Last week we went back to Lone Pine, CA to have a second attempt at climbing Mt Whitney, the highest mountain in the USA outside Alaska. We attempted it last May while we were touring the states in our RV but only got as far as Trail Camp due to some muppet getting too much sun and having to go back down the mountain to recover. Trail Camp is at 12,000′ so is well over halfway up the route in terms of elevation gain, but it’s still a long way from the summit and the hardest climbing lies above it. We were both disappointed not to have got to the top last year, and I in particular felt like I had unfinished business. So this year we booked a full week off work, flew down to LA and rented a 4×4 so we could get around in the mountains.
I’ve broken it up for all of you readers. Enjoy.
YYZ – LAX- Lone Pine, CA – Horseshoe Meadows
No RV this time. A plane, bus and car sorted our way this time. After several hours of travel we arrived in Lone Pine California, most notably staying at the Dow Villa Motel (highly recommended). This trip was exciting and a complete mental mind screw. We were fitter this year more determined but seeing Whitney peak out at us while driving closer to our hotel we suddenly got very quiet, nerves set in, even hands started to sweat. We didn’t waste any time. We didn’t really have time to waste. The next day we headed up to Horseshoe Meadows to acclimate. Situated nearly 10,000 feet above sea level the place is stunning. We set up camp and started to relax. Relaxing ensued followed by headaches. Terrible headaches. I had the pleasure of experiencing my first crappy bout of altitude sickness. A hike the next day up to 11,200 feet and a great throw up session, Matt put me back in the car and drove down the mountain to sort me out. No less than a half hour later I was asking for a burger, my headache had gone and the vomiting stopped. I felt hung over from it all minus the drinking (which kind of sucks). Spent the night in town and discussed our options over the next few days. Where to camp, where to set out for the summit, what time, food etc.. There is a lot of preparation that goes into something like this.
Lone Pine, CA – Whitney Portal – June 28, 2011
Gear check, food bought, weather forecast checked, hearing a crazy man talk about how dangerous the mountains are.. check… fountain pop in hand, free wifi at Mc D’s.. and Matt giving me that exciting, let’s do this look and we drove off to the portal. My bout of altitude sickness brought forth a crap load of doubt which Matt squashed at any opportunity. He has had experience with AMS in the past and told me what I felt was normal which was actually reassuring. Our evening consisted of me lounging in the middle of the parking lot sorting our food out, Matt trying to get a chipmunk out of the car, making dinner and trying in vain not to get eaten alive by mosquitoes. For a girl who likes the mountains and hiking I could do without them. At that point we decided to start the trail at 6:30am, hike up to Outpost camp, relax there for the day and get up at 3a.m for a summit attempt that day. We were supportive, determined as hell and excited like kids in a candy shop. Round of Uno and time to tuck in.
Whitney Portal – Outpost Camp – June 29, 2011
Enjoying the sound that nature brings. Light winds, the flowing river behind our camp, birds chirping and a blackberry alarm going off at 5:30am to wake us up. Sigh. We were quite awake though all things considered. We got up and sorted ourselves out. I wore my clothes to bed so I didn’t have to change (call me lazy OR effective!) and Matt took the camp down. We spent the next 30 minutes loading our heavy packs up, eating and being generally quiet. I think Matt has found a way to shut me up. Get me nervous about a big climb and my need for chit chat takes a dive. One last gear check and wink from Matt and off we went. The Whitney Trail sign in clear view and the switchbacks that I loathe above me. It was a quiet hike up. I was focused. I didn’t talk much (heh). Matt was carrying a child (50 odd lbs) and I was carrying 30lbs. our pace was decent. It was beautiful scenery. Best bit was stopping to see a female deer staring at us up on the switchbacks. She was stunning and so pretty. I felt it was a good omen of things to come. High creek bed crossings, a beautiful lake to take in a few hikers on their way down informing us of crappy winds and before you knew it we were walking through Big Horne Meadows and getting ready to throw our packs down. Outpost camp never looked so good. A long day ensued of doing a whole bunch of nothing. Relaxing, mentally preparing, walking around the site, taking pictures, sleeping, drinking tea, took up most of our day. We prepped our summit sacks decided for a 3am wake up call. Food in bellies, nerves kicking up, A light dusting of snow followed by hail and it was time to call it a night. I’m not sure if either one of us slept properly.
Outpost Camp – Summit attempt – June 30, 2011.
3am alarm and two very excited and slightly scared climbers coming out of the tent. Trying to eat breakfast at 3 in the morning is pretty damn difficult. I managed to throw down one breakfast bar. This alpine start was a first for me. Matt was our navigator. I was far too chicken sh*t to take it on J We had a GPS with us that would help us most of the way. We figured once the snow was packed we would take more of a direct line towards the chute. We started off slowly. Too slow. We focused a bit too much on retaining energy for our long day that it slightly hampered us. There is definitely something about hiking in the dark and having the pleasure to see the sun rise over the mountains. There wasn’t much to say. The smiles on our faces said it all. We were surrounded by pure awesome beauty. Several hours later it was crampon time. I saw the chute and it made me want to pack it in and go home. An 800 foot snow covered chute at a 40-45 degree angle. A twirl at 12,000 feet, crampons on our feet and Matt being ever so smart discussing the chute in 3 parts (making it easier on my psyche) and we went for it.
Matt in front of me kicking steps and I was following a few paces behind (in case he was to slip). We were methodical about it. We listened to each other and were very conscious of our surroundings. We kept a decent pace and managed to stay away from a dude who’s crampon popped off and he started to slide down the chute. The chute was tough, long and a big pain in the a*s. Suddenly we got to the top! I sat down, chewed on some beef jerky and Matt had this huge smile on his face. I suddenly looked at him and said “ I think we actually have a shot at this”. He started laughing followed by the comment of “You’re just thinking this now?!?!” Ya.. I had huge doubts. My bad. We still had a couple hours to climb. Off we went. We continued on the trail towards the summit. At one point you can actually see the summit cabin. Its brutal as it makes you realize that you still have a way to go. Nearly there I figured we needed a pick me up. What better way to have a giggle then to put on your iPod and play some Michael Jackson? Hell ya! I started dancing around and Matt was throwing his hiking pole up in the air. We looked nuts or we could have passed off for being hypoxic. ß which I thought Matt was. He kept mentioning how he wasn’t seeing any trees up in the alpine zone. I thought he was going crazy. One last snow chute to climb (you bastard!) a 10 minute walk and suddenly we were there. 2:20pm we made it to the top. It was amazing. What an accomplishment. We celebrated with a dozen or so other hikers/climbers. We took in the view surrounding us. I was conscious of time. Too conscious. I wanted to be back at the snow chute before the shadows started to cast their spells and ice it up. I was about to sign the register when Matt kept calling me over to see him. He told me he found a tree. I told him he was crazy.
Sure enough, there was a tree. A small log. He found it on the floor and as we were looking at it he turned it around and right before my polarized eyes was a message on the log. Marry Me! (please note, it was a statement not a question). He started to talk to me and tell me some beautiful things but it was really all muffled by my gortex jacket and my sobbing. I said yes and before you knew it I had a tinfoil ring on my finger and I was celebrating with everyone else on the summit. Strangers who had the pleasure of sharing an awesome moment with two very awesome people. I signed the summit register, Krista Everson & Matt Cave June 30, 2011. Toronto, Canada and now engaged. Time to high tail back to the chute.
Summit – Whitney Portal June 30, 2011.
We got back to the mini snow chute. Matt looked at me and mentioned it was time to glissade. The glissade lasted seconds and I forgot how fun they can be. We got to the bottom and Matt mentioned how that was our refresher course for it as we had a very long chute to negotiate later on. Eek. We had a very brisk pace. We didn’t stop for any chit chat from other climbers. One stop for me to pee (privacy doesn’t exist on the mountain) and sips of water, which we were starting to run out of and we were making good progress. Matt started mentioning how his eyes were sore, stingy and watery. I was trying to remember how many times he took his glasses off. A few .. but for how long I am unsure. Nervousness setting in. We kept a good watch on his eyes for the next little while. Last thing we needed was for him to go snow blind. We made it to the top of the snow chute (trail crest). The shadow had started to cast over the chute. Matt and I talked to each other, while 10 others listened in. We had people approach us asking us how to glissade. This chute.. IS NOT a place to learn. It is dangerous, steep and rocky. Fatalities have occurred here due to it. It got slightly out of control. Matt had to state quite clearly that he was not a certified mountain guide. One other climber was telling two young ladies how there is a risk of avalanche. There wasn’t. the guy had no clue and in turn he was scaring the shit out of others.
We negotiated a very steep traverse. Matt was scared. I was as well. Sure enough though I was steps behind him. We had to do it. there was no other way. Matt decided to go first. He would glissade a portion, stop, wait for me to show up and continue. He started his glissade and even showed a few climbers how to self arrest. My turn. I glissaded down to him. Didn’t feel so bad actually. This was the next 20 minutes of our routine. Glissade, stop, wait, glissade and so on. Once we got to a safer part we just let it rip and went for a longer ride! It was a blast! I felt secure after that. The worst part was over. We were relatively safe. Even my tinfoil engagement ring survived the chute. Matt and his eyes were not getting any better. He was having difficulty seeing. Our initial plan was to get back to outpost camp and then hike out the next day. It was looking more like we would be heading straight to the portal instead. The last thing we needed was for Matt to wake up and be snow blind. A few more hours hiking and we were back at Outpost Camp. The discussion came up of leaving to the portal. I was done in. 16 hours of hiking. I was exhausted. I started to cry but I knew the safest thing to do was to get down. Matt took a heavy load going down and I stuffed whatever I could in my pack. It was close to 8pm when we started off. We made it down safely in 2 hours and 8 minutes. This trek down included the high creek beds in the dark, followed by my hallucination of a rock being a toad and people talking behind me and Matt hike sleeping. We were the f*cking boys minus the walkie talkies.
We unloaded our packs. Matt couldn’t drive his eyes were that bad. 18hours of climbing/hiking and a nice drive, very sloowww drive down the mountain and we made it back into Lone Pine. We got a room at the Dow Villa Motel (you guys rock) and I fussed over my giant. We did it. we made it to the top and back safely. We had one hell of an adventure together. We toughed it out and hauled ass. We walked away from Mount Whitney with a summit under our belts and one hell of a future ahead of us. Would I climb Whitney again? Ask me while I was there and I would say HELL NO. Ask me now and ya.. I’m not so sure I would give the chance up. She is a beautiful mountain not to be underestimated one bit. Treat her well and she will reward you with memories that will last you a life time. I can certainly attest that the memories of that day will never fade for myself or Matt.