“The Mountains are Calling and I Must Go”

John Muir

For the past three years, my brother and I have gone on an annual hiking trip.

The first year (2019) we explored peaks in Southern California. My brother had planned out two days of hiking. He chose Mt. San Gorgonio for the first hike, which is the highest peak in Southern California. This was my first intense hike: 19.3 miles, 5,500 elevation gain, ending at 11,503 ft. This was a hard climb and I got altitude sickness on the way up. No one that I know enjoys vomiting, but it is even worse on top of a mountain! I eventually pushed through it, made it to the top, and survived the walk down. This was a fun hike through the San Bernadino National Forest with different scenery along the way. Toward the end of the hike, you walk on the side of the mountain passing the tree line. The end is grueling, but the views are amazing! The next day we hiked Mt. Wilson, which is in the Angeles National Forest. The hike tracked at 14 miles, 4,423 elevation gain, ending at 5,712 feet. The forest of Mt. Wilson is very pretty, with lots of greenery and streams. At the top of Mt. Wilson is an Observatory, so it was a bit anti-climactic to me. Overall, our first year was great.  We hiked 33 miles over two days.

The second trip (2020) we took was to Inyo National Forest in Lone Pine, California where Mt. Whitney is located. I told my brother I wanted to climb a peak to celebrate my 40th birthday. Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the lower 48 states. I knew this would be a challenge, so I trained for many months leading up to the trip. When we arrived, we spent the first two days on some shorter hikes to acclimate to the elevation. The first day we did the Meysan Tail which was 14 miles, 4,100 elevation gain, ending at 11,800 feet.  Okay, yes, I did have one incident of altitude sickness, but I got over it quickly. The second day we did the Cottonwood Trail, which was supposed to be around 14 miles, but we took a wrong turn and ended up hiking 22 miles. On the third day, we hiked Mt. Whitney which we wanted to do in one day.  There are camping sites on the way for those who want to make it a multi-day hike. We started the hike at 5 a.m. and peaked at 11 a.m. I remember coming around the last bend where you transition from Inyo National Forest to Sequoia National Forests. There is a sign that Mt. Whitney is about 1.9 miles away. You are walking on the side of a steep mountain, where you must be careful of your footing. You can look out these “windows on the mountain” to see the views below. Then you take one last turn and ascend to the peak. At that moment I felt a rush, I was going to peak Mt. Whitney! With each step, I felt a sense of excitement, and then the last step I felt relief. We did it! We stayed on the top marveling at how high we were and the breathless scenery around us. We climbed down the mountain, ending at about 5 p.m. We climbed 22 miles, 6,686 elevation gain, ending at 14,508 feet. The three-day total was 58 miles.

This last week we decided to head back to Lone Pine to try Mt. Langley, which sits just above 14,000 feet and is Mt. Whitney’s little brother. On day one we hiked to Muir Lake, which was a 13-mile hike. The second day we hiked a trail called Big Whitney Meadows Trail, which was 20.6 miles, elevation gain of 3,068 feet. For the first time, I did not get any altitude sickness! I really enjoyed the John Muir Wilderness; I understand why he loved nature so much. We went through some of the most peaceful meadows, surrounded by greenery, lakes, and mountains. I felt both peace and awe at the same time, and I wanted to spend the entire day just sitting there while reading a good book. On the third day, we wanted to climb Mt. Langley, which is a 23-mile hike. We followed a trail that was going to extend the hike by about six miles. After hiking for many hours, we realized that the trail we were on was not well marked or maintained. There was another path with a more direct trail, so we backtracked a few miles. We got on the right path but by then we had already hiked 20 miles and it was 2:30 p.m. We were about an hour or so from the peak but realized we had to turn back, or we would be hiking in the dark. Although I really wanted to push through it, it was wise to turn back. We climbed back down which took a little over four hours, ending at 28.5 miles and hiking for twelve hours. That was my longest one-day hike, along with my longest three-day hike of 64.5 miles. Although we did not peak, it was still a great trip (and humbling).

In the next post, I will share some thoughts I had from this last hike.

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