Feet (and Knees):
Don’t Fail Me Now
By the time you read this column, my wife and I will either have fulfilled our goal, met the challenge, lived the dream, slayed the dragon – whatever bromide you wish to use – or flamed out, bit off more than we could chew, crashed and burned; i.e. failed miserably.
By way of explanation, as of today’s publication date we will have either been successful in hiking to the top of Mt. Whitney, or not. One thing is certain – we will have given it our best shot. If you don’t know, Whitney is the highest peak in the continental United States, and lucky us, living in the Crescenta Valley means we’re just a three-hour drive away. Only one state, Alaska, boasts a higher mountain: Denali (formerly, Mt. McKinley).
I have hiked to the summit of Mt. Whitney once before – way, way back when I was a teenager. The hike up the west side of 14,505 foot peak and down the east side was the final leg of a backpacking trip that was three weeks from start to finish and covered the length of the John Muir trail – all 220 some miles of it – from the floor of Yosemite National Park to the parking lot at Whitney Portal above the town of Lone Pine. Back then you didn’t need a permit (or to pay any fee) to make the hike. But I suppose too many people were putting too much burden on the trail system or, more likely, the forest service personnel were fed up with rescuing poorly prepared, exhausted or injured hikers with no training or ability to make the difficult climb to the top.
Sometime back in March, my wife and I decided to attempt to hike Mt. Whitney together as an “adventure” to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m an incurable romantic. Right, ladies?) The process of dealing with the professional bureaucrats at Inyo National Forest headquarters in order to obtain the required “Whitney Zone” permit was an arduous test of endurance in and of itself.
We prevailed, however, and almost immediately started our “training” hikes. We did the Mt. Baldy and Icehouse Canyon trails in the San Bernardino mountains for longer, higher elevation training, and locally the Echo Mountain, Cherry Canyon and Deukmejian Wilderness trails just to break a sweat and to get our boots dusty. We’ve also been hiking some of the higher elevation trails in and around the Mammoth Lakes area whenever time (and gas money) permit, and have been road biking our butts off and our brains out locally and in the San Gabriel Valley to burn calories and boost our aerobic capacity. Whew.
With every activity, however – even though I’m able to hike or bike further than ever before, and have tremendously enjoyed the experiences and each mini-adventure – I can’t help but notice (and feel!) the changes that time inevitably inflicts on a body. Namely, soreness that takes longer to go away, achingly stiff joints and enough pulls, pains and strains to keep our primary care doctor practicing for years to come. Oh well, it is what it is.
I’m writing this from a hotel room in Lone Pine. In the ridiculously early pre-dawn darkness of tomorrow morning, we will drive to the trailhead and set off on our adventure. Ready or not. What once seemed like a frustratingly distant date in the future is now just frighteningly a few hours away.
Will we make it to the summit and back? Or will exhaustion, middle-aged knees, altitude, the predicted possibility of dangerous thunderstorms – or some combination of these immutable conditions – force us to turn around and try again (or not) next year? I for one am anxious to find out.
Stay tuned for next week’s column. Legs willing and my knees hold out, I’ll see you around town.