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Day 60: Whitney

Day 60: Whitney

Start: Guitar Lake
End: 770.84 bush camp
Today started with the alarm going off at 12:01am. Actually it started last night with me trying to get four solid hours of shuteye, but I made the mistake of cowboy camping and there was that ONE mosquito determined to wake me every time I started falling asleep. So I got one, maybe two hours of sleep.
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12:01 is not a sane time to be waking up. Kind of reminds me of my over the road trucker days, yuck! As I was packing, about half a dozen people passed me headed upward.
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I took half an hour to pack up, I left about 3/4 of my weight behind hiding behind a rock hoping beyond hope the damn marmots wouldn’t chew up my gear. Everything edible or smelly was in my bear can, marmot proof, but damn, I watched one drink my urine, who knows what they’ll go after. Right away I regretted leaving my sleeping bag behind… If they ruined it I’d be hosed, not to mention a sleeping bag is a really handy thing to have on a freezing 14,505 foot high mountain… I’ll get to that.
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I had my headlamp strapped to my hat, but no need, it was a full moon and everything was lit brilliantly.
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Climbing a huge mountain, solo, in the middle of the night is a serious head game. About half a mile in I made the mistake of looking at the mountain. Dread and doubt filled me, there is NO WAY I can hike all the way up that thing! I was paralyzed and really wanted to quit, to go back to bed. I can’t say it was courage, but maybe more of a little trick I learned from mom that kept me going. The thought translated approximately to “How about I go another five minutes and then decide”. Well by that point I had forgotten about the “decision” and just kept going because that is what I was doing.
Later, when I realized I was rising higher than other mountains on the opposite side of the valley, I knew if I could beat them, I could top Whitney.
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There were about five points on the way up where a slip, or a misstep, and I would be a goner. It is very much like crossing a stream without getting wet. Sometimes there are big rocks and it is easy, other times you have to test it a few times without committing your weight to it. The difference is that usually the tricky spot on Whitney involved snow or ice. Hindsight being 20/20, I had an ice axe, I could have made some of them safer.
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2/3 of the way up, at the junction wig the Whitney portal (the portal accesses Whitney from the east, I was accessing it from the west) it was still warmish, I put my long johns on at someone’s advice the day before. “It gets windy after that” — boy was that ever excellent advice!
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I climbed about 3/4 of the way up in the dark without seeing another person. Headlamps way below me sure, but then Silent Bob passed me, we exchanged greetings and he continued ahead. Shortly after turtle caught up to me. We were surprised to see each other and gave a brief hug. She set a pace a little bit slower than mine, but without the rests, and I ‘hiker drafted’ behind her, matching her pace all the way to the top. I wouldn’t be surprised if I reached the top 15-30 minutes faster by ‘drafting’. (I borrowed the term from other sports, people seem to like it)
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The top was, well, night-time. 8-10 of us huddled in the tiny hut on top, sheltering from the wind. Someone made coffee and passed it around. Someone else added the last few drops of her whiskey and it tasted better.
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At 4:15 the first glimmer of sunrise shown on the horizon through a small window and everyone piled out to watch the sunrise except me. It was cold out there! And windy! And I didn’t bring my damned sleeping bag!
At 4:45 I was surprised nobody had returned chilled to the bone, and I found them all hanging out on a ledge about six feet straight down, protected from the west wind by said ledge all looking east… In their sleeping bags. Damnit!
The ledge was about six feet deep. A part of me wanted to lie face down and look over the precipice, but good ol’ survival instincts put the kaibosh on that!
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I didn’t have a sleeping bag (damnit) so after texting mom and dad I went back in the hut. Where I paced, stomped around, did a few squats, did a few step up-step downs, didn’t hang out in a sleeping bag damnit, basically trying to warm back up. I was still shivering like a madman, so I knew I wasn’t in any danger (when you stop shivering, hypothermia is setting in, as long as you can still feel your fingers and toes, you can come back without harm, but you don’t want to get so cold you stop shivering, it generates a lot of heat, and without it you are a small step from big trouble… I wasn’t in any danger of that, just uncomfortable)
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At 5:15 it looked like the sun was about to crest so I went back outside, we made bets as to where on the horizon it would appear. I think I was second closest. The sun rose at 5:26… I think.
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I posed for some extra cold photos with a girl (that’s all you get! I promised mom pg-13 because she has a bunch of her friends following this, not to mention my boss reads these! :D) and then headed down. See videos.
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Going down was fast. No fighting the altitude for every ounce of energy. Oh yeah, the altitude. I was very well acclimated. I never had to gulp for air (well, not unless I did something dumb like drinking water while exerting). When you are well acclimated it is like your burst reserve is much smaller. You can exert at a lower level all day long, but punch it and your reserve runs out in 10-20 seconds. No biggie, it also returns equally quickly when you stop exerting. By drafting off turtle, I climbed the last 500-800 feet without stopping. I think that is kind of rad.
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The marmots didn’t touch my damned sleeping bag. They did chew some holes in my tyvek ground sheet apparently because it was under the bear box with all the food, but if there is one thing I am okay with them chewing, it is that! They also dragged my sleeping pad up 1.5 feet and over a rock, but no damage. I pcked it all up, headed three miles to Crabtree meadows, and hung out and tried to snooze for four or five hours.
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I didn’t want to have to hike 13 miles to forester pass (highest pass on the pct, 13.5k-ish feet) so I got up and hiked 4.5 miles. Mosquitos are thick. I out up my tent, threw everything inside, jumped in, made a mess, but after killing 4 of the vampire insects I am mosquito free! Unless I have to pee.
Big day. 8:50 now. Goodnight.

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Cold Whitney morning

Top of Whitney, 5:40 am, 15-20 degrees

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Charlie Hough
4 Comments
  • Jennifer (Clark) Flaherty

    Whoa! Shrinkage?!

    July 10, 2016 at 9:39 am Reply
    • Charlie Hough

      My buns? For sure! I am down about 31 lbs now. Probably down 45 lbs in fat and up 14 in muscle.

      July 10, 2016 at 9:52 am Reply
  • Jeff

    Well Charlie I don’t need any more than this photo but at least after the 29th I won’t be your boss any more, enjoying the blog though.

    July 25, 2016 at 6:04 pm Reply
    • Charlie Hough

      Where are you headed?

      July 25, 2016 at 10:11 pm Reply

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