Life On And Off Mount Whitney

What We Did

This past weekend, five friends and I hiked Mount Whitney. The permits were granted half a year ago and this was on our radar for a while. I was asked to join the group way back when, and kept it in the back of my mind. Then, about a month ago, my dear friend really asked again, and I hesitatingly agreed.

Hiking mountains is not something I do often. In fact, I haven’t even tried to reach a summit since i was at T.A.S.C. (teenage survival camp) at my summer camp when I was about 15 years old. Since then, I’ve car camped two or three times and hiked through the Boundary Waters in Minnesota with my high school boyfriend when I was 19. Clearly, I’m not much of a mountaineer.

So when I agreed to hike Mount Whitney, I got lots of opposing feedback. One woman said that I “would not run a marathon without training, so using the same logic, should not climb Mount Whitney.” Another woman said we were “taking someone else’s spots because we didn’t want it badly enough.” (Interesting that most of the negatrons were women.) A few men gave me high fives and thought it sounded awesome and adventurous. I was excited at first, and as the weeks approached, became increasingly more nervous. 

My group and I were on the same page: to go to the mountain with safety as our first priority, and fun as a close second. We had lots of emails flying and conference calls to organize our trip. One of the people on the trip was so logistically sound that he found great gear lists for us.

We met last Thursday at a park in Burbank and unpacked our backpacks to make sure we were not doubling up on anything. Every ounce counts when it’s on your back! The grass was strewn with dehydrated food packets and long johns. What we expected to take 30 minutes ended up taking far longer. We had intended to camp at the Whitney Portal the first night, a campsite at the foot of the mountain, but were challenged with flash flood warnings and highway closures. Instead, we had a quick pre-camping meal at 5 Guys and got on the road at 9pm! Well, we arrived in Lone Pine at 1:15 in the morning and scrapped the idea of camping and opted instead to stay at a lovely motel. (I’m serious — it was great! If you ever go to Lone Pine, I’d highly recommend the Dow Villa.)

whitney-112In the morning, the mountain was obstructed with a thick cloud cover and we got a slow start. However, by the time we got to the trail, some of the rain had lifted and we were well on our way with 35 pound packs on our backs, heavy boots on our feet, hiking poles in our hands, and smiles on our faces. We gradually climbed from 9,000 feet to 10,500 and set up camp. We passed the picturesque Lone Pine Lake and ate some of our many snacks. At camp, we set up tents and tarps, and put on dinner. We cooked all of our food by boiling water and adding it to dehydrated meal packs. The macaroni and cheese was my favorite, followed by green beans. Unfortunately, we could not have a proper camp fire, so we set out our LED headlamps and played some rousing rounds of my favorite What Would Your Rather? 

Sleeping in that elevation was challenging and freezing! Wearing up to five layers was the only way to stay warm. In the mid-morning, we began our ascent. We came to Trail Camp (elevation: 12,000) and experienced snow, so put on our gators and crampon spikes. It was around this point that I decided the ascent was no longer fun. I decided to head back. I met a wonderful, experienced Mount Whitney hiker and had a really good time getting to know her. My compadres carried on for about another hour in deep snow and wind, and then headed back. We met back at camp and prepared another gourmet dinner. One of the best parts of the night was getting in our tents at dark (around 7pm) and playing the game, Topics, by shouting tent to tent. 

On Sunday morning, we trekked down in hail-like snow and saw beautiful waterfalls, autumn leaves, and gorgeous bristlecone pine trees. When we made it back to Lone Pine, we celebrated with a delicious breakfast!

What I Lwhitney-234earned

I learned that actual backpacking is not for the weak of heart or body. Every ounce you pack in will also be packed out. Choose to pack your gear wisely and communicate with your partners about what everyone is bringing so nothing is redundant. I realized that I prefer car camping to backpacking. I like day hikes. I love having challenges, but think mid-October might have been too rigorous and ambitious for us to climb this peak and summit.

I also learned that having the proper gear and being prepared is super important. We came in contact with some hikers who revealed that the day before, a couple who were intending to summit and descend in one day got stranded. They didn’t have appropriate gear and got stranded on the mountain. They had difficulty getting down and the rangers were reticent to call for an emergency helicopter. This type of bull headedness by the hikers is not appropriate when weather can be a severe, fatal factor. They were eventually rescued, but paid the price of hypothermia.

Doing this trek with a perfectly curated group was the best part. We were a great team with the same goals and values. We all wanted to be safe and have fun. There was nobody in our group who pushed too hard or who was uber-competitive.

Take-Aways For Life Off The Mountain

In keeping with the simplicity theme I wrote about last week, I loved being super present to the mountain and the climate conditions.

  • There is nothing more life-affirming than to really focus on the present moment. I’ll take away the experience that talking to the people in front of me is much more fulfilling than checking my phone unnecessarily throughout the day.
  • Placing one foot in front of the other is all we can ever do…we really need to always keep moving forward. When we are climbing a mountain or feeling upset about a personal relationship, it’s crucial to stay the course and keep going.
  • Be prepared! We have to do our best to plan ahead for what we can predict. Have the right tools and gear with us in case something goes awry.
  • Be agile and adaptable when things go unexpectedly wrong. They will, inevitably, go off course.
  • Have a goal in mind, but consider your emotional and physical safety first. Some goals just don’t serve us.
  • Toss out the excess weight and make do with what you have available.
  • Say YES! to a challenge and go in with an expansive/growth mindset.
  • Keep good company by way of a team or group of people who share your values and support you.

I want to thank my friends for including me on this marvelous journey! I also want to thank all of the supporters and negatrons for giving me more hope. I appreciate all of the encouragement. This was a birthday trip to remember!

For more information on working with me, please visit Coaching By Nina Rubin.

All of the pictures in this blog post are posted with permission from the excellent photographer and my friend, Ryan Pastorek, who also went on the trip. Please check out his blog at Ryanpastorek.com.

whitney-216 whitney-209 whitney-187 whitney-126Lone Pine Lake reflection whitney-155 whitney-236 whitney-250 whitney-257

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4 thoughts on “Life On And Off Mount Whitney

  1. Nice post, coach! When I was 15 and 16, many decades ago, I put my name in the summit book. Our Explorer Scout troop took a John Muir 50 mile hike from Independence trail head to the Lone Pine Whitney Portal trail head, to include the summit trek. So many memories of Guitar Lake, Heart Lake, Hitchcock Lakes, Onion Valley . . . . such grand memories. A year later my kid brother, Dad and I went just for the assent from Whitney Portal. Again, thanks for the memories!

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