Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mt. Whitney - The rest of the story

Mt. Whitney is the tall one.  Notice the haze?  Yeah, us too!

So, if you read my last post, you know my son Brendan and I did not make it to the summit of Mt. Whitney.  Very bummed, but due to some (*&B#!* forest fire (caused by lightening a couple weeks prior), smoke was engulfing the Mt. Whitney trail - and just our luck it was the same days we were climbing it (I knew I should have bought a lottery ticket in L.A.).

Brendan and I started climbing at 5:30am (in retrospect, this was a tad too late).  Found this sign and off we go....

That'd  be the moon!

Sunrise.  Uh, yeah...notice all that smoke in the valley??

Brendan on the trail as the sun was rising

One of many streams we crossed.  Yep, that's me and my 21
lbs of badass backpack - killing my shoulders!

Approaching tree-line

Loved this pretty little meadow.  Until now, my heel had been doing
very, VERY well.  Did I mention it was doing very well?  Around this point, about
3-hours in, I started noticing some annoyances with it, but nothing I too
unmanageable.  YES!!!

We arrived at "Base Camp" (it's actually called "Trail Camp", but since it is where we were going to be parked for an evening of sub-freezing-to-death temps, Base Camp is what the name became) exactly 5-hours after we started (ok, 5:01 to be precise).  Not speedy, but since Brendan was carrying the bulk of the load (he got the tent and most of the food.  Hey, it was freeze-dried, it barely weighted 10 oz total!), we stopped for a few breaks so he could get the pack off.  We found this little gem of solid granite for a campsite at 12,000' in 30mph winds. Joyous!

View from our campsite when we first arrived, sweet, huh?  Still blue skies where
we still needed to climb. 

Home for the night. 
We got to base camp, elevation 12,000' (6.3 miles) about 10:30am and it was windy and cold and we just plopped our tent on the first granite surface that didn't look like it contained a thousand rocks underneath.  At the time, the skies to the West, where we still needed to climb another 5 miles and 2500', looked clear.  But we could smell it - the crazy wind was causing the smoke from the Sequoia fires to move in - fast!  2-hours later, the camp site area was filled with smoke!

View of Whitney from our campsite 2-hours after we first arrived.
NOTICE the freaking bad, bad, BAD haze now??  UGH!
We hung out at camp for a couple hours so Brendan could unload his pack here, make some lunch, and I soaked my foot on that blanket of snowy ice.  My foot was complaining after being on it for 5-hours with a heavy pack, but it was behaving much better than I thought and I was beyond thrilled for it.  After I took my shoe off and let it rest a couple hours (waaaaay too long since we still had 5 miles up and 5 miles down back to camp), when I put my shoe back on I was ecstatic that the heel and ankle felt fantastic!  I was so excited to get going and when we left about 12:30pm to head up to the summit, I could tell Brendan wasn't doing well.  He was dragging as we were climbing and finally after an hour leaving base camp, at 13,200', I called the climb.  He was coughing horribly and really gasping to get air. 

Down we went, back to Base Camp.  It was about 3:00pm when we reached camp and by now the smoke was so heavy at camp.  Bleh!  Our friends arrived (they left later in the morning as they were not going to summit until the following day, unlike us who wanted to summit on the first day - due to my heel not really liking going downhill!) just as we got down so we chatted with them awhile.

Brendan and I.  Yes, I'm freezing!  And that's our
tent way in the background

Friends Kettie and Lynne

Lynne and her two brothers and Kettie.  Lots of yucky, stupid smoke!

Me and Kettie...on our way to find a "rock" for a porta-potty
Beings it was like early afternoon, and we're at camp with virtually nothing really to do (who the hell wants to drag up cards or books in the pack - that's excess weight for crying out loud!  Never mind our BA friends who carried 30 lb packs full of Pringles, Oreos and M&Ms - I mean, we can just mooch off of their snacks!) and I am not the best "camper" in the world, especially on hard granite, I tried to talk Brendan into going back down to trail head, get in our car, and head to the nearest hotel with comfy pillows and beds.  But nooooo, the kid couldn't wait to spend the night at 12,000'.  I had a migraine like you wouldn't believe from the lovely air quality so just as well we didn't hike for more hours I guess - and this whole trip was for his 16th birthday, so I downed a few hundred Advil and hung out in the tent awhile.
Kate: THIS is camping.  Just sayin'
 While Brendan had dinner - freeze-dried yum (aka: freeze-dried yuck):

About 7:00pm, after we chatted all we could chat and with nothing else to do, I decided to go to bed.  I slept horribly the night before (actually, the entire trip - bleh!) so I actually relished the thought of plopping on my rock hard bed.  Combated with 4 layers of long-sleeved winter running shirts and one 20 degrees sleeping bag, I laid awake most of the night .... shivering.  Worst night's sleep e v e r!!!

It took me awhile to crawl out of my sleeping bag in the morning since it was so cold but who could pass up breakfast:
Sitting at the breakfast table with the camp stove at my feet, heating my oatmeal.  At least at 12,000',
water boils fast and I got something warm in me quickly
Seriously amazing blue skies when we woke, the smoke moved out over night.  YAY.  Brendan and I discussed trying to attempt the summit on day 2 but we ruled it out: We were both freaking exhausted, my foot probably was not going to handle 16 miles and more than 12-hours of hiking in one day, and by now we were just over the whole summit thing.

 So we packed up, loaded the backpacks back on (oh my goooood, my shoulders hurt!) and Brendan and I headed down as our friends headed up to the summit.

These little purple flowers were simply amazing

Mirror Lake

Still a little smoke in the valley, but overall much clearer on day 2

It took us almost as long to get down as it did to get up.  We took our time early on, admiring all the flowers and the lakes along the way, but after about 3-hours, I just wanted to get down.  It was getting very warm and my feet were starting to ache.  Amazingly, my foot was being semi-cooperative and not giving me too much grief, but overall my feel just simply hurt.  A lot!  And I wanted off that mountain and to the hotel!  :)

I should have taken some pictures of Brendan and I when we finally reached the bottom but the only strength I had left was to drag my backpack on the ground to the car, walk back to the trail head, and order a hamburger from the Mt. Whitney portal store at the base of the trail.  It was a.m.a.z.i.n.g!!!!

Though the summit wasn't reached, I slept like total crap, I almost shivered to death and my feet, shoulders and back felt like they'd been put through a meat grinder.... I had an absolutely amazing experience.  It was so hard and humbling, and I was so tired afterwards but I reached out and explored my edge and reach for that higher bar, something out of my comfort zone.  And I survived.  And I even smiled. 

And I got to do it with my son. 

Absolutely priceless!

Next up: Death Valley (I promise, not so many pictures...but a great A.D.D. moment), blogger meet-up and the wonderful hospitality at Meg's, shoe reviews, a 195 mile relay, heel updates, an upcoming mountain adventure.. or two (no, it's not Whitney), a job announcement, and of course - many more answers to those questions.  I think I'm good for blog posts until Thanksgiving! :)  (and I apologize for my lack of blog appearance lately, what a whirlwind of life craziness upon my return home).

Run strong, Friends!  I'm off to do hill repeats in the morning with ya!  Finally!


Anonymous said...

Holy BADASS mother you are! Wow!!!!! Back pack the size of a small toddler, hiking up a mountain. What the heck is there anything you don't do! What a beautiful site!!! Enjoy those hill repeats my runner girl friend!!!!!!!

C2Iowa said...

You both are badasses!!! The memories that you guys created will never fade. Green with envy.

The pic were awesome.

ajh said...

I loved reading this. What an amazing experience with your son. What a great 16th BDay! You built some great memories for sure. What about the twin? What did you do with him? Anyways not too many pictures. Keep them coming. LOVE the comment to Kate about what camping is - I saw your comment to her - in a camper with AC. Jeesh! Not camping. Great great great that your heel did so well. I feel like mine began getting really bad when I hiked PP last year. Who knows? But I do know you are one hard core lady!

Laura said...

Holy crap you guys are awesome! I am so in awe of you!!

Kandi said...

Those photos (without the smoke) are so breathtaking! Looks like an amazing experience. And it looks cold camping without a raging fire going.

Marlene said...

What a unique and MEMORABLE experience even if it didn't go as you'd hoped. My brain does not begin in fathom what it must feel like to breathe at that elevation, let alone hiking and camping! We're sitting pretty under 250 feet here. lol

Looking forward to reading about the rest of your adventures!!

Teamarcia said...

What an extraordinary adventure! And even better you experienced it with your son. Priceless memories for sure.
Your pics take me places I cannot even fathom being. Awesome.

CautiouslyAudacious said...

Wow talk about adventure! Absolutely LOVED these pictures!! I have to admit I'm a little jealous :-) Great hike!

Kate said...

Hey, hey, hey, you big meanies! I can camp for real, too! I spent a week sleeping in a backpacking tent every night (or not sleeping since it was so freaking hot) last year when I rode the Katy Trail. I can be tough. :)

Your pictures are absolutely gorgeous. I'm glad you took so many. I so wish I could come visit out there, I'd even hike the mountain and sleep on the hard ground. Very cool, and the parts that sucked will likely be the parts you emphasize in future years when you talk about the trip. :)

Abby @ Have Dental Floss, Will Travel said...

Well, I know it's frustrating not to make it to the top, but it sounds like a valiant effort! And amazing photos to boot. We'll have to tackle Whitney at some point in our quest for 50 High Points... guess it's time to start tracking forest fires?

Next up, though - Hawaii's Mauna Kea!

ajh said...

I head to work - well I worked 3 days this week.
I start unofficially August 15, take a course the 22 and 23 and then it is official baby.
I am curious - very - about your job announcement.

Paul said...

Amazing the difference in the blueness of the sky up there on the next day..beautiful pics.

Camping at 12,000..whoa. I'm dizzy just thinking about it.

Looking forward to the Death Valley report!

Run Jess Run said...

You are truly hardcore! I can't believe your boys are 16!

Caroline said...

Love all the pics!
this is truly fantastic..I have 2 sons and I hope that one day they let me come with them on an adventure like this. I want to be a fit mom and keep up with them!

Patrick Mahoney said...

Great climb report. I love it up there as well. Your pics are very good too.

lindsay said...

Mmm freeze-dried food. I can't fathom cold temps right now. In the us? How is this possible? Bummer about the smoke, but great news on the ankle holding up well, for the most part. Time for a shoulder massage...

Meg said...

Ooooo, those pictures are GORGEOUS!!! I didn't realize you packed your WHOLE wardrobe in that backpack, do you realize how proud I am of you? :)
MIss ya!

ShutUpandRun said...

I loved reading this backpacking report. The pictures were stunning - I cannot imagine what that would have been like in person. I hope I can do something like this with Sam someday...really cool experience for both of you.

Adrienne Langelier said...

Now that is some mother-son bonding! Incredible! Just the thought of that adventure makes me feel like hamburger meat-you guys are tough:)

Jennifer said...

I have just two things to say; yikes! And wow! What an amazing landscape! You rock!! XOX

Char said...

Such beautiful pictures. That pack of yours looks enormous. You're one strong mama!

Amanda@runninghood said...

I loved every bit of this! The pictures, the retelling. I felt like I was there and glad I wasn't sleeping on the cold hard ground. But what an amazing experience with your son Jill! What did you guys end up talking about with all of those hours of being "unplugged" and not having cards or books or anything? Hopefully some good heart to hearts. I'm so impressed with your spirit of adventure. And I bet that hamburger was the best darn hamburger you ever had after this! Makes me want to screw staying in Denver and take off for some true colorado backpacking!!

Terzah said...

So inspirational, and NOT too many pictures. I love the shots of the moon at the beginning and Mirror Lake toward the middle. I hope my son (and/or daughter) will want to backpack with me when they are 16. We did a two-mile hike in Chautauqua last week--baby steps, right? :^)

Tara said...

Good lord, I think I started reading this post about 5 hours ago, but have been interrupted about 80 times.

These are gorgeous pics Jill, looks like you and the boy had an awesome experience even though you didn't reach the summit. It's always good to get outside your comfort zone!

PS-I'm glad that your foot was being semi-cooperative. :)

XLMIC said...

Absolutely awesome job photographing your journey! Just amazing-looking place! Bummer y'all didn't get to summit but better safe than sorry of course. I have never ever done anything like that and I so long to :)

Liz said...

Wow. Stunning pictures. That backpack looks so heavy, I can't believe you carried that all the way up there too! You are so tough!

Glad the foot is co-operating. Well done to you and your son!

Johann said...

Looking at the photos and reading this I think, yes, the summit would have been and added bonus, but wow! Beautiful and what great time to spend with Brendan, love it! Love your comment to Kate! One day I will see this and we will go up all the way with no foot or any other problems in the way. Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Omg Jill, these photos are amazing. R2 and I would love to do some serious camping and looking at these pictures got me all excited to plan a trip!!!

PS- I love you header. Too cute!

DRog said...

as always : awesome adventure and killer photos! hill repeats! need me some of those:)
have a great wknd


Big Daddy Diesel said...

Seriously, are you tempting me to move to Colorado, because every post like this, I am one step closer to doing so

Black Knight said...

Mother and son together: wonderful!!!
I don't know what photo is better. Some landscapes are breathless.
...but the house for the night doesn't look comfortable.....
Have a good week end.

Fair Weather Runner said...

how beautiful, and FUN! what i wouldn't do to see some snow right now :)

Kristin @ Lazy Marathoner said...

Stunning photos, I am jealous!

Aimee said...

Even with the smoke, cold temps, and wind I am sooo jealous! I have always wanted to hike Mt. Whitney!!
What a great trip you got to do with your son though...just awesome!

Raina said...

OK, Jill. I REALLY can't wait to do this with my kids. It must have been absolutely awesome! What a way to ring in the big 16; And he chose to spend it with his mom. You must rate pretty high :)

Gorgeous, gorgeous photos. Sure the smoke added some crumminess to the adventure, but still- it must have been totally worth it. Even sleeping on rocks. :)

If you ever get to OR, there is some fantastic hiking here too. Wallowas are remote but gorgeous, then there is Hood and the Three many choices.

Also, so glad your heel cooperated. Yay!

HappyTrails said...

We just got back from out of town- you guys had a most extraordinary and memorable experience - WOW - despite not hitting the summit. Fun and beautiful (except for the smoke rolling in - ugh). Sounds like a great trip all around, topped off by icing on the cake - getting together with Meg and BS!!! What's this about more mountain adventures???!!! Hey, what shoes did you end up wearing on Whitney? Have you found anything that is making your body happy? I am thinking about trying a pair of Hokas. Seriously. Have a GREAT weekend!!! :-)

Irene said...

What a hike! The pictures are gorgeous!

Smart move calling the hike when you did. It sounds like the smoke was a beyond bothersome.

Do you think this particular trek will happen again in the future?

It was wonderful meeting you at Megs. Next time we'll have to chat a little bit longer!


Glenn Jones said...

Man - there is a *ton* of snow up there for late July! Amazing! Glad to see you got a portal burger too. Next time order a pancake.....

Next year? I'm starting training for the Bishop High Sierra Ultra next week, so I should be in shape....

Julie said...

NO!NO!NO! You HAVE to promise us MORE pictures. These were LOVELY. What an amazing experience that you two will talk about for decades to come. What an amazing experience!

Molly said...

wow, you could make a calendar with those photos!

I'm not a huge camping person, the last time we went, we were in Maine, and I was so cold, in the middle of the night I asked my husband if we could try and sleep in the LL Bean store, since it was open 24 hours!

Nitmos said...

Awesome photos.

How many times has everyone discussed 127 Hours? Or in what order folks will be eaten, you know, if it comes to that?

Chris K said...

I had no idea Mt Whitney was that rad. Those are amazing pics. I want to do it now. My friend has done it in one day but that's supposed to be really hard. Following your adventure has been fun. I hope our pics at Megs turned out good.

Aka Alice said...

Climbing Mt. Whitney is on Betty's "list," so I'm really glad for the do you think you'll try to get to the summit in two days next time (if your foot is well?) or is one day up and one back the way to go?

I'm so glad we got to meet/chat at Meg's. Hope you get a chance to write soon. I can't wait for the rest of the story.

Kate said...

I should tell you that you're featured, quite prominently, in my latest blog post. :)

Bubble Boy said...

you're the best darn ole MOM ever! If it makes you feel any better, I was freezing just reading about your 20 long sleeve shirts and 20 degree sleeping bag!

Raina said...

Thanks Jill...not sure I deserve either of those compliments but I'll take them tonight, :)

When will we hear of your 200 miler?? :D