Tuesday, July 28, 2009

3rd Time was the Charm

Actually over a week ago.
Just made it back home from hiking Mt. Whitney yesterday(Sunday July 19), and my stomach is still not back to it's normal self. This was our third trip to Mt. Whitney over the years, and the 2 previous trips for me ended without reaching the summit of the highest peak in the lower 50 states. On our first attempt Tanya reached the summit without much trouble; it wouldn't be the same for me. When we reached the 12,000 ft. mark elevation sickness hit me like a sledge hammer. I tried to push through it, but the nausea, headache, and dizziness was just to much. I made it past what are called the windows, but turned around.

On our second trip, I made it past the windows and was pushing for the last mile or so to the summit. Tanya again was doing well, but a fast moving storm was coming from the west, we could hear thunder and lighting in the distance so we decided to turn back. Very dangerous place to be, especially with unstable weather. But its was for the best, I again was feeling terrible. The storm saved me, because I had a pounding headache, and nausea again. This time the headache lasted until we reached Lone Pine,Ca.
After our second trip I said to Tanya "Mt. Whitney is not going to see me again". I had had enough! An incredibly beautiful place, but the elevation was just to much for me. I am not going back!
Well, I had to eat those words. After being invited by Ray, Tanya and I went back. Here is my story. To hike the Whitney trail you have to enter a lottery to get passes. Our group date assigned was Sunday July 19th. On previous trips Tanya and I arrived at the Whitney portal the day before and hiked the next day. This time we decided to arrive Friday and camp at the portal for 2 nights hoping that would help me acclimatize to the elevation; being that the portal is at 8300 ft. It is about a 3.5 hour drive to the Whitney portal from our home. We arrived there late Friday afternoon and were greeted by Mark and Dave, two other guys in our group,who had already set up camp.
We went to our campsite to set up our tent where we met David, who was from Yuma, Az. He was a very interesting fellow, who had spent the winter in Alaska working with Iditarod race dogs. You can imagine our conversation, he seemed to intrigued by us; being that we have run races of 100 miles and beyond. Then which he told us how his work had studied the metabolism of these ultra endurance dogs of the Iditarod. These ultra dogs run and pull a sled 1000 miles in 10 days! Can you say "Ultra Marathoners"!! Crazy!! Very interesting stuff.
After chatting we crashed early, hoping the thin air would get me ready for Sunday. Our tent was near a stream, and we were put to sleep by the sounds water rushing over rocks. To be honest it sounded like we were at 30,000 feet flying in a jet. None the less I slept soundly, though I think Tanya kept an ear open for the bears that roam around the camp looking for any food that may not have been stored in the bear lockers.
We woke up early Saturday morning, and decided to go for a short hike to the portal store, and then a short distance up the Whitney trail. From the trail head you are allowed to hike 2.5 miles before a trail pass is required.
We returned to our campsite, and soon after Ray, Bobby, and Reynold arrived, the hiking party was complete. For the rest of the day we all relaxed and prepared our gear. As a group we decided to all leave together at 2:30am and separate as each one's pace dictated.
2:30am came quickly, everyone was awake and excited about heading to the summit. We weren't the only ones. When we made it to the trail head there was at least 15 other hikers leaving at the same time. Hiking the first few hours in darkness was going to be fun, and seeing the sun rise in such an incredible place was going to be priceless. When you live close to the city the lights drown out the stars of the night sky, but in this place the stars are so vivid and clear; millions upon million of them.
For the first hour or so we hung together as a group, and then we began to break into sub-groups. Ray and Bobby stayed together, Dave, Mark, and Reynold, and then Tanya and I. As the sun rose so did the temperatures. That would soon change as we reached trail crest when we had to put on extra layers. If you have been to Whitney you will know the hike is about patience and perseverance. There are switch backs after switch backs, the famous rock face above base camp has 99 of them. I just wanted to get to the summit, but Tanya kept me focused. She kept reminding me to slow my pace and control my breathing. When we made it to the top of the 99 switch backs (Trail Crest 13,700 ft) the Whitney trail intersects the John Muir Trail. I was so excited, but also knew this was the point when the elevation sickness had begun on my last two trips. So far so good, but I did have a slight headache that was beginning to worsen, and the last 2.8 miles to the top are not easy. Tanya led the way and I just focused on one step at a time, the thin air had slowed our pace considerably. The panoramic view is incredible, the glacier lakes, Sequoia National park in the distance, just spectacular. We kept trudging, with about a mile to go the Hut at the summit came into view, this was also the point I had turned around on previous trips. "Keep moving Marc", Tanya, said" try not to focus on your discomforts, use your "Chi" (good energy). I listened to her and kept moving, finally the top/hut was in sight; thank you LORD. I was so happy, Tanya was so happy for me, but I was not feeling to good. Tanya took a few pictures of me, then I said "I'm out of here". It was a tough 11 miles back, and my stomach was starting to feel queasy, my head was beginning to feel light and painful; this was no time to hang out. So, I not spending much time at the summit, I slowly headed down the mountain.
I was about a 1/4 mile from the top when I ran into Mark, Dave, and Reynold. They had made it also, but I could tell the mountain had taken it's toll. We said a few words of encouragement to each other, but I was on a mission to get off this mountain top.
Tanya caught up to me and we headed toward the windows. We approached a fast moving cloud passing over. In the distance we heard thunder saw lightning. We picked up the pace but to no avail, my legs were weak and wobbly. The elevation had robbed me of an appetite for food and water. Though I knew I needed fuel, my stomach and my mind wouldn't let me eat. This would last for the entire trip back to the portal, the only thing that saved me was Tanya gave me a hard candy to suck on which helped a little.
After 13 hours and 45 minutes, we made it back to the portal. The trip back down the mountain felt like a never ending, miserable journey. But I must say the victory of making it to the top after 2 failed attempts was sweet. I am not in a hurry to return to Mt. Whitney I must say!
"Been there done that!" Ray and Bobby decided to trun back a base camp.
View slide show here
Marc and Tanya


Reese said...

What a journey. And I understand that getting down is sometimes harder than going up because of the fatigue. Great job, and beautiful pictures.

DawnB said...

What an amazing adventure, congratulaions on making it to the top. Outstading

Dr. Marc and Tanya said...

It was a challenge! The pictures don't truly show the beauty and the isolation. That place is serious outdoors, but we loved it.

David Cranmer said...

Congrats on the climb! I enjoyed your post and the pictures too!

Dr. Marc and Tanya said...

We hiked Half Dome yesterday in Yosemite. If you haven't done it do it. Be careful the cables are nerve recking.