Friday, August 24, 2012

Un-Bucket List #8: Climb Mount Whitney

Mt. Whitney in California is the highest peak in the lower 48 states with the summit at 14,505 ft. It is a 22 mile day hike with an elevation gain of over 6,000 feet. It has 97 switchbacks, but does not require any technical climbing: meaning you can walk up it. . . I mean, hike up it.

I've climbed Mt. Whitney.

It was never something I planned on doing; it wasn't on my bucket list. However, my husband, who loves mountains, thought it was a good mountain to go climb. Maybe it was on his list and so, by default, mine. It was a hike we could do together. I don't like rock climbing and I don't like exposed summits and Mt. Whitey had neither. It was a no-brainer. We took my husband's brother and sister with us. I read "The Green Mile" as we drove down to California. I've never cried so hard reading a book before. I was 2 months pregnant (no one knew) and my mother was having surgery to remove some cancerous tumors.

After visiting the visitor's center and learning about the dangers of the local bears who will eat you in your sleep especially if you have smelly things like makeup or Chapstick in your tent, we set up camp and went to bed. My brother-in-law Todd insisted on sleeping with Chapstick in his pocket. His sister and I were not amused.

We started climbing between 2 and 3 in the morning. I like hiking before the sun comes up because it is sort of like you don't even count those miles done in the dark. I mean, you can't really see anything and so you sort of zone out and you just walk. It was a challenging hike. A long hike. Those 97 switchbacks went as far as the eye could see, and I thought we'd never reach the top, but we did. It was a rewarding hike. We passed a older man and his son who were doing the hike together (it was on his father's bucket list) and though the father was healthy, he was well advanced in years. I was amazed at them: a father and a son, fulfilling dream while there was still time and opportunity to do so. They hiked slow and deliberately and they seemed to look around more than the rest of us. I knew it meant something special to both of them.

There was bagpiper on the summit (cool!) and the highest outdoor toilet in the lower 48 (should using it have been on my bucket list?). The summit was also COLD. And me--thinking it was California and summer time--well, I was unprepared for the frigid temperatures up there. It was then that my husband starting pulling things out of his pack: a hat, a fleece jacket, gloves. Unbeknownst to me he'd planned and packed and carried items for me to be comfortable on the summit. It was sort of sweet and thoughtful of him.

We returned to camp tired and exhausted. It had been a long day, but I'd loved it.

I loved climbing that mountain.

We rested for a while and then drove into town where I made a phone call home. I sat on the ground at a pay phone and learned that my mother's surgery that day had been unsuccessful. Her tumors, surgically removed just weeks earlier, were back larger than before and were growing quickly. I sat in the dirt and I cried and I cried.

I didn't know that it was possible to be so very high and so low in the same day. It is.


Julie W said...

The "highs and the lows" -- a perfect metaphor for life.

farmgirl said...

Your unbucket list was most likely one of the best ideas to ever come to pass in the year 2012.
You are a fabulous writer.

p.s. I can totally see Todd unwilling to remove his chapstick.