Sunday, August 17, 2008

Monday, July 7: Day Three of Zone Permit (Last Day)

Trail Camp to Whitney Portal (Point 4 to Point 1)
~12,000' to ~8300'
~6 mi (~3700' elevation change)
Left Trail Camp (Point 4) ~0805 hr
Arrived at Whitney Portal (Point 1) ~1430 hr

Backpacking Notes: A leisurely paced hike that was a really lo-o-o-ong walk, mostly downhill on switchbacks on rock, loose decomposing granite and sand---but with all that lovely scenery to enjoy. Breakfast break at Trailside Meadow 0910 to 0940; small break at Outpost Camp (Point 3) 1120 to 1130. Lots of little stops for my sore feet. Happy to see Trailhead at 1430. Dropped gear and headed over to the Whitney Portal Store for those incredible burgers and fries. DougSr & Family rock! Home by dusk.

Click on map to enlarge (or any photograph, for that matter).

Even with all those layers, the wind had dropped the temperature enough---and was cutting enough---that I slept cold in my bag. DH and I tried to huddle together as best as we could, but the wind was relentless. I finally fell asleep just as the stars were starting to fade in anticpation of the predawn glow. DEEPLY asleep. Yet something kept nagging at me, trying to wake me up, as the sun crested the Lone Pine Lake lip and shone into the entire valley. I refused to wake up, knowing I needed more restoration from the previous day's exhaustion. I fell back into sound sleep.

And woke up yelping. Something was burning my ankle something fierce! What the heck? Had some of those giant ants managed to find a way into my bag and under all those layers? I peeled everything off. And would have laughed, if it hadn't hurt so much. Both ankles had deep, purple indentations in them where the elastic of DH's sweatpants cuffs had been pressed even further into my skin by the rocks on which I was sleeping. The right ankle was literally losing circulation to it, the indentations were so deep and purple. No wonder it was stinging so!

As it turned out, I ended up with purple bruising marks around my ankles for several days...looked like I'd been tied up with ropes!!
How humiliating! My worst and most visible injuries sustained on the trip were the scrape on my chin and the purple circlets on my ankles, all incurred while sleeping. So obviously, lying around in bed is much more dangerous for me than any of these little walks in the outdoors!!!

Well, at least the sun was up substantively enough now to take the chill off the morning. I peeled off the extra (third) layer and returned it to DH; then we headed off for the morning pit stop (a walk to a deserted area of boulders).

That moonscape view from Trail Camp, one last morning.

We came back and began breaking camp. DH filtered our day's water from the little lake, and then we put the packs on and began the climb down. Groan!!! Boy, were those leg muscles stiff and sore. They'd only loosened up slightly from the limp up to our "third-floor walkup" the evening before. I sure hoped I'd get my walking legs soon, or it was going to be a slow and painful walk off the mountains.

Breaking camp. We used no tent or mats, lending even more
to the '
Planet of the Apes' appearance of Trail Camp.

Looking down at the "second floor" from our "third-floor walkup" site
(filtering our day's water from the Trail Camp lake in the background).

As we left the "Planet of the Apes" stone camps, a yellow-bellied marmot chased after us to make sure we really weren't going to offer any food. Sorry, fella! Just not my practice.

Saying goodbye as we leave Trail Camp

Yellow-bellied marmot.

We set off at a decent clip; this part of the trail went quickly. I settled in to a good rhythm and enjoyed the changing scenery as we descended into the alpine beauty.

Headwaters in the Sierra are snow!

One last look at Consultation Lake and the moon-crater-ridge-like saddle above it.

Stone bridge.

Yay, more flowers! I love this part!

We had skipped breakfast when packing up at Trail Camp, as I never like to eat in the morning and my normal lack of appetite had been even more reduced by the high elevation. We had instead planned to eat at Trailside Meadows, which had been such a beautiful rest stop on our way up. It wasn't long before we could see the meadows below us, and soon we were breakfasting on a large, flat boulder streamside. No pictures could begin to show how beautiful the abundance of flowers really is, let alone the wonderful light scent of them on the wind!

A good overview of Trailside Meadows below us.

The flowers grow where the snows gather and melt.

Rocks and wildflowers.

Headwaters of the Trailside Meadows stream.

Picnic/Breakfast spot (we're on a nice flat boulder).

Probably red phacelia.

Leaving Trailside Meadows.
First glimpse of the beginning timberline below.

The sunlight was upon us now in full earnest, taking any memory of the night's chill with it. I peeled off my layers, but decided to keep on the long pants (instead of stripping to the shorts) due to all the dust I knew lie ahead of us between the meadows and the Portal. From here on out, it was just going to be a long walk down (and up and down) on a dry dusty trail on a hot day, but at least the scenery would entertain us. Sure enough, it wasn't long before I was grabbing any shade I could find while I sipped on water and admired the view.

Ahh! Grabbin' shade.

Heading down the rocks above Mirror Lake;
Lone Pine Lake visible just above center.

Mirror Lake visible left; Bighorn Park just right and above center;
Lone Pine Lake just right and above Bighorn Park.

Coming down into the Mirror Lake area.

Check out THAT peak! I believe that one's Thor.
It took me four or five pictures just to give you an idea
of what it looks like coming down by Mirror Lake.
Peripherally to my right is still that Bighorn Park/Portal distance/Lone Pine Lake view;
plus we're climbing down all that intense rock.

Climbing down the rocky trail above Mirror Lake, the jarring was really starting to take its toll on my knee. I'd already felt tight when I'd awakened, but now that knee just wanted to give me the same type of trouble it had when we climbed Saddleback Butte. Nothing I could do but slow my pace and try to control the jarring. Downhill was faster, but not much!

Mirror Lake reflecting a bit of the stone face above it.

Finally starting to reach timberline.
Notice how short and dense the conifer's needles are?

As we climbed down the rocks, we were startled by a sound we hadn't heard for days---the sound of a helicopter. We scanned the sky and located it, headed for the 12,000+ heights of the peaks surrounding us. Unusual to see a helicopter at that heights, we both knew what it meant: a search and rescue for someone. A grim reminder of how dangerous an undertaking this little venture really is. I said a prayer quickly for whomever the helicopter was for, and a thank you that it wasn't for me. My rules for a successful trip meant that we had to survive and walk out under our own power, with no help needed!

On the rocks above Mirror Lake, looking down
into Bighorn Park (with Lone Pine Lake
visible in the upper right of center).

Heart-knot tree above Mirror Lake.

Mirror Lake.

A last look back at the peaks, above Mirror Lake.

Tree at the last look back.

We could feel the change in humidity as the trail dropped down by Mirror Lake. Fortunately, the day was proving too hot for the mosquitoes to be much of a nuisance. We enjoyed the lovely lush green of Mirror Lake and Bighorn Park, with that peaceful stream running through it. I teased DH that this trail was like being on an interstate, it was so well-marked and -traveled. The stream crossings might as well have had signs posted, "Cross here!"; they were so obvious any greenhorn would find them. Kidding aside, it is a blessing how well-maintained the trail is!

Did I mention I like the flowers?

Flowers dot the trail between Mirror Lake and Bighorn Park.

The trail is so well-marked, the stream crossings
might as well have signs saying, "Cross here!"

Looking down into Bighorn Park, Mirror Lake end.

Rocks and reds.

Applegate Paintbrush

Scarlet wildflowers beautify the trail.

Scarlet penstemmon, close up.

"Cross here!"

Little waterfall at the stream crossing;
between Mirror Lake/Bighorn Park and Outpost Camp.

Outpost Camp.

Outpost Camp waterfalls.

We stopped for a bit of a break, about 10 min, at Outpost Camp to bask in the waterfall -spray-cooled shade. I hadn't really developed an appetite since eating at Trailside Meadows, though, so we opted to push on more.

Darn near a neon sign: "Cross here!"
Outpost Camp

Bighorn Park: A stream runs through it.

What would Freud say about my sense of humor?

Ya think there's some minerals in there?

Flowers grow in a billabong.

Leaving Bighorn Park.

Leaving Bighorn Park behind, we dropped down toward Lone Pine Lake---and soon reached the boundary of the Whitney Zone. Yep, we were officially "out of the zone" now! But still a few more miles to go...

Lone Pine Lake and its lovely infinity edge.

Why I don't like digital zoom.

As we passed the cutoff that leads to Lone Pine Lake, I debated stopping there. I could really use a bathroom boulder and also refill my water. But it didn't seem like it would be THAT long before we would reach the trailhead. I opted to keep pluggin' on down the trail.

Blazing neon lights "Cross here!"

The sun was really beating down by now, and I was stopping every time my bandanna dried to re-soak it in the streams crisscrossing the trail and drape it over my crown. That way, I could both stay cool AND keep the back of my neck from sunburning! The water always felt deliciously cold, but I noticed the bandanna was drying faster and faster now. Whew---that sun felt hotter than the air temperature indicated!

The waterfall below Lone Pine Lake that leads to the Portal.

By now, I dared not drink as much as I wanted, as I was running both low on water and high on need to relieve my bladder! By the time we reached the dirt switchbacks below LPL, I was pretty miserable. And tired. And hot. And so there I was, slipping and sliding more and more in my fatigued state. I twisted my other knee, so now both knees were hurting. I twisted my ankle, but not enough to impede walking. I felt like whining, but no whining allowed! Nothing to do but just keep on pluggin' away.

Portal Road, Alabama Hills, and the White Mountains beyond.

If only I had a filter, you could really see that waterfall...

I stopped in the shade of a tree and decided to give my knees and ankles a bit of a rest. I took a pull off my water and got nothing. Yep, I was now officially out of water. I got a pull off of DH's water, just enough to wet my quite-dry mouth. I stood to start marching again. And promptly sat back down. Wow, who would've thought you could stiffen up that much that fast??? Afraid I'd never be able to move if I sat much longer, I forced my aching body up. At least I had my bladder urging me on to the Portal.

We were on the switchbacks still when we were overtaken. Here it was, 12:30 pm, and we were being overtaken by someone who had already been to the summit and was almost back to the trailhead! The woman who zoomed by us was tan from the sun and had the most incredible muscle tone from head to foot. She looked HEALTHY, and she appeared to be older than me! Wow! There must be something to this alpine stuff! I want to be that healthy, too!

Still more switchbacks to go!!!

Finally we reached the final stretch, which I actually recognized. "We should be able to see the parking lot next bend," I said, and sure enough, there it was. And we could see our vehicle was still safely parked and hadn't been peeled like a sardine can by any bears. Even as close as we were, the trail still wends a bit as it leads down to the lower elevation. I had to stop and rest more than I'd like to admit on that very last stretch. But finally we passed above the Whitney Portal Store, made the last bend, and the trailhead lay just in front of us.

For those of you who don't hang out much in the outdoors, let me tell you something you probably don't realize---there are times when an outhouse is a mighty welcome sight! I was peeling the straps off my back the last feet of the trail and didn't even pause for celebration as I headed straight across the street to the outhouse. Thankfully, I didn't have to stand in line!

DH was kind enough to take care of disposing our WAG bags and fetching the vehicle while I limped over to a chair outside the store and waited for our rendezvous there. Soon, we were ordering our burgers and buying our sodas and souvenirs ("I Climbed Mt. Whitney" shirt and bandanna). Doug Sr and family are so incredibly hospitable. Good feet were so incredibly sore, I was sure I couldn't take another step. I just parked at the table inside and took a good long time eating.

We opted to just head on home and shower there rather than shower at the store. After all, we'd be home in 3 hr -- definitely before dark. We stopped at the visitor station to wash up, and I was startled when the sink came on automatically. Wow, culture shock. I really am back in civilization, including automatic flush toilets. Amazing how quickly we'd adapted to life in the outdoors.

Just below Lone Pine, the cell phone started ringing with messages. Yep, we were definitely Out of the Zone and back to our regularly over-scheduled lives! We listened to the messages and then started making our phone calls to let everyone know we were down from the mountain.

"How far did you get?" my dad asked me.

"All the way---the summit."

There was a few seconds of silence, and then quietly, not quite believing, "Really?"

Yep, really!!! How awesome is THAT???

I don't know how many other (fourth-stage) cancer patients have made it to the top of Mt. Whitney after being diagnosed with metastasis to the liver, lungs, lymph nodes, and bones (including spine, pelvis, ribs, sternum, shoulders, and facial bones). But I do know that someone has -- me. And I hope that gives other cancer patients real hope.

Back to the smoky haze at home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading your descent down the mountain and I am so in awe. I am in awe of the beautiful desolation (to quote Buzz Aldrin) of the higher elevations, and that remarkable change as you came down. So amazing.

But more so, I am in awe of you. Makes me rethink all of my little aches and pains and say to myself, NO WHINING!

Thank you for sharing this. You are an inspiration, not just to other survivors, but to all that know you, even if it's only through the internet!

Hugs and continued good health!