The kitten’s out of the bag…you know by now that me and Miss Razzle Dazzle, who will be referred to as Razzle (even though she is dazzling) from this point forth, successfully climbed Mt. Whitney in one day. That day, Thursday, July 12th, will be a porch-rocker memory for sure. But it wasn’t until Friday the 13th that I realized how fortunate we were to complete the climb.
We must start at the beginning…
Eleven hours before we were to wake (refreshed?) and get ready to ascend, we drove to the Whitney Portal store located at the trail head (elevation of 8360 feet) to acclimate, scarf down one of Doug’s famous burgers for an early dinner and psych ourselves up for something we could not even really appreciate or comprehend.
Inside I was buzzing. I felt a tad out of body. We had just picked up our permit and infamous WAG bag (and immediately vowed that we would not be using it but rather bringing it home to show our children) and had a nice little conversation with a Ranger about bears, which was enlightening. These chocolate malt balls of fur have some, well, balls. If they so much as think you thought about eating a Snickers bar at anytime in the last week they are going to rip open your car, climb in and destroy it looking for traces of high fructose corn syrup.
While that may be unsettling, it was this remark from the Ranger that left me and Razzle conjuring up images, and not so pretty ones, of bears greeting us in the dark at the trail head:
Pack your car so that when you get to the Portal you can easily grab your stuff and get on out of there. You don’t wanna linger.
So it was nice to linger that afternoon at a picnic table with a massive burger, mine wrapped in lettuce leaves, sitting beneath 80 foot Sequoia trees, battling back chipmunks instead of bears. There was nothing brave or fearless about these chipmunks. They just wanted to steal our food and knew we would eventually fail at both shooing them away and protecting the perfect fries and really good hamburger.
They never played this game with Razzle and me.
One striped, furry rat called our table and let it be known that if any other chipmunk was going to attempt to shake us down he was prepared to chase them, catch them, and kill them. Done. Then he went to town on us, from the left, the right, up our bags, over our computers, behind our backs, and occasionally, right between our plates. He was bobbing, he was weaving, he was…
…out of luck because adrenaline ate my food in about 5 minutes.
The softest rain shower floated down through the trees, as if each drop had its own parachute. Within moments the heady scent of wet pine enveloped us, relaxing us. Our tormentor had taken off at warp speed after a former associate for an infraction I did not witness, but one that must have threatened his manhood because he was fuming, fast and screaming. Literally. Screaming.
Razzle pulled out her book and started to read, while I fired up the computer and began to write. I felt completely at ease, like I was meant to be there on Mt. Whitney, and not really getting where I was, all at the same time. In preparation, I read a few dozen articles on what to pack, how to train, what altitude sickness feels like and how to deal with it, but I read nothing written about what it felt like to day hike Whitney.
All that I was about to experience beyond 1:45 AM, Thursday, July 12th was a complete unknown to me. I couldn’t even point out the summit when we first arrived in town. I got myself to Lone Pine and had a fairly good grasp on how not to die on the mountain, but I didn’t know what to expect on the trails. I didn’t know if my body would hold up. Or how I would feel at 13,500 feet, or what it would feel like to be hiking the crest, tipsy from the altitude, and look up to spot a plane then quickly realize that the edge is no longer 4 feet away but a scant 2.
I had a very limited view of what it was going to feel like to climb Mt. Whitney. Maybe that’s why I had no fear. None. I was very calm. Excited, adrenaline running for sure, but I wasn’t frazzled. And neither was Razzle. Not even when the dude who looked like he’d seen the Burning Bush and Moses and Zeus emerged from the trail head, slumped down on a picnic bench and stared at the door to the store. For 20 minutes. He blinked once, and eventually his eyes settled back down into their sockets. The hair, however, remained on end.
Razzle entertained me with snippets from her book, Pygmy, by Chuck Palahniuk, which is the story of a young, or at least really small, 13 year old Chinese secret agent/terrorist who infiltrates a mid-Western American family in order to complete his mission, “Operation Havoc”. Pygmy, the agent, is both scary and freaking hilarious. Razzle couldn’t contain her laughter. I wanted to lay down on my bench, catch rain drops in my mouth and have her read to me in his broken Engrish morsels like:
Perhaps true profound affection defined by no entering vagina without consent.
If no sing, all youth condemned into poverty. Denied possible advancement and self-realization.
Seek midday nourishment. Visit memorial acclaimed war hero Colonel Sanders.
We were both shuddering with laughter. Pygmy is number 1 on my list of books to read when I make the time to read books again. I cannot imagine how Chuck Palahniuk must have roared while penning those pages.
My belly felt good from the food and the laughter. And my being was nourished by nature. The sky-scraping walls of oatmeal colored granite rising above us concealed the summit, and much of the mountain from my vantage point. The trees shrouded us further. We were cradled in her belly, shielded from the meadows, lakes, cliffs and boulders, waterfalls and marmots that lurk behind her walls of granite like vaudeville performers at a traveling circus, hidden behind brightly painted posters depicting their death defying acts or special talents. Behind me was a small wood and wire structure that served as an entry way to the trail head, the kind you see at a zoo or museum, with graphics at eye level explaining key facts about the Mt. Whitney trail.
For all I knew I would walk through that entry way in the early morning darkness, penetrate the park and within a mile end up in a bat crazy, Tom Cruise hosted recruiting party for Scientology.
We spent four hours at the Whitney Portal and apart from the lifesaving gift of trekking poles from Doug, the owner of the store (Doug, I thanked you every switchback on the descent and returned them that afternoon.) I didn’t really get any clearer on what to expect when I finally set out on the trail.
How would I feel? Would I be blown away (God, I hope not literally.) or would it just be an amazing climb, killer views and a great time with a great friend? Would I arrive back at the trail head with an epiphany or just blisters and a bloated colon?
Would I arrive back at the trail head?
The temperature started to fall, the last of the hikers emerged from the trail, disheveled and in various states of happiness, and we returned to our car to begin the drive back to Lone Pine, which is basically all brake and zero acceleration until you hit the Alabama Hills. We got up that morning at 5AM so we’d have a shot at a decent night’s sleep. I was tired from our 10 miler the day before and the altitude and felt like sleep would not elude me.
After cleaning out the car to prevent a bear riot, counting our liters of water, sorting our food and packing our backpacks, I wrapped up the post and Razzle fell into bed. I was soon to follow.
When I finally laid my head on the pillow at 7:35 PM I was so full of joy I cried like Donald Duck, tears spurting from my eyes, arcing toward the pillow and falling splat. The outburst completely took me by surprise. I tried to be silent, not wanting to freak Razzle out. I chalked the tears up to being excited and grateful for the opportunity to finally, after all these months of talking about her, climb Mt. Whitney. It’s here! The day has arrived! And these days I’m pretty emotionally porous so it’s no surprise I’d cry a river before falling asleep mere hours from setting off to climb her granite-ness.
My now-stuffy nose didn’t keep me up for long. I awoke once to pee around 9:45 PM (Dear Smart Water, I’m not so much into celebrity endorsed stuff, especially when it’s in a plastic bottle, but your water was the right fit for me for this climb. TY, LY, OY) Then I woke one minute before my alarm went off. 1:44 AM. Razzle was already up and getting dressed.
How’d you sleep?
Not great. I got up around 10 and couldn’t fall back asleep. Bears.
I can’t stop thinking about the bears at the Portal. I was going to wake you at 1 and see if you wanted to get an early start but I didn’t want to cut your sleep short. I’ve been up for awhile.
I was too busy wondering if I was gong to feel let down if I didn’t have a big epiphany on the mountain to think about the bears…
The ones we’re supposed to run from to kick off the start of our 22 mile journey.
My legs swung themselves off the edge of the bed.
Let’s do this.
Minutes later we were driving in the pitch black darkness of a desert night, through a lunar landscape, into a forest, and up a mountain, where the bears would surely be waiting.