felt. There is some fitness in there buy my Dad always said "You were born at 8,000 feet and it's in there when you need it". 

My suggestion for anyone that wants to climb. Take your time. Climb to the camp at 13,000 feet. Spend the night or two nights there. Then go for the summit. It gives you time to get used the thin air. It's simply beautiful up there and your hike to the summit is only 4 hours up and 2 hours down. Much easier then 8 hours up and 9.5 hours down.

The best comment came from a woman I met in the park across the street from home. She said after meeting her "You look like a climber!"

It's a good life.....

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