The Tallest Peak in the Continental U.S.

We are all travelers from the port of birth to the port of final destiny…

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I wanted to interrupt my blog series on our trip to Peru to tell you about our most recent trip to Mt. Whitney. The stars aligned perfectly for us to be lucky enough to get passes to hike Mt. Whitney and have those dates coincide with our days off from work. In order to make it work, we ended up having to do the hike in one day, but go big or go home, right? I am pretty sure this is one of the toughest things I have ever done, especially since we encountered brutal winds with gusts of 30-60 mph for over half of the duration of the hike. Combine that with an altitude of 14,496 ft, 22 miles, and you have yourself one heck of a hike.

 

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Leo’s first U.S. Adventure

On a Tuesday morning, T, our friend Tim, and I packed up Tim’s truck and set out for Lone Pine, CA. From our house, it was only about a 3.5-4 hour drive, so we decided not to stop until we got too hungry to make it all the way to Lone Pine. We stopped at a mom and pop restaurant on the side of highway 395, and then headed to these abandoned gold mines Tim had been talking about for weeks.  To get to these mines, you turn right (if you are heading North on 395) on to a dirt road right across the highway from Manzanar (an historical site where the Japanese were incarcerated during WWII), which is just about 9 miles past Lone Pine.

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We drove on the dirt road for 10-15 minutes until we arrived at the opening to the mines.

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We got our headlamps and hiking boots on and set out to explore them.

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We hiked to the top of the mines and worked our way down…exploring different fingers of the mine on our descent, and then navigating down a couple different mine shaft ladders, with the last descent being a couple hundred feet down some wooden rickety ladders.

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Certainly exhilarating! At the bottom you end up in a really large/wide part of the mine that you can actually drive into, which explains why there is so much graffiti down there. It was a fun little side hike/adventure before we headed back to town to grab some dinner and then go to our campsite to get some rest for our 3:45 AM wake up the next morning.

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Going into this hike, I felt rather confident in my physical shape and abilities, especially after just hiking the Inca Trail a few weeks prior. However, I think the wind and cold added an entirely different twist than I was expecting with just having to contend with the altitude. In the end, it was tough, and it took us about 14 hours, but we did it!

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There were some parts of this hike (like when we got to the backside of the mountain and the wind would not let up) that I thought I may not make it down in the same day. My body literally started to shut down even though my legs really didn’t feel that tired. It was something I have never experienced before. I think it may have been partially related to oxygen deprivation. I think the altitude and the wind made it so much more difficult to breathe that my body was working over-time just to get enough oxygen. Couple that with probably not eating near enough on our ascent, and I was left with a body that was having extreme difficulty mustering up the energy I needed to get to the top.

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My desire to reach my goal kept me fighting through it and I had a lot of help from T’s incredible support and encouragement (I swear, I married a mountain goat that has a very high pain tolerance).

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It didn’t look pretty, but I eventually got there.  At one point, I looked back at Tim, who was also struggling at this time, and he looked like a zombie straight out of The Walking Dead. I remember thinking it must have been quite a funny site for T to be in front looking back on us…I kind of wish we had a picture!

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Fighting through this part, and making it to the top certainly boosted my morale and gave me an incredible sense of accomplishment and confidence. I really learned a lot about how far I can push myself, how to take better care of myself to perform better in these situations, as well as how to stay emotionally put together to enjoy the experience amongst tough obstacles. At times, it was extremely difficult to stay positive, and I had a few hiccups, but overall, I really have become better at staying positive and more even keeled emotionally under stress/pain/discomfort.

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It’s amazing what your body can do when you are so close to a goal, despite its resources being seemingly tapped.

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We eventually made it to the top to find that it was even windier than anywhere else on the trail.

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I quickly took a look at the very top, snapped some photos while trying not to be blown off the cliff, and ran inside to the tiny, yet extremely welcomed shelter to have a respite from the wind. At first, it was just the three of us, but by the time we were about to leave, there were about 10 of us huddling in this tiny hut, sitting on the floor, and ravenously eating our lunch.

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I do wish we could have spent some more time outside enjoying the view, but the elements didn’t allow you to do that in comfort. I also failed to get a picture of myself on the top, but it was so cold and windy, everyone was in survival mode. Some of the people up there didn’t even go out to the look at the view from the peak. It was so windy at the edge, I was pretty much on my hands and knees because the gusts were knocking me around when I would stand up. I’m not a big fan of heights, so I wasn’t taking any chances.

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The 1st part of the descent quickly became just as difficult as the ascent on the backside of the mountain, and I could not wait to get to the other side of the mountain. I had a short boost of energy when we started down, but within 20 minutes, everything was gone again.

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I kept pushing myself, and when we finally hit the crest to go down the front of the mountain, the wind thankfully died down. This was so invigorating that the descent was actually pretty enjoyable once my energy regulated and I was able to breathe more efficiently.

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We ended up arriving at the bottom after dark to a black bear roaming the parking lot for food.

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After getting into the truck, a warm bed, a hot tub, and a big meal were calling our names, so we decided to abandon the camp site for a hotel room for the night. Best decision of the trip!

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This truly was an incredible experience and accomplishment and was a big tick off my bucket list. I am proud to say that I could do the hike in a day and so thankful that I got to spend time on such a gorgeous trail. It is an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful hike and area to visit, whether you decide to climb to the top or not.

 

 

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