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  • Writer's pictureBlaine Hoppenrath

From Whitney To Forester

Updated: Oct 6, 2019

The day before our summit attempt of Mt. Whitney, the group did about 7 miles and made it to camp by noon. The rest of the day was quiet, with everyone trying to get mentally and physically prepared for the night and day ahead. The feeling in camp was that of the time between prelims and finals of a swim meet. Everyone trying to get some sleep, but no one actually got quality sleep with the impending attempt making them toss and turn.

The day that we set off for Mt. Whitney we (as in R2, Anita, Diamond, Big Gulps, and Myself) set of for the summit at 12:15 AM. It was supposed to be 12:00 but Big Gulps overslept and we had to wake him. In his defense, Diamond did too, but he had arrange me as a back up plan if he wasn't awake by 11:30 PM. We set off in total darkness and we flew down the first couple miles of the trail. Then after a couple miles we hit a snowfield. The field was a big valley and it was two days after the full moon so it was actually possible to hike in the dark without a head lamp. When we stopped to put our microspikes on we took a minute to look at the mountains whose snow reflected the moonlight and it felt like we were tiny ants in a big bold universe.

We cruised through the snowfield and when several groups missed a switchback we cruised by them to make our way up the steepest and most dangerous part of the trail. About 40% of the switchbacks were covered in snow, requiring us to utilize our ice axes in the case of a self arrest. My group moved efficiently but safely through the snow. There was a sense of urgency to get to the summit but we never rushed. We steadily climbed the switch backs until we met up with the trail the Whitney Portal Trail that leads to the summit.

By that point most there were only a few small tricky parts of the climb. We kept ascending, getting more and more excited to reach the summit. And then around 4:00 AM we had a natural window that broke to the east and we could see the faintest colors of the sunrise. Seeing that less than a mile from the summit was just the fuel that wee needed to reach the top. We walked confidently over the last snowfield to the exposed trail to reach the summit.

And then, in the blink of an eye, we were looking east with not obstructed view. We made it. We safely summited the highest peak in the continental 48. And not only had we made it, but we were the first group up. We had no idea that we would get to pull out our sleeping bags and enjoy the victory for 45 whole minutes until the next group arrived. As we sat there admiring the view the sun appeared over the horizon.

It was a feeling of pure joy. A feeling that had been missing for so long in my life.

As we descending back to camp we ran into the other half of our group, snagged a picture with all 10 of us and enjoyed that feeling of bliss for the full eight miles back to camp. The hike down was 180 degrees different than that of the way up. Mainly because we could see everything around us. The mountains came alive and the views went on for miles.

It felt like we were flying down the mountain, and when we stopped for a break we let the days events settle in. We at some snacks, listened to some music, and Big Gulps made a Bob Ross Video (see here). I got back to camp feeling like I was on the top of the world and ready to take on the next big task. Forester Pass.

The next day we needed to make about 11 miles to set ourselves up for good snow conditions on Forster the following day. We did just that. And we had quite possibly one of the best campsites of the trail thus far. We went to bed early and got out of camp at 5:00 AM.

The climb up to Forester wasn't bad considering what we had just gone through with Whitney. Nevertheless, we took our time, moved with confidence but not arrogance to the chute. The cute was in the final quarter of a mile to the pass. It is a snowfield with a 500 foot drop. While only 75 feet wide, it is the most mentally taxing part of the pass. There was a line of people passing one at a time and while I couldn't watch them, I took my time, and made it across. I made it across one step at a time.

Reaching the highest point on the PCT was another confidence booster. We hiked and glissaded our way down the mountain and enjoyed one more night in the back country before making it to Bishop to zero the next day.

With Whitney and Forest behind me I have so much to be grateful for. I have gain new skills and abilities. I have a new confidence that I want to guard fiercely from fear and arrogance. I have a deeper trust and respect for my tramilia (trail family), because without them neither of these feats would have been possible. Finally, I have a new and fiercely deep excitement for the rest of the Sierra Nevada.

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