Tuesday, August 9, 2016

I Found What I Was Looking For

Never has there been an album I have loved longer or more intensely than U2's Joshua Tree. It is the anthem of our Lake Powell trips, the soundtrack of many a journey across this great country, and a welcome companion for almost any mood. I have purchased at least three copies on CD, loving each one until it was too scratched to play anymore. I'd probably be on my 6th copy if not for iTunes.

That's love.

Knowing that the album photography was shot in California's desert, I was determined to pay homage to the iconic tree that shares its name with the album during our Whitney trip. To my delight, we would only need to travel about 15 miles out of our way! Along a remote desert highway, we pulled off to the side of the road and made our pilgrimage to the site, which was about a quarter mile off the road. And then we had a photoshoot of our own. You don't even know how many photos we took, and I am too embarrassed to say!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Expedition Whitney

People. Never have I been so excited and nervous about an expedition in my whole life. Grand Canyon was hard, but at least we didn't have to hike it at high altitude. I read horror stories about altitude sickness on Whitney, and I was afraid I would work so hard for nothing. But I was also determined to try. There is adventure to be found in the attempt.

And so we met up with our friends Friday night in Lone Pine. We had been through several rounds of illnesses at home in the weeks leading up to the hike, and I was just glad to be there. Russ started to feel a tickle in his throat on Wednesday, so unfortunately, he was kind of sick at this point. I had been avoiding contact with him, sleeping in Paige's room, and drenching my hands and the car in hand sanitizer during our drive. Our hike wouldn't be until Sunday, and so we would wait and see. I could only hope I wouldn't get it.

We checked into our campground that night to begin the acclimation process. I was feeling a little dizziness even at that altitude, and it worried me a little. Breakfast at the Whitney Portal store was crazy huge. Had we known, we could have shared!

After breakfast, we went on an acclimation hike to Lone Pine Lake. This giant rock made the perfect spot for a picture.

I'm always delighted to come across a cool bridge. This one took a little balance.

After 2.5 miles and a climb of around 2,000 feet, we made it! To look upon that crystal alpine lake for the first time was a sight to behold.

We ventured around the lake a bit to find the perfect picnic spot. Wait, we didn't bring the picnic because we didn't realize how long it would take, so we just had snacks.

For a couple hours, we just sat there giving our bodies some time to acclimate and taking in the beauty of our surroundings.

The next morning, it was the real deal.

The first part of the trail was covered in pine trees.

There were several stream crossings, which made the trek more interesting.

Contemplating the wilderness on our favorite picture rock.

We were now in the Whitney Zone and had climbed high above Lone Pine Lake, which you can see in the background.

For a while, the rocky terrain gave way to a lush meadow.

Beyond the meadow on the climb out of Outpost Camp, the trees started to become shorter and more sparse. We stopped to take a look at how far we had come.

The mountain still loomed over us and didn't seem to get any smaller.

Even when the trees were gone, there were still small bushes and scenic streams to enjoy as we made our final push into Trail Camp.

It was almost dinner time when we finally arrived, and we sure were ready for it. Freeze dried food never tasted so good!

Soon after our arrival, the sun dropped below the Whitney ridgeline.

Kyle set up his tent in the dusky light. Poor guy forgot his sleeping mat and had to sleep against the freezing ground. He said it was his coldest night ever. Meanwhile, Russ and I were warm as toast.

Even in the twilight, we always knew where Cindy was.

This selfie just says, "I'm here!! I'm living a dream!"

In the early morning light, I peeked out of the tent to have a look at the sunrise. Adam was already out making hot cocoa. I wasn't about to step foot outside until the sun came up.

But Russ did, and they had a chat.

First sunlight.

After filling our water bladders from the cold lake, we set out to conquer the infamous 99 switchbacks out of Trail Camp.

At this point, most of the plant life had given way to barren granite. Just a few hardy plants here and there make this harsh alpine environment their home.

Soon we had an incredible view of Consultation Lake.

As I looked toward Whitney, I could see a tiny lump that I thought was the summit house, so I zoomed in for a picture. We had worked so hard already, but we had a lot of work to go!

The peaks surrounding Whitney have been described as needles with windows between them. We were filled with amazement as we looked through each one into the valley below.

It was August, and there was still snow on the trail! Toto, we're not in Phoenix anymore!

The whole crew looking like real mountain climbers. By this time, the excitement was palpable.

As we made our final steps toward the summit house, my emotions began to overwhelm me, and I just couldn't hold them in anymore. All the pain, exhaustion, outdoor potty breaks, trail food, and lack of sleep faded into insignificance. After 11 miles and a 6,000 foot climb, we were at the top!!

And since whatever was left of his disease would no longer be able to prevent me from summiting, a KISS.

At 14,505 feet, there was no person in the lower 48 United States who stood higher than us at that moment!

Can you tell I'm just a little ecstatic?!?!?

These two crazies decided to experience the dizzying view down the southeastern face. It's straight down, and I'm pretty sure there was nothing but air under that rock they are standing on!

A view of the peaks from the back side.

We had a long descent ahead of us, and it was already well into the afternoon, so I wasn't up for taking too many pictures.

The last I saw of the boys was at Trail Crest, and then I started to hurry down to Trail Camp.

Adam and Cindy were already there packing up, and I joined the effort. About 30 minutes later, Russ and Kyle arrived, and we made our final preparations for the last six miles and 4,000 foot descent of the hike... with packs. It was approaching dusk by then, and that's when we knew for sure we would be finishing this hike in the dark.

But the feeling I got at the bottom when our journey was complete was indescribable. I guess you'll just have to do it for yourself.