Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mt. Whitney - Day 1

The whole trip had been ironical in some ways. Scaling the peak had been my dream ever since I came back from Alaska last summer. I had initiated the idea of applying for permits to camp and convinced a group of faithfuls to join the trip. Yet, in the months leading to the trip, I was the least prepared of all – no altitude acclimatization & no physical training. Worse, I had even been arrogant about my abilities and had adopted a callous stance towards the elaborate planning of my compatriots. With this background, I ventured into Mt. Whitney expecting to learn something new about myself.

37 lbs”, I exclaimed after placing my backpack on the weighing scale. For the better half of the day, I had planned to lug this heavy backpack up along a 6 mile trail ascending 3,700’ to our trailcamp at 12,000’. The first one hour was the probably the hardest. My heart was throbbing loud. I have never before felt a pain in my chest while doing strenuous activities, today was definitely different. We marched as a group and took breaks at regular intervals to unload our heavy backpacks and revitalize ourself. TrailMixes and nuts have never been my food of choice, but I forced myself to eat them while continually consuming water to prevent dehydration.

Our strategy was to cover 1 mile/hour and enjoy all the beautiful sights enroute. The trail soon ascended into higher Sierra’s and offered some outstanding vistas of Inyo Mountains in distance. Our first major break was at Lone Pine lake after 2.8 miles, where we had a quick lunch of apple, bread and some more trailmix bars. After the initial break-in period, I had gained a rhythm and was more comfortable with the ascent. By the time we had reached our next major stop at Mirror lake, we had run out of water. At this juncture we decided to put our purifier to test as we purified the clear lake waters to fill our drinking bottles.

Once we passed Mirror Lake at an altitude of 10,600’ ft, we bid the treeline good-bye. The trail now was rocky and the sun was directly shining on us. However, the cooler climes of the high altitude made for a comfortable hike. In anticipation of the trailcamp, the last 1 mile of the hike definitely seemed much longer than it should have been. When we finally reached the trailcamp – just a flat rocky patch next to a lake – I was relieved that the long day was finally over, and that I could have a relaxed evening and a good night’s sleep.

However, the relief was short-lived. Above the treeline, the wind howled unobstructed. With 35 mph winds, it took us more than 1 hour just to prop up the tents. Six carefully placed huge stones inside the tent prevented it from flying away. It was already cold, but now the wind made it unbearable. My two layers of clothing seemed hopelessly inadequate to face this weather. Sheltered by huge rocks and stones, we finally got the flame on our stove going and cooked a quick dinner. Normally the best part of the trip, dinner, today was hurried, courtesy the unrelenting wind gusts.

As I sat out in the open braving the cold and the wind, I wished I could somehow teleport myself to the warm confines of the motel from previous night. I was prepared for the steep climb, the cold but never had I foreseen wind to be a factor. Later that night, under the moonlight sky, we spent another half hour filtering water for our hike tomorrow. I finally went to bed at 10 pm, 2 hours behind our original schedule. The warmth of the tent was overshadowed by the noisy tent cover fluttering in the wind. It had been a brutal end to our tiring first day of the hike. As I tossed inside the tent, sleepless, I wish I had never been here in the first place. For the first time, I doubted my decision to climb Mt. Whitney.

To be continued........Mt. Whitney Day 2

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