They all fell. First the Koreans, then the tandems, small groups, couples, the old timers, and the overnighters. 2 by 3 by 5 by 2 and so on. I rooted for them all as I passed, but I was also hunting them.
I rolled into Lone Pine and the Mount Whitney Portal at 10 pm Tuesday with an immediate priority to acclimate to the altitude. A five day bender in Vegas, and a splash of serendipity, had pushed my arrival back a few days. Just my luck though, after magically picking up a hiking permit for Thursday, I'd come to find out that the summit at Mt Whitney had been snowed out Monday and Tuesday. Even then, few novices made the attempt Wednesday for fear of ice.
I've never been drawn to the mountains, for whatever reason. The ocean has always been my refuge and place of peace. Growing up, we'd vacation on the Outer Banks or Ocean City, MD. After a day well spent, my parents would pack up the umbrellas, towels and chairs, and leave me out there. When dinner came, my Dad would come fetch me from the sea. I felt one with water, the tide, I've yet to feel that with rock. When I climb rocks, it's about conquering.
At one point during every big hike, you likely reach a point when your body and mind, in unison, say, "Oh hell no. Screw this!" I had that moment today, at the bottom of what hikers have come to call the "97". At 12,000 feet you stare up at a daunting 2.2 mile climb and 2000 ft elevation hike, winding through 97 rocky switchbacks. Off to your right teasing you, is the face of Mt Whitney and the summit above. I know some people turned back today, and a few others probably should have. A fellow hiker referred to it as a death march, me, a slow plod. They only thing you can do is find your pace, and put your head down.
I summited Mt Whitney at 9:15am, five hours and fifteen minutes after I started at 4am. According to people on the Internet, that's a fantastic ascension for a novice. I don't really care, well, my ego does, but I didn't do it for the time. Hiking, much like a long drive, gives me time to think. I thought about home, and how much I miss my brother. It's become increasingly difficult to go long stretches without seeing him. I was reminded of all the FB posts and recent texts about the current "news" drama, and all the idiots and talking heads vying for your political allegiance. It became clear that people spend more time worrying about other people's darkness, instead of focusing on getting out their own light, myself included. And of course, I thought about my mother.
Almost five years to the day, I laid by her bedside, as her spirit left her. It's been a long 5 years. I can remember sitting in a bar in Logroño, Spain on the anniversary of the first year. If you've had a Rioja wine, that's the place. Eventually, wine wasn't enough, and I moved to an empty nightclub and made the bartender pour me tequila until I couldn't feel anything.
At the 14,508 ft summit of Whitney, the highest peak in the Great 48, I pulled out a rose for Pamela Marie Beardall. She would've been worried sick about me, but I did it nonetheless, hoping she might be looking over me. I didn't hike for me, I hiked for her. I wanted to show everyone that her spirit still lives on, and radiates through my life. I brought her grace and determination on that mountain today, and did my best to share it with everyone.
22 miles later at 2pm, I hobbled into the parking lot to find my car. I couldn't feel the bottom half of my body. I'm pretty sure I've obliterated ever bit of meniscus and cartilage in my knees. I don't know how or why people do this. In that moment, the universe reared its head again as I happened to stroll by two twenty-something's needing a ride down the mountain. I told 'em hop in, and sure enough, the girl went to my high school a few years after me, while growing up next to some of my friends in Sully Station, VA. Small world folks, small fucking world.
The moral of this story, attempt to summit Mt Whitney before a Las Vegas bender. Not the other way around. Shout out to Pedialyte!