Mount Whitney – part 6

the Sierra Nevada


September 2016

Trail Camp

Diane and Rod are faster hikers than Lisa and me, so they get to camp before us.  When we arrive, Rod is still bouncing around.  Their tent having been erected and organized, he and Diane go down to Trail Camp Pond to filter water for the four of us.  This is where I expect Diane to burst into song.  When we summited Spruce Knob in West Virginia, Diane, inspired by Jimmy Soul, serenaded us with…

If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life

Never make a pretty woman your wife

So for my personal point of view

Get an ugly girl to marry you

No explanation, no apologies.  Just pure entertainment.

Alas, no song this time here on Whitney, but we do get this story…

When Diane told her 21-year-old daughter that she was flying to California to climb a mountain, her daughter said, “You’re flying out there to do a hike and then flying home?”

“Yep,” said Diane.

“You’re flying out there to do a hike and then flying home?” her daughter repeated.

“Yep, that’s what we’re doing.”

“Does that mean that when you get married, I’m going to have to hike?”

Me?  I must sit down.  We are at 12002 feet and I’m feeling funky.

Okay, full disclosure, I’m hurting.  I have just come up this mountain carrying a backpack, something I have not been able to do comfortably for years.  Seems that one of nature’s tricks is that, as you get to the years where you understand better what it means to climb a mountain, your body becomes less able to do it.  Lisa must be shlepping a 60-pound pack, carrying most of our gear, while the meager amount of weight I carry would have embarrassed me some years ago.  And still, the pack has taken its toll on me.

So I sit down for a while.

But because we’re here, and “here” is as magnificent as a place can be, I take a few breaths, muster up some vigor and get up off my ass to cook dinner.  Um, um, freeze dried Pad Thai.  It’s not as good as it sounds.

We eat comfortably, watching the tiny specks of the colored jackets of hikers coming down from the summit, zigzagging their way on the 99 switchbacks, like little slow moving colored bugs, back and forth, forth and back, taking what seems like all evening to get anywhere at all.  The plan is for that to be us tomorrow, zigzagging our way up as we climb to the top.

It’s the beginning of September.  It has been obvious that the darkness comes earlier every day.  There’s not much light between cleaning up after dinner and full darkness.  What’s to do but hang out.  In Trail Camp, there are random flashlights bouncing around as hikers do whatever they need light to do, some not content to just be in the dark.  Also the temperature has dropped so much it made a noise.  We go to bed soon after.  I guess it makes sense to say, we go to bag.  So for now, good night.

Or not so good.  Neither one of us sleeps well.  It’s cold.  Lisa’s new sleeping bag works well, keeping her warm.  My brand new bag sucks.  I find myself shivering.  My body aches, my mood plunges.

On the other hand, when I get up to pee — who knows what time it is — I see more stars in one glance than in a whole summer at home in the northeastern city.  I remember the Milky Way from my childhood, and there it is arcing nearly across the entire sky, much brighter than I recall from childhood.

I look at the 99 switchbacks and see little dots of light slowly moving back and forth like slow pendulums at all heights on the mountain slope.  As planned, Rod and Diane’s tent is empty.  They got the early start they wanted.  One of those sets of flashlights high up on the mountain is theirs, their progress smooth, their pace steady and strong.

I go back to bag and try again to sleep.  Not much happens.  I feel miserable, my head, my stomach, my attitude.  Finally Lisa stirs, someone with whom I can share my misery.  We have breakfast.  I say quietly, “Today is not my day.  I don’t have it in me to summit.”

Lisa says, “Well, okay.  This is a great scouting trip though, isn’t it.  Now we have an idea of how to summit next time.”  She is almost cheerful.  Lisa is quite a good balance for my sometimes melancholy mood.  I’m depressed, she’s steady and pleasant.  Now I not only hate myself, I hate her too.

No I don’t.

“Shit!” I think.  “Shit, shit, shit.”

Shit?  I already talked about WAG bags.  In the scheme of my recreational life, this is one of the big disappointments.  I feel hollow inside.

But we will be back.

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