(I promised you friendship stories. I had asked Kat and Strand to write about their experiences with our Mount Whitney climb. I cannot do the experience justice by putting it only in my own words. I needed to let each speak woman for herself. Without further ado: Kat.)
My Mt. Whitney hike was more than I ever expected it to be. It all started with Meredith mentioning that she entered her name into the lottery for a day permit to hike Mt. Whitney. I did not even know where it was but it sounded intriguing. I used to be an athlete in college, played Div 1 and Div 2 volleyball. Sports have been my life but lately due to work I have not had much time to challenge myself. I picked up road biking this summer and absolutely loved it, but a 22 mile hike was something that sounded almost intimidating. I wanted to prove to myself that I still have it in me. I have been struggling; had almost lost inner faith that I could actually achieve things.
I really just wanted to feel happy and proud of myself again. So I bought my ticket, told my boss that I would be taking two days off and I told my husband that I would not join for the family Outer Banks vacation. The goal was set, but it still did not feel real. We still had a couple months.
Strand, Meredith and I did a trial hike in Massachusetts. We got up early and hiked about 10 miles. It was a quick hike and I set a fast tempo. It felt good and I was thinking, “I can totally do this!” Meredith was sending inspirational emails and I kept talking to everyone about my upcoming adventure. The funny part was that my parents (both used to be professional athletes) wondered what the hell I was doing – what I was trying to prove. They actually bet $50 against me. Guess what, it pushed me even more. I would hike on the weekends, visit REI on weekly basis and I really embraced this experience. The week of the hike approached faster than expected. I started to get some jitters, mostly due to the altitude sickness that I had been reading about.
California here we come!
We all met at LAX and Meredith’s parents picked us up. I had to pinch myself, thinking, “I am going to hike Mt. Whitney with two amazing women!” The drive to Mt. Whitney was breathtaking. All of us had a constant smile. We drove up to Whitney Portal and ran around in the 8300 feet elevation to get our heart rates up. We had to take a quick nap so we could wake up at midnight and start out at 1am. I never sleep well before important event. I am too anxious, nervous and stressed out. It is all in my head – doubts.
Then we got to the trailhead. It was so dark and I was quiet; focused. It was amazingly fulfilling and I remembered all the hiking trips with my mom and sister – never in complete darkness but I felt the connection to nature and to myself that I have not felt in a while. The stars were bright and Strand was leading the way. She was alert and relaxed. A few hours in, the sun started to peak out and sunrise at 10,000 feet was absolutely breathtaking. Rocky peaks, snow and clear sky were surrounding us. It is hard to describe emotions in words.
Then the killer 97 switchbacks loomed. We reached 12,000 feet and the air started to get thinner. Steep climb and thin air… this where the teamwork started to jell. We were only 3 miles away but it was still a long journey to the summit. I had to start taking short breaks to catch my breath more often. Strand reminded me that I need to breathe through my nose – “Smell the Rose”. You could feel how close we were getting. There was no hesitation or doubt, just a clear mission of success and accomplishment.
The views were spectacular on this clear morning. However, I was more focused on Meredith’s orange backpack. The girls had a good tempo and I was slowing them down. So I made sure that I kept a close enough distance between us and maintained my steady pace. The last mile was tough, I won’t lie. It was just the mountain and me. I could see the summit – I could almost touch it. It was no longer a battle. It was a steady climb to a personal victory and to an amazing achievement. I was walking with a smile on my face, exhausted and determined. Everyone on the mountain is so encouraging because everyone wants you to succeed in reaching the summit. Finally, I could see the Smithsonian Hut. I was about 20-30 meters away. I sped up and I could feel the tears rolling down my face. I made, we all made it! We rock.
We soaked up the precious moments of our victory and we were about to descend in order to beat the approaching thunderstorm. All three of us signed the National Park Service book at the top. “I can do anything!”, I wrote into the book and I finally really believed that. The return tempo was fast but the adrenaline was pumping. You could hear the thunder around us. Rain started to come down in the last couple miles. But nothing mattered at this point. All of us were exhausted filled with joy and happiness.