08 Jun Sunrise From The Top Of The World
In total darkness I sat up. My alarm hadn’t gone off yet. Not my watch alarm at least. Nope. I just had to pee. Perfect timing. It was quarter past midnight. I’d slept about 4.5 hours and rose naturally. That was a good start.
The plan was to head up Whitney and get there to see sunrise. Leaving at 1am, we’d have 4 .5 hours to climb 4000 ft in elevation over 7.5 miles. So far things were going great: I was awake.
With aching feet, I crawled then hobbled out of my tent and away from sleeping hikers to relieve myself. I watched the shadows, squinting in the dark to decide that none of the big dark blurry shapes were bears. Fluids offloaded successfully, I hobbled back to my tent.
Other hikers were beginning to rouse and alarms were going off and quickly being silenced followed by tired groans and rustling sleeping bags. I changed into my salt crusted dust covered hiking clothes. I checked the summit bag that I packed the night before. I decided to add my sleeping bag to the kit in case we arrived early and were waiting for a while. Otherwise, it was the bare minimum: 2 liters water, 4 snack bars, some energy chews, Werther’s hard candies, first aid kit, gloves, warm hat, down jacket, and wind shirt. Pack seemed light as a feather.
I stretched while I waited for the others to get ready. One by one they all joined me, their headlamps blinding me as they walked to meet me at the trail. Birdman, U-turn, Hooligan, and Jugs. The crew was set. We all excitedly confirmed we were ready, and I took the lead down the trail.
Our headlamps lighting the way, the moon nowhere to be seen, the trail tested us early with a creek crossing. Headlamps behind us cast shadows messing with the view in front of our own feet. A series of logs crossed the creek giving us a decent crossing. One was wobbly however and I doubt I was alone in having immediate nightmares of a wet climb to 14000 ft.
We tight-roped across unscathed and were truly off. The initial few miles were a gradual ascent so we pushed early to give us mode time during the steeper climb and higher elevation. The miles flew by quickly in the dark as we focused on not tripping over rocks, not falling into a creek and just staying on the trail.
Before we knew it we were about to start the big climb after Guitar Lakes. Another hiker, Wendy, had camped up the trail and here joined our string of headlamps.
So began the trudge up. I focused on keeping a steady pace and consistent deep respiration. Jugs and U-turn pulled away as the rest of us stopped every 30 minutes to take in the gorgeous night sky. The milky way was easy to see swirling like cream just poured in coffee. We picked out all the constellations we could and found Polaris to orient ourselves. The going was hard but time and distance passed quickly. Without being able to see how far you have to go, it’s much less of a mind game. You just keep putting one foot carefully in front of the other and keep breathing. We all felt the elevation a bit, breathing heavy and hard with legs of lead. Before we knew it though we were at the top of the switchbacks and just had a mile or so ridge walk to the summit.
Light was creeping into the sky as we climbed the West side of the ridge. We’d come to openings in the ridge where we walked on a spine with the mountain falling away on both sides and wind whipping you from the East. At these spots though we’d glimpse a gorgeous orange fire growing on the eastern horizon as well as a rising sliver of a moon. It was something else.
Quickening our pace once the sky brightened, we were at the top in no time. We were all excited. It’s a hard feeling to describe. It’s a cocktail of exhaustion, excitement, a feeling of accomplishment, shortness of breath with breathtaking views, throw in some vertigo and you’re really in a whacky state up there.
We took photos and more photos. Got in our sleeping bags and waited for the sun. We cheered and hooted as the fireball emerged on the horizon. We took more photos and laughed and joked in our loopiness.
The wind and cold picked up with the sun and one by one we began a trudge down. It was a trudge down that seemed longer than the one up. Sleepily we stumbled into camp 3 hours later. Contentedly we all gorged ourselves and tucked in for naps or passed out where we lay.
I’m in Bishop now. We climbed over Forester Pass and Kearsarge Pass on Friday. Birdman and U-turn both have friends in town so we’re getting treated like kings. We’ll get back on the trail tomorrow AM and climb back over Kearsarge Pass to rejoin the trail at mile 789.
Stay sexy and breath hard America. I’m still carrying the stars and the stripes.