Trip Report: California’s Mt. Whitney

It was Friday and the end of a busy week when I decided I needed some Sierra therapy. On a whim, I went home after work and packed my stuff to head up the 395 North. Without campsite reservations, I was taking a chance, but I figured that the worst that could happen would be that I’d end up forking over some money for a last minute hotel or sleeping in my car at a campground or trailhead.

I drove to one of my favorite campgrounds in the Sierra, the Cottonwood Lakes Campground at Horseshoe Meadow, and lucked into a walk-in campsite.

The next morning, I woke up, unzipped the door of my tent and immediately recognized two of my friends sitting at a table enjoying breakfast. They were just as surprised to see me as I was them. They were hiking Mt. Whitney the next day and invited me to join them since they had an extra permit.

Why not?

We relocated to Whitney Portal Campground from Horseshoe Meadow (it was more convenient to start closer to the trailhead), and I went to bed before dark. But I didn’t get much sleep because of all the noise and rambunctious kids running around.

At 1:30 the next morning, my boots and me hit the trail. It was a later start than I wanted. I usually prefer to start this trek at midnight to give myself ample time to complete it at a decent hour. The first time I conquered Whitney, it took me 22 hours to do the whole hike. The hike is 22 miles round trip with over 6,000 feet of elevation gain and I try to maintain a steady pace of at least one mile per hour. I knew I was going to be pushing it by getting started so late.

I originally wrote this article for the Oboz Footwear Trail Tales Ambassador blog. Read the conclusion of this serendipitous story here: http://obozfootwear.com/trail-tales/trip-report-californias-mt-whitney

An Unfair Exchange?

San G PeakI haven’t shared this story with many people, but I think this is a story that needs to be told because it might help somebody who’s struggling with a decision, feeling like they’re being pulled in different directions.

Last summer, I was a hiking fool. I felt greater than ever before and I was on fire. So when the opportunity came for me to climb Mt. Whitney with a friend and some of his co-workers, I jumped on it. I was feeling kind of bummed from the year before when I led my own group to Mt. Whitney and ended up not summiting due to a rookie mistake regarding my camera. (See prior post.)

Not long after I committed to this climb, I received a call from a casting agency that I had previously worked with asking if I would be available to do a commercial shoot as a hand double for a celebrity spokesmodel representing a major cosmetics company. Of course, they wanted me available on the dates I was planning to be at Mt. Whitney.

Reluctantly, I told them I was available, knowing there was the possibility of the dates getting bumped or the shoot getting canceled altogether. I kept my fingers crossed and told my friend leading the Mt. Whitney trip that I might have to cancel on the trip due to work.

Within days of the possible shoot, I hadn’t heard anything from the agency, so I told my friend that it was most likely a no-go on the commercial and that I was committed to the trip. Since permits are required to climb Mt. Whitney, I wanted to give my friend ample notice of my cancellation to give him enough time to find a replacement.

The evening before the proposed commercial shoot, which was a day before we were to leave for Mt. Whitney, I received a call from the agency asking me to report to set the next morning. I was torn because I was looking forward to climbing Mt. Whitney with my friend and his co-workers. I also knew that the commercial shoot was a great opportunity. What to do?

Commercial Shoot 2

Commercial Shoot Day 2

I almost turned down the shoot, citing plans already established, but I knew that would have been very bad. I realized I was already committed to the shoot because I had previously told them I was available on the dates they quoted. Never mind that they called me at the last minute to confirm.  That’s Hollywood for you.

I called my friend to tell him I couldn’t go to Mt. Whitney and, as expected, he was very disappointed. Because of the late notice, he was unable to find a replacement for me, so his permit went to waste. I offered to pay him for the cost of the permit as I really wanted to make the situation right. I was disappointed in myself for letting him down, and I was equally disappointed that I wasn’t going to climb Mt. Whitney.

Commercial Shoot 1

Commercial Shoot Day 3

The last day of the shoot, I was approached by the hair stylist to the spokesmodel I hand doubled for. She remembered me from the previous shoot I did with them 2-1/2 years prior. She asked for my number so that she could pass it on and keep me in the loop for other opportunities with this celebrity. I gave her my number, but took it with a grain of salt because I know how things can fall through for various reasons.

Some time after the shoot wrapped and things returned to normal again, I found myself facing scary thing, a weekend without plans. One evening, I had a sudden desire to take a trip to the Sierra. I remembered a hike that I had wanted to do in the Horseshoe Meadow area to a place called Chicken Spring Lake. I packed my bags and hit the road on Friday morning. I had no reservations anywhere, just a tent and some gear.

Campsite

Cottonwood Pass Campground

I knew I could probably nab a campsite at the walk-in campground at the Cottonwood Pass trailhead, so I took the chance and it paid off. The next morning, when I unzipped the door of my tent, the first thing I saw when I looked outside was three familiar faces at a nearby picnic table enjoying breakfast together. I was initially shocked to see them, but then realized they were with a group that was to hike Mt. Whitney the next day.

My friends were surprised and excited to see me. I explained what I was doing there and told them what had happened with my failed plan to climb Whitney with my other friend. That was when they mentioned that a person in their group wasn’t going to be able to climb, due to a knee issue, and had a permit available.  They encouraged me to take the permit.

I was unsure if I was ready to take on Mt. Whitney on such short notice.  It was the furthest thing from my plans that weekend.  However, I was prepared for the most part, and anything I didn’t have could be easily acquired in Lone Pine.  I went on my planned hike to Chicken Spring Lake and mulled it over.  When I returned to the campground, I told my friends I would take the permit to climb Mt. Whitney the next day.

CS Lake 2

Chicken Spring Lake

I climbed the mountain and did it in 4 hours less time than my first trip in 2011.  All of the circumstances came together to create the right opportunity.  The entire month of July, I climbed big mountains.  The first weekend, I climbed Mt. Baldy (10,064 ft.)  Then I climbed Mt. San Gorgonio (11,503 ft) and the next weekend, I climbed a fourteener, White Mountain (14,252 ft.)  The following weekend, it was Mt. Whitney.

Mt. Whitney

Mt. Whitney Summit – elev. 14,508 ft

Because I had spent so much time at high altitudes, my body was well acclimated and ready to take on Whitney.  Perhaps if I had attempted Mt. Whitney during the time of the commercial, I wouldn’t have been in such good shape, or I might have had to cancel my trip to White Mountain since the climbs would have been only within two days of each other.  It could be a number of reasons.

Looking back, I realized that if I had canceled on the commercial shoot, I would not be in the position I’m in today.  Because of the connection I made with the spokesmodel’s hair stylist who asked for my number, I am now the stand-in double for the model/actress on her popular TV talk show.  I have been able to gain valuable experience on camera, learn the inner workings of production and interact with the various celebrities that come through the doors every day.

This past year has been amazing and the best is yet to come.  The experience I’ve gained from working on the show has given me the inspiration and skills to produce and host the web series version of this blog.  (By the way, you can click the “Episodes” tab to view the videos.)

I heard someone say, “Opportunity doesn’t knock.  Instead it stands by silently, and normally goes unnoticed because at first it seems like an unfair exchange.”  I was bummed when I got the call for the commercial and asked to be available for the dates I was going to climb Mt. Whitney.  You have to be a climber in order to understand why I was torn about it.  If they had asked for my availability on any other dates, I would have been ecstatic, but I really had my heart set on climbing Mt. Whitney and, at the time, didn’t foresee any other opportunity to do it that summer.

The chance that I thought I was giving up was given back to me and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  Maybe you’ve missed an opportunity or traded in an opportunity for something else that seems like an unfair exchange.  Don’t be moved by what it looks like on the surface.  You may not see what lies far beyond where you are currently standing, but just trust the path in front of you.  Your steps will be made clearer as you move forward.  I know this to be true because I’m walking this journey right now.

Hike on!

Picture This: Another Epic Adventure

SONY DSCNext week I’m setting off on my first ever backpacking trip. In addition to the excitement of being the only damsel amongst five men, I’m looking forward to the many photographic opportunities this trek through my beloved Sierra will provide. As an avid photographer, of course I want to be sure to maximize every one of those opportunities. Because of that, my biggest concern, other than sub-freezing temps at night, is ensuring that my camera maintains its power over the course of this 6-day adventure.

I had an experience a couple of years ago that I don’t care to repeat.  I guess you could call it a “rookie” mistake.  I had just bought my Sony Alpha NEX C-3 and had set out to climb Mt. Whitney.  This would have been my second summit of the mountain had I chosen to go all the way.  I made it to Trail Camp, which is about the halfway point to the summit, and took out my shiny new camera in anticipation of capturing the breathtaking sunrise.

SONY DSCI flipped the switch to turn the camera on, but nothing happened.  For a split second, I thought it was broken, but it didn’t take long for me to realize the camera worked perfectly.  The reason it didn’t turn on was because there was no battery in it.  I left it charging in the hotel room in Lone Pine.  I was so bummed about it that I didn’t summit Mt. Whitney that day.  My experience was completely ruined.

Ever since that day, I have made sure that my camera has had the battery in it before I walk out the door.  I also now have a spare battery, which has come in handy on a couple of occasions.  For my backpacking trip, I am contemplating whether or not it will be necessary to buy a third battery.

I’ve decided that the best way to stretch out the use of my equipment is to use my Sony as the primary camera for photos and video, and my iPhone as a backup.  And yes, the footage gathered on this adventure will be included in an episode of “Tales of the Trails.”

Sony on the Go Portable Charger two Pack c

A few months ago, I purchased a Sony charger set from Costco.  The package contains a Li-ion Polymer Battery and also a 2800mAh pocket charger.  The Polymer battery can charge two devices at a time as it has two USB ports, and it provides up to 4 full charges of a smartphone.  The pocket one provides one full smartphone charge and weighs almost nothing, so it’s perfect for backpacking.  The other one is a little heavier, but I don’t foresee a problem in packing that one along as well.

I’ve noticed that my iPhone takes just as good video as my camera, so it would be very efficient to use as a backup.  I’m sure that once I start putting it all together in post-production, you won’t be able to tell the difference between what was shot with the phone or the camera.  We’ll just have to see.  Creativity is an adventure in itself.

I’m looking forward to what sort of tales await on this new trail!  🙂

Tales of the Trails – Mt. Whitney Edition Pt. 2

The last three miles of the first Mt. Whitney summit attempt in August were the longest three miles of my life. I had a strange out-of-body type of experience on the way down and I have no idea how I even made it all the way. Perhaps it was the quick pace set by my friends Jeff and Nancy. Or maybe it was Jeff’s calling out the mileage on the descent, giving me hope that the trailhead was near. Somehow, even with the encouraging words from Jeff, I grew more and more discouraged as I saw headlamps snaking up the trail below us, indicating that we still had at least that much further to go.

Every inch of me was in pain. The few places that weren’t were downright numb. I felt as if rigor mortis was settling into my body while I was still in it, and that non-sensation should have frightened me, but I was even numb to fear. My headlamp had even grown dim as the batteries needed replacing, but I refused to stop. I knew that if I had stopped for even a moment, I wouldn’t be able to start again. So I walked in between Jeff and Nancy so that I could use the light of their headlamps.

By the time we finally reached the trailhead, I thought I was hallucinating. I looked up into the sky and noticed millions of stars, something I had never seen before. I glanced at Nancy and told her I had never seen that many stars in the sky and felt like something was wrong with me. She assured me that there weren’t any more stars in the sky than normal, but because of the light pollution in the city, the stars are not all clearly visible to us. While it was a comfort to know that I wasn’t hallucinating, that did little to reassure me that something wasn’t terribly wrong.

Jeff offered to treat us all to a pizza in Lone Pine as we were all famished. When we got there, I walked across the street to the hostel where I stayed to leave my backpack in the room and I could barely stand. Going up the stairs was excruciating. Somehow I made it back to the pizza joint and attempted to eat a slice of pizza and rehydrate with some green tea sweetened with honey. I had to force a small bite of pizza down and I probably only drank half a cup of green tea. I couldn’t sit at the table any longer and bid my friends goodnight. As hungry as I was, it was very surprising to me that I couldn’t eat or drink. When I got back to the room, I went straight to bed.

There had only been one time in my life that I could remember not having an appetite. I was fourteen, it was Thanksgiving, and I had the flu. It was the most awful feeling ever to be at my grandmother’s house around family and lots of food, and unable to touch any of it. After my failed attempt to summit Mt. Whitney, I had that feeling multiplied by ten. I was also severely dehydrated, as well as physically and emotionally spent. I later discovered that I had a pretty bad case of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), which could have turned fatal. Thank God, it didn’t.

The next morning, I loaded up on electrolytes, which I badly needed, and had a big breakfast up at the Whitney Portal. After that, I felt refreshed. However, I couldn’t stop looking back at Mt. Whitney staring down at me in the distance and feeling bummed that I didn’t conquer her as I had intended. I knew it would be at least a year before I would have another go at it and I tried to let it go, but be thankful that I at least made it as far as Trail Crest, which by all purposes was the summit at 13,600ft.

When I returned to L.A. and pondered my failed summit attempt, I lamented over the fact that I had given up on some dreams that I had held dear to my heart for many years. I also noted that I had given up on summiting two peaks and felt that the two instances were somehow connected. I didn’t know for sure if that was the case, but it was worth consideration. I wondered what to do about it.

The answer came suddenly when my friend Walter, the leader of the Mt. Whitney conquests, posed the idea of going back to the mountain to take care of business once and for all. I wasn’t going to have to wait another year. I would take on the mountain again, and I would do it on my birthday, celebrating with epic flare. It would be the birthday to remember.

Tales of the Trails: The Adventures of the Fabulous Five – Pt. 4

I glanced around the arch, circling it several times to find something, anything that would lead me to Arthur. I didn’t find even a clue, and I was becoming more and more worried. Puzzled was more like it. I stood underneath the arch, looking through to the other side, and I saw a breathtaking view of Mt. Whitney just beyond.  I stepped onto the rock and stopped directly under the arch. Suddenly, I was overcome by a strange sensation–something like AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness).  The weird thing about it was that I wasn’t at a high altitude, so there was no reason for me to experience those symptoms.

I thought that perhaps if I stepped through the arch I would end up passing through to some other world where I might find Arthur.  Then I thought better of it.  How silly a thought.  Being a writer, sometimes I let my imagination get away with me.  But maybe it wasn’t such a silly thought after all.  It was obvious that Arthur was close, yet not so close.

Joyce!

It was Arthur’s voice again.  He sounded more desperate this time.  I had to do something, but I was afraid to go it alone.

“Guys!” I shouted.  Eddie, Farrah and Gina emerged from the boulders.  “I think I found Arthur.”

“Where?” Eddie stood behind me at the arch.

“Follow me,” I said.  With that, I stepped through to the other side of the arch.  Immediately, the wind was sucked out of me and I felt as if someone had grabbed hold of my lungs and squeezed them with all their might.  I was engulfed by a blinding light and my head was spinning as I was sucked into some sort of vortex.

I heard a deafening roar and then, suddenly, everything just stopped.  I thought I was dead, but then felt something warm and rugged on my face.  When I realized it was the ground, I knew I still had life in me.  But I couldn’t move.  I opened my eyes and glanced around, but everything was a blur.  From what I could make of the surroundings, it seemed as if i were in the same place as before.

The sun was blazing hot and I desperately wanted to get up, but I couldn’t.  I could feel my arms and legs, so I knew I wasn’t paralyzed, but for some reason I was immobile, no matter how hard I tried to move.  I was suddenly gripped by fear as I realized that there was no sign of life and no sign of Arthur.  I wondered why I heard him earlier, but now that I was in this “place,” I didn’t hear a thing.  I didn’t even know what became of Eddie, Farrah, or Gina.

The one thing I did hear was a gunshot.  It was distant at first, but then another shot rang out that seemed much closer.  Dangerously close.  I then heard what sounded like a stampede, then more shots, getting ever so close.  I knew at that moment it was time to arise from the dust, but I still couldn’t move.

I tried to speak.  “Arth—”  It was no use.  I could barely form the word on my lips.  The stampede grew closer and closer, until I could feel the earth trembling beneath me.  I heard another gunshot.  This time, I could almost feel the bullet pierce the air right next to my face as I struggled to will myself up from the dirt.  I’m dead, I thought.

Suddenly, I felt a strong set of arms wrap around me and I was lifted from the ground.  My vision was still blurred, so I couldn’t make out the figure.  I was being shaken as the figure ran with me and then whisked me across something hard.  As I began to fall over, I felt myself being held up, supported by a warm body pressed against mine.  A slew of gunshots resounded, causing my ears to pop with each release.

“Yah!” the man shouted, and we began to move–or rather gallop–across the desert.  At that moment, I knew that I was riding a horse.  What I didn’t know yet was who had just risked his life to save me?  And where was he taking me?  More importantly, where was Arthur, and was this mystery man going to take me to him?  Or had something terrible happened?

Tales of the Trails: The Adventures of the Fabulous Five – Pt. 3

The drive down Movie Road was smooth sailing until we reached a point where the pavement ran out and we were riding along a bumpy dirt road.  We hadn’t yet seen the parking lot for the trailhead that was supposed to lead us to the arch and I was beginning to think that we had somehow passed it.  The bumpy road was further irritating my stomach and we couldn’t find the trailhead fast enough.

“I see the arch,” Arthur said, pointing out the window.

“Where?” asked Gina.

“There.”

Arthur pointed to a rock in the distance to our right where an arch could barely be made out.

“That can’t be the arch,” I said.  “It just looks like a hole in a rock.”

Thinking that was probably the closest thing to an arch that we were going to see that day, I pulled over into the nearby parking area.  Eddie and Farrah, who were following, did the same.

When we got out of the cars to check out the location, we were immediately reminded that we were in a desert. No longer in the protective confines of the climate-controlled cars, we became instant prey for the sun’s brutal rays.  Seemingly unaffected by the heat, Arthur and Eddie took out their cameras and went to work.

Since Johnny’s map indicated a short hike to the arch, Farrah and I decided to put our hiking boots on.  We were both wearing flip flops and didn’t want to risk twisting an ankle.

I glanced around at the numerous rock formations, not to admire the scenery, but to find a well-hidden place I could use as a bathroom.  That’s when I saw the sign indicating the trailhead to the arch.  The trail was clearly defined and lined on both sides with stones.

“Over here, y’all!” I shouted to my friends.  “The trailhead is over here.”

Farrah, Eddie, Gina and Arthur started toward me, and then it hit.  I needed to find a rock bad.  I remembered the unused WAG bag that was still in my backpack from the Mt. Whitney hike and knew it would come in handy.

“You guys go on.  I’ll catch up.  There’s something I have to do,” I said.

With that, they started down the trail.  I returned to my car for the WAG bag and ran down the trail after them, keeping a safe distance behind.  Then, I spotted the perfect rock covering, and did my business.  I didn’t want to carry the WAG bag with me to the arch, so I left it near the rock with the intent of returning for it to dispose of it properly.

I met up with everyone at the arch and found that Arthur was already the center of attention.  He had perched himself on top of the arch and was staring down at the “paparazzi,” Eddie, Farrah, and Gina, who were poised in a straight line taking his picture.  He motioned for the rest of us to join him, but Gina and Eddie were the only ones brave enough.

The arch wasn’t particularly huge, but to climb to the top of it took some skill.  I tried to be a little more daring and adventurous to get up there, but even with Arthur’s help, I chickened out.  Instead, I took pictures of Arthur and Gina clowning around atop the arch.  It was such a lovely day and the clouds were so wispy and formed very interesting shapes above the spectacular rock formations.

Arthur helped Gina down the from the arch and climbed back up.  Eddie hopped to another rock to take more pictures of the scenery while Farrah and Gina went off to explore some other rock formations.  I went to check out a nearby crevice to see what was below, but when an image from the movie “127 Hours” flashed through my head, I thought better of it and moved away from the edge.

I returned to the arch, which was only a few yards away and noticed that Arthur was gone.  I looked around and saw Eddie in the same spot as before, and Farrah and Gina were still looking at some other rocks.  Arthur was nowhere to be found.  Thinking he might have been playing some sort of trick, I scanned the area near the arch, but still, no Arthur.  I was puzzled because, although Arthur moves fast, there was no way he could have gotten down from that arch and hidden himself so quickly.

“Arthur?”  I called.  No answer.

Eddie looked up, curious.

“Did you see where Arthur went?” I asked.

“No,” said Eddie.  “He was just there on top of the arch.”

“Well, he’s gone now,” I said.  “Okay, Arthur, this isn’t funny.  Where are you?”

Gina and Farrah began walking back toward the arch.  “What’s going on?” Gina said.

“Did you see where Arthur went?” I asked.

“No, wasn’t he up there?” Gina said, indicating the arch.

“I turned my back for five seconds,” I said.  “There’s no way even he could have gotten down that fast.”

By this time, Eddie joined us, curious about the commotion.  “He’s gotta be around here somewhere,” he said. “He can’t be too far.”

“I’ll look over here,” Farrah said, walking to a nearby boulder.  Eddie darted off in another direction and Gina walked over to the crevice where I had just been.

Help meeeee!

The voice was so faint at first that it could very well have been the wind.  I paused, then heard it again, clearer this time.

Please!  Help!

“Arthur?”  The voice was coming from the arch, but there was no one near it other than me.  I thought that perhaps Arthur had fallen into a crevice and the wind was carrying his voice over to where I was.

Joyce!  The arch!

This time, I heard Arthur’s voice loud and clear.  The question was, what was he trying to tell me about the arch?  And where in the heck was he anyway?

Tales of the Trails: The Adventures of the Fabulous Five – Pt. 2

Despite my misgivings regarding the Lone Ranger look-a-like, I went to the Whitney Portal Store to enjoy a big, hearty breakfast with my friends. When we passed the Mt. Whitney Trailhead, all of us cringed at the sign as we had gotten our fill of the Mt. Whitney trail.

We went inside the store and were greeted immediately by the famous Doug, a happy and charismatic man who seemed to love meeting new faces. He began taking Arthur’s order as I glanced around the store to check out some gifts and trinkets.

My attention was drawn back over to the counter where there was a little commotion between Arthur and Doug. They were acting up and having a good time. Two personalities that instantly clicked.

When it was time to place my order, I noticed some books on sale at the counter with maps of the Mt. Whitney trail in them. When Doug noticed me checking out the books, he grabbed one, wrote an inscription in it, and handed it to me, free of charge. I thought he was kidding at first, but he was serious. What a nice man.

When Doug went back to the kitchen to prepare his world famous hotcakes, I flipped through the book and noticed that some recipes were included in the back, even the recipe for the giant hotcakes.

Doug returned and brought out two–rather four–plates of hotcakes. There were two hotcakes, but because of their mammoth size, they had to rest on two plates each. Arthur ordered one and so did I. We couldn’t believe our eyes. These were literally the biggest pancakes we had ever seen. There was no way any one person could eat an entire cake. However, I decided I was up for the challenge.

We all sat out on the patio and, amid a swarm of bees, ate our breakfast. Arthur shared his hotcake with Gina and Eddie. I tried to eat mine, but ended up splitting it with Farrah. The two of us still couldn’t tackle it and most of it was left behind.

The bees were out in full force. I tried my best to scarf down my scrambled eggs and bacon before they could get to it, but I couldn’t eat fast enough. The bees obviously liked Arthur; his plate was covered with them. I had never known bees to be carnivorous.

“What’s the matter?” Doug’s voice boomed from the window overhead. “You can’t eat all the hotcake?”

“I tried, Doug. But if I eat one more bite, I’m going to barf,” I said.

“What do you mean? You don’t like the hotcake?” Doug appeared hurt.

“Oh, no, of course I like it. I love it, actually. It’s just that it’s really a massive pancake and my stomach can’t take anymore.”

Doug chuckled and left the window. I stared down at my unfinished pancake, knowing I’d have to toss it. What a waste.

We sat on the patio talking, laughing, shooing away bees, taking pictures of visiting chipmunks, and greeting weary hikers as they sat down for breakfast around us. We could tell which ones had just completed the Whitney hike because they all had “the look,” as we called it. That tired, drained, washed out, ugly, dirty look that we all wore the day before.

After taking a few more photos of chipmunks and blue jays, we headed back to the cars with the mysterious arch on our minds.  I glanced at the restroom near the parking lot with the strange feeling that I should pay it a visit, but I didn’t really have to go at the moment, so I got in the car.  By the time we reached Movie Road, I was brewing and stewing, and not because of the intense desert heat.