Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Definitive Mt Whitney Journal/Diary

Mt Whitney Diary-Garrett Riley

Well you know what they say, memory is prone to evaporate like the morning dew. And unless I write this down, 40 years from now Tasha and I will not remember hardly here goes…….

First off I want to state that this climb was not my idea. I was influenced and encouraged by Tasha and other family members. If it had not been for them, I would never have stood on the summit. But I am sure you have figured out by now that I am glad I did participate in the hike, otherwise why else write about it?

The Hikers: Garrett Riley, Tasha Riley, Tina Trettin, Denise Riley, Matt Riley, and Nicole Santiago

Lone Pine August 3rd, 2009- Tasha, Myself, Kevin, Zach, Lauren, Tina, Matt, Nicole, Dad, and Denise arrived and checked in to our hotel. We picked up our valuable 24 hour trail passes, had a communal dinner at the Pizza joint, and I accomplished my first necessity, getting a good night sleep. I was out by 9 PM.

Lone Pine August 4th 2009 1:50 AM We wake up and I surprisingly feel about as good as I could possibly feel despite the sleep deprivation. Tash and I met up with Tina and we walked down to the cars. Our backpacks were setup the night before, checked and rechecked…we were ready. Tasha, Tina and I drove in the Oddessy, and the rest of the crew followed behind. It was about a 20 minute drive from the hotel to the trailhead. While driving we saw a bear in front of us who was jogging along with our car for about 10 seconds until he abruptly veered off and headed into the woods.

We got to the trailhead, and I found a good parking space. We marshaled our group together for a series of photos taken by my Dad, and then Matt said a few words and led us in a prayer. He said that we would never forget this day. And then we casually bid my dad farewell, and with our headlamps on, at about 3:07 AM we turned and began the first steps of our 22 mile hike. “OK so this it, it’s here, we’re doing this now” was what I was thinking in my head. We hiked through the darkness and assumed a formation that would be pretty much consistent the entire ascent. Me and Nicole were out in front 50-100 yards or so, the rest of the group was in back of us. About 10 minutes into the hike I was hit with a mini panic attack as I felt a little shortness of breath. I began to think of the task ahead of me and the sheer scope of it. I told myself that this is just like sometimes when I am on the elliptical and for a couple minutes it hurts and then I settle into a groove. Maybe that is what is going to happen here I thought, I made myself believe that would happen. I thought back to swimming 500 laps in the pool in high school. I used to get a pleasant feeling while swimming long distances in a pool almost like I was in a cocoon. I would play games in my mind like I wasn’t really controlling my arms, and therefore it wouldn’t hurt when I would move them. “Think about that” I told myself, and pretty soon my legs just got into a rhythm and a pace, 20 years later and I was back in the cocoon.

Nicole and I came to what we thought was a log over a vast ravine, we couldn’t see much until we got closer to it in our headlamps, both us said the following at about the same time, “Is that a? No way, is it? Oh my gosh OK I just thought we were gonna have to do something seriously scary” We realized that it was just a log over another stream.

The terrain for that first 4.2 miles was probably the easiest of the entire trip. (Conversely that same terrain would prove the hardest 4.2 miles on the way back) It was mostly a fairly easy (by whitney standards) uphill, we crossed over a lot of streams and just kept going up and up, in the darkness. One thing we did see at about the first mile was someone on a stretcher who the rangers were securing to take out, none of us know what happened to this person. We made it to first camp just about when the sun came up. We took a little rest and then we had a mishap. Tina discovered that her water bladder was leaking. Not good news, all of us needed as much water as we could get, but we agreed to share water with her, and I think some was filtered for her. I found out later that my Dad and Denise’s dog had chewed up the water bladder.

We left first camp behind and continued on up. The terrain got a little steeper and there were many more “steps” to deal with, it went on like this until second camp, I was feeling good, just continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Walk, walk, walk, step up, walk, step up, step, up……and on it went. We got to 2nd trail camp and I was looking forward to visiting the outhouse. I asked the first people I saw where it was and they said to me, all the outhouses were taken down 3 years ago, and did I have my “Wag” bag? Holy @@#$ I thought to myself, and while sparing you the details, this is the first of my two Wag bag experiences.

It was cold, constant wind was blowing against us, and was doing so while we stopped to eat by the lake at second camp. I took out my sandwich choked it down as best I could, it was very dry. But all these moments of discomfort were not so bad at the time, because I knew that my goal was at the top of the switchbacks and beyond.

The Famous Switchbacks From 2nd camp to the top of trail crest there are a series of 97 switchbacks which last for over 3 miles. It wasn’t too bad going up, it was endless, but the scenery was awesome, and at this point I knew without a doubt that I would make the summit, I was feeling pretty good. So anyways, back and forth, back and forth, step up, step up, etc. etc. until finally we made it to the top of the Trail Crest. In some ways this was even a better highlight for me than the actual summit. And it is what I had looked forward to….standing on the top and looking far below onto the owens valley to my right, and down into Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. The view was indescribable. Photographs don’t do it justice, only those who have earned the right to see the view themselves know what I am talking about.

The Summit Once you get to trail crest you meet up with the John Muir trail and see other hikers that have hiked up the back way. They traditionally drop their packs, tag the summit and continue on their merry way. From the crest it was still just under 3 miles to the actual summit, and these three miles were the best of the entire hike. Most of that entire way the view is maintained and there are parts of it where you can peek through natural “windows” and look down on lone pine. The Kings Canyon side had no such windows and as such you are afforded the view the entire time. You can see the summit, but you just can’t get to it quite yet, it is still a couple miles away! Our group was doing great, we took a break at one point and snapped a few pics and video of the view from along the crest. I did not bring gloves, I did however bring an extra pair of socks that proved invaluable as I used them as gloves. Without them my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel them. It may have been in the 90’s on the valley floor, but things are quite different 10,000 feet further up!

We continued the hike and finally had reached the point where the summit was just about 200 yards away when Matt gathered us all up and had us form a line where we would ceremoniously let Denise pass through our hiking poles and be the first to reach the summit. Yes it was still windy this entire time, all the hikers we saw coming down as we were coming up said, “Get ready for a windstorm on the summit!” We walked on up and we were there! I saw the cabin, and then the geo marker that said the elevation. We tried but none of us could get any cell reception. We ate a little, tried to put suntan lotion on. None of us could do it very well because of altitude loopiness! I felt giddy and was very gregarious to the other hikers at the summit. It was great, we had a panoramic view, and everyone else in the continental US was below us. We rested…we congratulated each other, and after about 15 minutes I had to get myself into the cabin at the top where it was warm. Myself and about 10 other hikers were sitting in the cabin just resting for a while.

That was the easy part…no matter if you prepare for it, no matter how much you know it is going to happen, there is a letdown on the hike back. I started out fine, but once I got back to the switchbacks my right knee started to hurt every time I would step down. Walking was OK, but everytime I would step down it felt like someone was sticking a knife into my knee. There are an endless series of stepdowns on the Mt Whitney Trail descent. All I could do was plant my hiking pole and use it to take the weight off the knee. So as this was happening, instead of being in the lead I dropped back behind everyone. Tina was being nice enough to stay with me, but I pretty much told her to go on ahead with everyone else. Tasha though pretty much had to stay with me (you know that whole sickness and health thing) I am grateful to Tash of course.

When I reached first trail camp again Matt quoted a line from one of the greatest movies of all time “There will be Blood” And from that point on it was very interesting. I became as exhausted as I ever have been in my life. We had been hiking since 3 AM, it was now around 4:30 PM and I was ready to be done. There is a part on the end of the hike where you actually see the road and yes you think you are almost there. But we still were much farther than we thought. Tasha started singing to keep herself from being driven crazy. I just tried to put myself in my zone as best I could. Finally just like that, I see my Dad, I stepped off the trail behind Tasha, and my Dad congratulates us, takes my backpack and my body just had a sort of buzzing exhausted feeling. My Dad had to help my untie my Wag Bags to toss in the trash because my hands and legs started to shake when I tried to do it!

We got our T shirts, we drove back to the hotel, and I did not fall in an exhausted sleep surprisingly, my mind was buzzing, and that night I had one of the strangest dreams. Also my sinuses were wrecked and I kept waking up as they kept flushing themselves. Also I had a sore throat from dehydration. Tasha and I could not get out of the bed that night, and the next day was tough to walk around. I was sore for about 5 or 6 days. My left toe was numb off and on for about a month.

I have a great sense of pride for what I did, I climbed the mountain and I did it in one day. I will climb Half Dome, just Tasha and I next summer. Everytime I drive to Mammoth I will always look up and think “I was up there, I made it!”


Serenity NOW said...

Beautifully written Garrett. I felt like I was on the trek with you. This journal/diary will be a keepsake forever and the memory of what you all accomplished will last a life time.

Love you, Susan

Paula said...

Amazing commentary on a day you will always remember! I loved reading every word and felt like I was with you every step of the way. (I was in my prayers!)
What a triump and a legacy for the boys. So stinkin' proud of you and Tasha!!! xoxo

Sandy said...

Garrett, this was really beautifully written. I agree, I feel as if I was there with you, every step of the way.
This was an incredible accomplishment.
I am so proud of you.
Love, Sandy

Grandma Dee said...

I am finally returning to make my comments on this blog. I read it a while ago late at night and crashed immediately after reading it.

What a wonderful account of our Whitney experience, Garrett. It is a perfect way to memorialize our trek. Still is fresh in my mind and even fresher because of your writing about it.

So very glad that I got to share the day with all of you. What a wonderful family (and friends) we have!

Love you lots,