All night I kept waking up, eager to start. My thoughts kept racing. What time was it? Will I make it in time for the sunrise? Should I wake Kunaal up and tell him I’m just going to get a head start? What if I don’t wake up in time? Will I make it to the top?
I suddenly woke and heard footsteps walking through the camp. Oh no! Did I miss my alarm? I heard them say, “Which way does the trail go?” There was a split to the Trail Camp Pond on the way up to the right and the Whitney trail continued to the left. They were starting before me and they were going to beat me, but then I reminded myself, “This is not a race. This is something that no matter how far I go, it is excellent. I don’t have to make it to the top.” I slept another hour and then I heard the alarm. 4:00am. My spirit was ready to go. Here is Kunaal’s tent lit up as he got ready.
I quickly got dressed adding layers, changing my socks, and organizing my things. I moved quickly out of excitement and to keep myself warm. I heated up water for my breakfast, Mountain House Eggs and Bacon, and drank something hot, energizing, and hydrating: Green Tea Peppermint. We left as much as we could at camp to lighten our packs, moved the bear vault 50 feet away from our belongings, and checked the clock for the start time 4:50am. I prayed as I tightened my pack straps. “Thank you God for this day. Thank you for this opportunity. Please give us the strength needed today. Please keep us safe. Amen.”
We started right up the “99 switchbacks”, heading southwest. I had only heard in the last few weeks how difficult this next part was. The other hikers accounts from the previous day helped me keep this part in perspective. I told my dad that we were going to attempt to make it to the top in one day and with a surprised expression on his face he said, “Oh no, you are not going to want to continue. You are going to want to rest.” He was right.
We hiked in complete darkness and only our headlamps to guide us. Back and forth, back and forth, we slowly climbed. Kunaal hiked in front of me at a steady pace. After 1/3 of the way up, he started to slow down and needed to catch his breath. I passed him and slowly made my way up in front of him. I was about 2 switchbacks ahead of Kunaal when I passed a man that had started at 12:01am the same day. His name was Skanda, he was 51, and he was planning to summit and make it back to the car in one day. He made me realize that summiting was possible in one day, but I would never want to do that. I admired his drive and determination. He sounded tired, but did not stop his slow steady pace. I asked him to help me reach my drinking tube which had become tangled and unreachable, wished him luck, and continued on. Soon enough I couldn’t see Kunaal or Skanda’s headlamps anymore.
I felt a burst of energy as I made my way up, higher and higher. I later told Kunaal that I was glad this part was pitch black, because I couldn’t see how far I had come or how much farther I had to go. All I had to concentrate on was taking one step at a time. I passed the cables and there was only a very small bit of ice. I was feeling great all the way up the switchbacks, great pace, great breathing, and great blood flow.
Finally, I made it to Trail Crest, 13,600 ft and I could see the slightest outlines of the other side down below. Tears filled my eyes, I couldn’t believe I got this far. I took a minute to reflect on the moment. The feeling of accomplishment. The feeling of reaching a goal.
You can see the tiny peak of dawn in the background of this picture.
I kept on going, the only stops I made were to take pictures. I was so eager to try to make it to the top for sunrise and I knew I was making great time.
Next, the trail turned north as it hugged the back side of the needles. I passed the signs for Sequoia National Park and then finally came to join the JMT, the only trail junction on the hike and the last 1.9 miles to the top. The view to the west was beginning to show. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I recognized the view from my sister and father’s video. The same one that placed Mt Whitney on my heart 15 years prior and now I was stepping in their footsteps. Every step closer, I felt a shot of adrenaline.
The backside of the needles had a sharp cliff to my left as I hiked. It was now bright enough that I didn’t need my headlamp anymore. I rounded a corner and there stood the gradual flat topped Whitney in the distance. The first time I laid my eyes on it that day.
The next part of the trail wove between the needles. At the first saddle in the needles, I climbed up a little to get a shot of the distant eastern sky. Cotton candy colors were spreading across the horizon. The Alabama Hills looked so small down below, and the treacherous granite cliffs of the needles towered above.
The sun was coming and I knew I had to pick up my pace if I was going to make it to the top before sunrise. Every time I passed another saddle, I caught glimpses of the glorious eastern view. The sight encouraged me to push ahead. I could also see the sunrise was faster then my feet. And then I saw it ahead of me, Whitney and the golden glow on the eastern rocky slopes. What an amazing view! Then I realized, if I’d been at the top, I wouldn’t have seen the sun hitting the peak like this. I was thankful for right where I was.
At the next saddle, I got to see this. The sun brings life, warmth, vision, and energy. It slowly spreads across the land and brings hope for the day. Two guys passed me going the opposite direction, and I asked the time: 7:20am.I continued and soon was just below Whitney. I started to slow down among the large boulders. The hiking poles helped. Now I must push through the last mental and physical battle to reach the summit. I was almost there, and my body was starting to say it had reached its limit.
The sun hit my back in this last push. I was almost there.
“Thank you God for the strength to do this. Thank you for how far I have come. Thank you for as far as I will go.”
My eyes started to tear up with exhaustion and my legs started to quiver. I was so close. One slow step after the other. I kept looking back along the trail to see if I could see Kunaal. I could see no one. I hoped he was doing okay and wondered if I should’ve continued on without him. I prayed for his strength, that he’d listen to his body and if possible, to make it up. Higher and higher. Then I saw it ahead of me… The Mt Whitney Hut that sits on the summit. 8:00amI couldn’t believe it, I had made it. 14,505 ft.
A huge smile came across my face and tears came down my cheeks with such overwhelming joy.
I slowly walked by the hut, saw two people resting inside, and stepped my way out to the edge. I looked out over everything. There was pure silence. In this moment, I was the only one in sight on the summit and I had reached my goal, my destination, my dream.
“Thank you God for the strength, endurance, and energy to make it to the top! Amen! Praise the Lord for this amazing gift!”
I was the tallest person in the lower 48 states. This is the highest I have ever hiked.
I sat down at the edge and slowly breathed in the 14,000 foot air deep into my lungs, realizing that every single thing within thousands of miles was below me. I pulled out my JMT journal from the previous year that had “Mt Whitney” written at the end of it, recorded this moment, and snapped a few pictures.
After about 15 minutes, the rock below me stole the warmth I had built up from the hard incline. I moved away from the cool breeze at the edge to the hut where now the two people inside, Ivo and Christine, were sitting. They congratulated me, and we sat with our backs to the hut with the warm sun shining down on us. I enjoyed some much needed nourishing food. I had an Epic Bison Bar and 2 more RX Bars. We had great conversation about where they were from, Austria, and how they have taken great adventures all over the world together. I loved sitting with them and sharing stories of our nature experiences. They had started the same day early in the morning and were completing the hike in one day. The people I had heard hiking through the camp before my alarm went off, were these two people. A beautiful small bird met us up at the top and Ivo reached out his hand with a snack and the bird ate it right out of his hand.
I kept peeking around the hut to check for Kunaal, hoping anyone coming up might be him or have news of him. There was nobody. I decided I would wait an hour at the top, then if I did not see him, I’d start to make my way down and either pass as he continued up or return to camp with him, which I truly hoped wouldn’t happen. Christine peeked around the corner and saw someone coming. I got up to see for myself. Yes! Someone was coming up, but I couldn’t tell if it was Kunaal. The person got closer, then they looked up, saw me, and both of their arms shot up with victory! KUNAAL! He made it!
He came over to meet me and the others. We hugged to celebrate such a victory! What an amazing moment to see him there with me. I was so proud of him. I left him alone as he made his way out to the edge.
Well done Kunaal! We made it!
Soon after Kunaal reached the top, Skanda (who I passed on the 99 switchbacks) summited and then a few others after that. Here is a picture of all of us celebrating together. From right to left, Kunaal, me, Skanda, Ivo, Christine, and I didn’t get the last girls name.
See below for the SPOT tracking of the hike from Trail Camp to Mt. Whitney. The last post will follow this and cover the hardest part of the hike for me.