The People and The Mother
“In dedication to those we have hiked, do hike, and will hike alongside on the Pacific Crest Trail”
1:30AM. “Bing. Beep. &@$$&@$” Basecamp’s alarm sounded off in the morning darkness. “Good Lord, just another hour, please” I said. Alas, it wasn’t to be. The mountain mother awaited.
Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the lower 48 states. Standing proudly at 14,505’, she towers over the Crabtree Meadows campground as the mother of mountains in the contiguous United States.
Basecamp and I had arrived at Crabtree the day prior to a horde of other hikers and pitched tents. With welcoming smiles, our friends greeted us and ran a few start times by us for their Mt. Whitney assaults. “1AM, 2AM, 3AM…” Each argued their reasons for their start time. Hike your own hike with the people you choose to. While setting up camp that night, Basecamp and I looked at one another and said “3:00AM”.
So, the alarm was set for 1:30AM as we inhaled the heartiest dinners our bear cans could provide and turned off our tiny tent lights for the night. Tomorrow awaited.
Being a married couple who enjoys a warm pot of coffee, it takes us anywhere from 2-3 hours some days to wake, cuddle, eat, pack, and leave camp. Luckily, there was no packing necessary this day since we’d be hiking back to Crabtree and packing later.
Squelching the angry phone alarm, we crawled out of our warm bags at 1:30AM, brewed a lukewarm pot of instant coffee, grabbed a few protein bars, and headed out of the tent with our headlamps beaming. Cuppa, Yukon, and Crush met us at 3:00AM just by the creek crossing. We had 15 miles ahead of us with several thousand feet of vertical gain.
With light packs and skin cooled by the mist, we moved swiftly up switchbacks to the approach. Snowfields shone pale in the moonlit landscape. Shuffling by an alpine lake, a rockfall triggered in the black some 100 feet above us where no hiker or trail existed. Tiny streaks of light spit in the distance as hikers looked in all directions for trail with their lamps.
Dawn cut through the night as headlamps on the mountainside faded to day. The sky swelled with hues of pink and red. Massive jagged outcroppings and slicked-over traverses riddled the climb. To date- we had been known as the slower, steady couple with our heavy packs, but today we glided up Whitney as our bodies recalled those fourteeners we scaled from living in Colorado. Fueled by this feeling, we climbed quickly to the top by and with fellow hikers. Just feet from the summit and short of breath from the climb, a golden sun peered around craggy protrusions to show the way.
And near the top, there it was- a hut…shelter from the frostbitten winds and glaring sun. As we approached, we could hear familiar voices. Cuppa and Crush, who had hiked ahead of us were there with Jedi, a ridiculously funny, 200 lb German in his 20’s. In all his glory, Cuppa (English fellow) was atop a 4’ snow mattress in his sleeping bag brewing Yorkshire tea, and asked “Would you like a cuppa tea?” What on Earth!? Yes please! As we warmed in the hut filled with snowdrift, Crush stated that it was his birthday…and what a thing to do to celebrate his moment. Jedi sat in the corner of the hut with a Charley horse and a laugh, wrapped in a sleeping bag burrito. While standing in that small space crammed with hikers and snow, it was impossible not to smile and be thankful. It’s moments like these that forever imprint on you. Summits and views are phenomenal, but you remember the people and the moments with those people, foremost. In that moment, there’s no place we would have rather been than on top of a fourteener freezing our behinds off in a blistering cold with those people.
A wise climber once told us that, “The mountain allows you to summit” which implies that you won’t complete every climb. This time, the mother had allowed us to summit and to do so safely. Thank you Whitney for your views, your experience, the struggles you allowed us to overcome, and the memories you gave us with the people we call family.
Descending the mother and returning to camp, we couldn’t help but be grateful. Despite all the physical and mental pain we’d been in for the past 766 miles, in this moment those pains hummed instead of screamed. After experiencing nature in its most magnificent form with our friends, the smiles and the anticipation of things to come quieted all else.
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