Day 51 – Mount Whitney

May 31st

The morning was filled with tension as we emptied our packs of things we wouldn’t need on the attempt. We were leaving most of our gear in our tent at Guitar Lake in care of the marmots and bringing some water and snacks. The lighter packs were a relief as we strapped them on and started up toward the switchbacks above our heads. The first mile was harder than either of us anticipated. Stairs were taking our breath away and Tomtit was feeling dizzy. Once we hit snow, however, our attention was diverted from the altitude effects. Our timing was pretty good — the snow wasn’t very icy and we were able to walk along the path without spikes.

   
      I was completely terrified for two and a half hours. Imagine a trail 18 inches wide with switchbacks stacked up for 1,000 feet. Now cover that trail with snow that slopes away from the mountainside. And put footsteps in the snow that are slightly slippery from ice.

   
      Climbing those switchbacks was the most terrifying and awesome experience of my life so far. Tomtit was having a blast and was my rock as I tentatively took each step. We ran into lots of friends coming down who had gone up early in the morning to catch the sunrise. They were all so excited and were talking about the summit which made us excited too. There was one pretty sketchy part where the footstep snow path went through a rock. The way around was to turn your face to the mountain, back to the snow chute leading down to infinity, and hug the rock to get around it. Fun stuff!

After that it was pretty smooth sailing up to the summit hut. There were supposed to be more switchbacks at the end but everything was covered in snow and someone had cut steps straight up — of course. We charged up the incline, passing all of the day hikers in their full spikes, ice axes and helmets. Gaining the summit was exhilarating! 14,505 feet made us the tallest people in the contiguous United States. We hung out with Runaway, Hot Mess, Limp Noodle, Deluxe, The Puzzler, Seth, Malia, and a few day hikers for about thirty minutes. We signed the trail register and started back down. It was 11:30 at this point, it had taken us four hours to go five miles, and the snow was starting to get slushy. We slipped, slid, and post holed (when your leg punches through the snow to hit whatever is underneath) down the mountain back to Guitar Lake. We summited and made it back down without dying!!

   
            
   

  

  

  

  

   

First order of business was eating and resting. I took off my shoes to let them dry while we watched a few hikers jump into the freezing Guitar Lake. We packed up our bags and tent and were ready to start hiking back to the PCT by 3:30. We were able to make another three miles to Wallace Creek before we crashed. Both of our faces were sunburned from the snow and our legs were dead. It was a crazy awesome day!

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