Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Success for at-risk kids

Rarely in life do we get the opportunity to do something that is truly rewarding to those in need as well as ourselves. My climb up the Mountaineer's Route of the highest point in the lower 48 states, California's 14,505' Mt.Whitney, was just that. Thanks to all of you who aided in my fundraising efforts for the Climbing for Kids benefit climb. Your generous support will make it possible for at risk, urban youth to experience the wonders of the great outdoors.

The trip really began with a few days in one of our favorite locations, South Lake Tahoe, CA. From there I bid my son, wife and our loaf in the oven adieu and made the almost five hour drive south on the 395 to the town of Lone Pine, CA. At around 6:00 PM on Saturday June 9, I met up with the other fundraisers in my group at the Forest Service Visitor's Center. The center is located at the intersection of the road to Death Valley and the road that runs near Mt. Whitney (the lowest and highest points in the lower 48 states respectively). From there we went to the city park for a pack check and then to dinner. After eating and getting to know each other a little, we caravanned up the Whitney Portal Road to the Lone Pine Campground for the night.

Bright and early on Sunday morning we packed up our gear and drove up the steep, windy road to the Whitney Portal. By 9:30 we had all food and smelly item locked in the bear vaults (Apparently bears will rip your doors off for toothpaste) and were on the trail. The pack scale at the Portal said I was about to carry no less than 50 pounds up more than 6,000 vertical feet, though I wish I hadn't known that. It tortured me mentally far worse than physically. Our pace was slow and easy and after about 3 hours we stopped for lunch at Lower Boy Scout Lake. The views from here were unreal as Mt. Whitney and the surrounding peaks shot thousands of feet skyward from behind closer granite ridges which shot skyward from the small, lush valley. It was beautiful!

After about an hour of rest, food and hydration we pushed on to our base camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake. While this was also an amazingly scenic spot, Mt. Whitney could not actually be seen from here and being above tree line we were without the smell and shade from the evergreens. Upper Boy Scout Lake and the outlet stream did however provide all of the cold water we could drink. We had an early dinner of hot vegetable noodle soup and tea and turned in around 7:30 PM.

The wake up call the next morning came at 3:15 AM. Summit day with a group can be a very long day so an alpine start was crucial. It was a dark but clear morning with a temperature in the mid 30's. We choked down instant oatmeal and were on the trial by 4:15. Fortunately we only packed what we absolutely needed for the day leaving our packs considerably lighter than they had been the previous day. Bringing only clothing, food, water, a helmet, a "Wag bag" and climbing harness made me feel like I could run up the mountain. We stopped at Iceberg Lake for our first big rest and pushed up the couloir toward "The Notch" and the summit. The going was very slow due to the loose granite. Each step had to be carefully placed as to not cause a rock slide to fall onto those below you. We stopped for more food and water at the notch and donned our helmets and harness' for the last 500 vertical feet.

The Notch Gully is where the climb turns from a hike/scramble into class 3/4 (depending on who you ask) climbing. While the climb itself is not difficult, the views are very intimidating and a fall from up the gully would likely mean death, and has for some in the past. Having never climbed tied to four other people, I had to learn quickly. Your pace has to be just right. If you're too fast you have slack in the rope in front of you which can be tricky to maneuver around. Too quick can also cause tension on the rope behind you which can throw off your balance. Too slow has the opposite affects. Apparently I was in a hurry and several times stepped on the rope in front of me and had to perch awkwardly to wait for the person behind me. While standing on a ledge a mere 30 feet from the top, I suddenly felt dizzy and light headed. I memory serves, I have passed out only once in my life, but I thought number two was coming. My initial reaction was to keep this bit of information to myself. Then remembering that a fall could drag four others down the gully with me prompted me to speak up. Because I wasn't nauseous it was decided I had vertigo and not elevation sickness. I focused on the rock in front of me and pushed on to the summit. After 6.5 hours we were on top of the mountain.

Months of fundraising, training, planning and preparation, all lead to this moment; I was finally on the top of this mountain. The combination of exhaustion and the fact that this goal had been attained nearly brought me to tears. One of our guides offered to let me use his cell phone to call the misses but I refused, knowing that's all it would have taken to get me blubbering. While the views were incredible from the top, I felt it was much more about the journey than the destination and spent little time admiring them. We were on the summit about an hour before heading back to camp.

The anticipation of descending the gully initially really messed with my head. Once roped up and climbing down I actually had a great time. It's not natural to trust rope and a few pieces of climbing gear with holding your weight and saving your life. Once I did though, it was an amazing, exhilarating experience that I can't seem to shake. I want more.

Arriving back down at Iceberg Lake we filtered water and forced ourselves to eat. Elevation seems to rob you of your desire to eat and drink. Though I burned probably around 7,000 calories since waking, I wasn't hungry. I knew though without forcing down food I would be in real trouble. During our break at Iceberg Lake a snow/hail storm rolled in and out in just under an hour. We slogged on down to base camp. After leaving camp almost 14 hours prior, we were back. We were all a little delirious, giddy and exhausted. We ate the best macaroni and cheese ever created by human hands, shared opinions and laughs and went to sleep. The next morning we leisurely packed up camp and hiked back down the mountain.

That in a nut shell was my trip up the Mountaineer's Route of Mount Whitney. Below is a link to photos of the trip. Thanks for reading and thanks again to those who supported this cause.




Blogger WildeGeek said...

You can find out about one of the organizations who benefits from this even by listening to our two-part edition of the WildeBeat podcast: Bay Area Wilderness Training, part 1

6/24/2007 5:15 PM

Blogger powstash said...

Great trip report and some awesome photos there. I had never seen the mountaineers route without snow and figured it would be tougher as a rock scramble than with snow. Do you think it would be any easier if it were snow and you were wearing crampons like a lot of climbers do when climbing that route in the spring?

Glad that you made it up there and back safely.

6/25/2007 12:11 PM

Blogger ALM said...

Certain parts would have been safer with snow but the very end was great as rock.

6/25/2007 10:00 PM


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