My hope is to reach Guitar Lake (elevation 11,514 feet), leave my pack, and summit Whitney on the night of the 20th so I can watch the solstice sunrise from the highest point in the contiguous US. It’s a great idea, but as usual, hiking and planning are only distantly related cousins.
The terrain and elevation are making it slow going. I feel like the ground keeps pulling me down and forcing me to nap. It’s 10pm by the time I make it to Guitar Lake. I’m wiped out. Too tired to eat or even be hungry. It’s much colder up here too, so I set up my tent, put on all my clothes, and crash hard.
I wake up with an uneasy and panicky feeling. I look outside my tent. I didn’t realize that Dr. Fierce, Church Lady, and Shazam were camped behind me. They are catching up with Shiny.
I drink some tea and try to eat, but I have no appetite. I feel trapped and vulnerable – maybe it’s the hulking masses of rock that surround me? I feel so thoroughly weird, in fact, that I consider climbing only to the Lone Pine trial junction at 11,783 feet and exiting the trail from there. Shiny and Half Double keep asking me what my plans are and I get snappy with them. It soon dawns on me that my anxiety is caused by altitude and I concentrate on relaxing, breathing, and drinking water.
I start to feel OK – not really better, just less like a trapped animal/crazy lady. I slowly start the ascent to Whitney. I’m now in a world entirely made of stone. It’s austere, enormous, beautiful, and terrifying. This is “the sublime.”
It’s slow going. My legs are lead. My lungs can’t get enough traction and they relay this to my feet. I’m basically standing still. It takes me 4 hours to go 4 miles. I have to stop often to breathe. It’s kind of funny. I’m laughing at breathing. I notice purple wildflowers growing in rock crags, the cubist formations of the rocks and the alpine lakes growing smaller, step by step, below me. I’m getting high!
I’m also getting nauseous. “Drink water; water cures everything,” I say to myself. After two million years, the cliff begins to flatten and I can make out the stone hut at the top. Holy crap! I’m at the top of Whitney! My smile extends from the confines of my face; my whole body is smiling.
At the top, I find Church Lady lounged-out in his “this is what AIDS looks like” t-shirt. Then he and Dr. Fierce change into leopard print underwear. Solstice happens to be naked hiker day. It’s way too chilly for naked Whitney, but Church Lady and Dr. Fierce camp it up in their animal prints and sparklers. The day hikers don’t quite know what to make of their show. The thru hikers are cracking up. What better way to celebrate being on top of the world!
I have been “collecting” rocks for 3D printing throughout my hike and am especially excited to collect one from Whitney. It proves a little difficult. Most of the rocks up here are flat. Flat rocks don’t print very well. I hunt around to find just the right one. As I photograph it, my head starts to pound and my stomach quivers. I have to get down. I can’t live in the rock world.
Descending is a piece of cake. My body is relieved. I get back to Guitar Lake, gather my things, and head to Crabtree Meadows along with Water Bug and Namaste. We find 11, Microwave, and Copper there.
It’s the first day of summer.