For all of the challenges a day hike of Mt. Whitney presents, at least sharks are not part of the game. Alas, in the San Francisco bay they are a potential hazard. Although it’s more likely that I would be bullied by a seal than attacked by a shark. Thankfully neither happened to me today as I completed my first swim from Alcatraz to East Beach.
Well, I wasn’t bullied in the bay…
Before I take you back to Mt. Whitney and Trail Crest, I just want to say that your support over these past two weeks has meant more to me than any climb or swim, or beautiful moon over a foggy Marin beach. I’ve worn your wisdom on land like my wet suit in the water – it protects me, keeping me warm and centered. It keeps me from stepping backwards into anger or negative chatter. Your support helps me to focus my energy on the boys and our journey together.
I am so grateful for each and every one of you furry little kitten heads. You rock. Not unlike Alcatraz, but without the whole penitentiary thing.
Back to Whitney we go…
Razzle and I met Tony not long after we began the epic climb of Whitney. We were all peeing, or essencing or eating or something, in the pure, rich darkness of the high Sierras and took a moment to chat. He was hiking alone – holy brave! So nonchalant. As if he did this two or three times a week as purely a distraction from day-to-day life. We asked him about the switchbacks. Honestly, with all the talk about Whitney’s switchbacks you’d think that’s all she has to offer. So not true. According to Tony, she saves her best bits for last.
The switchbacks aren’t bad. It’s the Trail Crest that you have to watch out for.
I sucked in a little oxygen, because that’s basically all you can suck in. I sort of skipped thinking about Trail Crest pre-hike. Some things are better left as surprises. I overheard someone at the Portal store say the trail was great up there, easy to navigate, not much boulder hopping. I expected we’d pick some high altitude daisies and head along the crest. Which to me meant level walking. No biggie. Great views! Slight uphill finish to achieve the right to sign the book, gawk, and feel proud.
What’s not to like?
How about the fact that it goes on for about 2 miles? Or that I could tumble right off the side of the mountain if I fell at the worst possible time, which is when I’d face plant for sure. The Forceps of Altitude could emerge from the granite boulders towering over me and come down upon my head like the claw in that boardwalk game that always takes your cash and rarely gives you the stuffed animal. Only this time it wouldn’t miss, but would grab my gingered skull and crush it like soft-serve ice cream. Imagine that freeze headache.
When Razzle and I reached the Trail Crest we were relieved, kind of intimidated and utterly blown away by the scene that unfolded in front of us. It didn’t seem possible that we could have this vantage point on the world simply by walking for just under seven hours. It warranted a much more herculean effort.
Peak after granite peak burst from the valley floor, leaving boulder and shale to fall on their backs in awe. We began to pick our way along slabs that ranged from table top to salad plate. Occasionally my pole tip would get lodged, snapping me out of my focused and flabbergasted state. I’d pause and gather myself, plot my next foot placement and sometimes fight the tears of joy that bubbled behind my eyes. It’s not that I didn’t want them to come pouring out, because I very much wanted that. It’s because I couldn’t afford to have blurry vision if I wanted to hold tight the glass of Cabernet I so coveted for our celebration later that evening.
As I pondered the perfect location to plant each flipper, Razzle – who you will recall is afraid of heights – is zooming along. I honestly don’t know how she did it. I believe it comes down to this relationship, if you can call it that, I have with my feet. I don’t trust them. Or maybe I don’t trust my legs on land. That’s the mermaid in me. I can’t just bounce from surface to surface like Razzle was doing. Maybe bounce is an exaggeration, or simply the effects of altitude on my perception, but whatever the term, she was on the move. I felt the need to catch up. And slow down. Savor it all.
But the best part of Trail Crest was just up ahead. We were about to dump our packs and make the summit push.
—I interrupt this post to sleep. The bay required a lot of energy today. Rest assured, it was a beautiful give and take.
The only down side was the shark.