Whitney from TrailheadFrom Thursday – Saturday of this past week, I was in the
wilderness with five Christian Brothers camping, and attempting to summit the
highest peak in the contiguous United States – Mt. Whitney (picture left taken by one of our team at the trail-head). Depending on which
source you use, Mt. Whitney stands at either 14,496 feet, or 14,505 feet.

Either way…it’s freakin’ high.

Whitney Camp in MoonlightWe camped in the wilderness Thursday night at Outpost Camp
(elevation 10,360). I froze all night, and slept very little. But, there was an
incredible full moon that lit the mountains up like a bulb and left us all in
awe (see picture on the left)

On Friday morning we left early. I had no idea how hard my
day was going to get. 

As we left camp and began to head up, we passed some beautiful scenery. Beautiful meadows, lakes, and streams. The climb to the next camp, about 2.5 miles and 2,000 feet was difficult, but doable.

Next was the infamous 97 switchbacks. I had been warned that these
would be hard—and the switchbacks are the most famous part of the hike. The
switchbacks are shorter and flatter at the bottom and keep steeper and longer
toward the top. Over the course of the switchbacks, you ascend 1,738 feet over 2.2 miles. While that may sound only
somewhat difficult, consider that you begin the switchbacks at an altitude of
12,000 feet. Along the switchbacks, I saw drops of blood on the path nearly the
whole way up…a bad sign…probably nosebleed drops.

Words cannot describe how hard this stretch (the 97
switchbacks) was. I felt like it would NEVER end. On top of it all…my IPod went dead at this
point–leaving me with the sound of my gasping for air as we ascending to
Trail Crest at 13,600 feet. I could hear my suffering now. But we kept

BP Whitney 6
At this point, one in our party fell victim to significant
altitude sickness and had to turn back. He was one of the stronger hikers in
the party. Again, a bad sign. The five of us remaining continued.

I thought the toughest part was behind us. However, the
toughest part for me was the final 900 feet, which is spread over about 2 ½ miles.
However, at nearly 14,000 feet…all bets are off. I was tired, dizzy, and,
though dressed somewhat like a Muslim woman in the winter—freezing. The
temperature was in the 20s and the wind was blowing hard. At the summit, the
winds were higher and the temperature was even cooler.

We wanted to know what it felt like up there. So, we kept

Getting close
The last part of the trail was essentially an organized rock
pile. It was tough on the legs…and tough on the psyche. What appeared to be a
mere 900 feet of climbing to the finish turned out to be much more difficult
because the trail went down several times—causing you to have to reclaim that
surrendered elevation again. Breathing was increasingly difficult as elevation
crested the 14,000 foot mark. It took nearly 3 hours for me to hike that last
2.5 miles.


I did.

14,505…or 14,496. I don’t care. It darn near killed me. But,
we made it.

Despite being enormously fatigued, I must say the feeling
was spectacular. We tried to take it in as much as we could.

We hiked back down the hill—the last 2 hours or so were in
the dark by headlamp. We pretty much went straight to bed—frozen and fatigued
but fulfilled. A windstorm hit that night. I slept through most of it. In the morning, we packed up our tents and hiked 3.8 miles Around the Rock at Whitney Camp
down to the car. We celebrated with large Cheeseburgers and junk food at the Whitney portal store. When we stopped for gas…we again raided the junk food aisle. I guess it was nice to have some sugar…something that didn't come freeze dried in a pouch or involve any type of nut or granola whatsoever.

Here are
a few pictures. More to come…including the one on the summit itself.

I’ll post some theological reflections tomorrow. It was a
great time to reflect on God, creation, Brotherhood, and all sorts of things. That
will have to wait for another day. After the hike and preaching 3 sermons this
morning…I’m content and fulfilled but fried. If I can manage to get my legs to
work enough to get up the stairs…there is a bed waiting for me. Hallalalalalalalelujah!

BP Whitney 2