Thursday, August 29, 2013

Be Here Now - Part II

In my previous post, I wrote about finding the motivation to prepare properly for a Mt Whitney climb.  I also wrote about relating one’s mountaineering experiences to those not inclined to prepare in an effort to light a fire under them.  This is my story.

My fourth grade teacher kept a lifetime's worth of National Geographic magazines on the windowsill.  If we finished our assignment early, we could pick one out to read while waiting for the others.  While thumbing through the mag, I came upon an image much like this minus one stepdaughter. 

Mt Whitney Trail Crest Sequoia National Park Inyo National Forest Hitchcock Lakes Mt Hitchcock Guitar Lake High Sierra
Trail Crest  2012 with Natalie
The view is west from Trail Crest at 13,600 feet.  The article was either about Mt Whitney or Sequoia National Park (the issue was probably from the '30s) but I can't remember.  What I do remember is thinking I'd see that place someday so my relationship with Mt Whitney began very early. 

As outlined in an earlier post, I prepared for Mt Whitney by creating a climbing list of ever-increasing difficulty (The Dirty Dozen) and augmenting the climbs by running 32 to 40 miles a week.  My climbing partner Cory and I spent a few days at Whitney Portal and set out climbing at 4:00 am.  Since we were both in shape and well-acclimated, the usual challenges didn't present much of an obstacle.  We climbed the switchbacks in just about an hour.

Our readiness also allowed us to absorb all the sights and sounds.  The line of headlamps snaking out of the Portal (Hi ho!  Hi ho!  It's off to work we go!)  Log crossing Lone Pine Creek in the dark.  The early stirrings at Outpost Camp.  The ghostly beauty of Mirror Lake in the moonlight.  The granite walls turning pink with the rising sun.  The sublimity of Trailside Meadow.  Hanging for a bit with the Trail Camp residents we met a couple of days earlier at the Portal.  Turning east and seeing The Light while blasting up the switchbacks.  None of that prepared me for what happened next.

The switchbacks end with one last long one.  A sign announces your entry to Trail Crest and Sequoia National Park.  Turn the corner and WHAM!  There it is.  The View.  The grainy flat picture from a long-ago Nat Geo living in my head for 35 years now had intense clarity, immense depth, a wind-driven soundtrack, and glorious Technicolor.  I just sobbed.

 Cory asked if I was OK.  My heart pumped pure joy but I told her about the picture so she didn't think I was nuts.  The rest of the climb was one big Whitney Love Fest.  I had a bit of vertigo on the narrow trail blasted out of solid rock but that was more weirdly fun than it was disturbing.  We made our way through the talus and scree, then held hands in a gesture of mutual accomplishment for the final pitch.

Did you ever notice the moment when the view goes 360 degrees on a summit?  One moment you have a faceful of mountain.  Suddenly, as if someone pulled back a curtain, you're conscious of a whole world opening up around you punctuated by your breathing and the crunch of your boots on the granite.  I live for that moment.  Anyway, I cried again.  On this summit, the sensations were almost too much to absorb.

The mountains are what make my heart beat.  Well, the mountains and my wife.  After all, I did join the two by climbing Whitney with my girlfriend and coming down with my fiancĂ©e.  I proposed on the highest mountain for 1,630 miles so my deceased ancestors could get a good look at the woman I would marry.

Mt Whitney Trail Crest Sequoia National Park Inyo National Forest Hitchcock Lakes Mt Hitchcock Guitar Lake High Sierra
Trail Crest 2004 with Natalie's mom (Robin DeCapua photo)

Think more about what climbing Mt Whitney means to you.  Think less about what it might mean to others.   Discovering what motivates you provides the impetus for preparing yourself physically, mentally, and materially.  After all, wouldn't you want to do something you love as often as possible?  Hopefully you'll find that spark that brings it all home for you.  If after all this introspection you can't find anything to love about mountaineering or the backcountry, those of us who do will respect your choice if you back out.  In fact, we'll applaud you for it. 

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Be Here Now - Part I

Can you appreciate this or do you just want to finish?
Why do you want to climb Mt Whitney? To experience incredible sights and sounds? To satisfy that gnawing need-to-know feeling in your gut?  To feel closer to your maker?  To accomplish a long-held goal?  Or to brag about it on Facebook?

Do we pay enough attention to the journey?  Or do we fixate completely on the result?  If we ignore an opportunity for an experience to change us, do we diminish it or is bragging about the end result enough?

We can split Mt Whitney climbers into two camps.  Some climb because doing so is important to them.  Some climb because doing so is important to someone else.  Therefore, the climber may not care all that much about the process.  Generally, these are the folks who shortchange their preparation or remain willfully ignorant of the hazards or both.  They're climbing Mt Whitney because the accomplishment brings them a certain cachet within their group.  So why should they spend time preparing for something they really don't care enough about themselves? 

Are you especially motivated to prepare for tasks you don’t care about?  Maybe that’s true about your job but someone pays you to be there.  Ironically, most of these folks don't realize their true motivation.  Or they do, but fabricate some smoke screen so explaining it to others won't make them sound like a total tool.

Many climbers wish for a litmus test to separate the purists from the poseurs as a prerequisite for permission to climb their holy place.  Unlike Mt Everest, which requires certain technical skills, there couldn't be a fair exam.  Besides, who would implement it?

Here's a revolutionary idea:  What if those of us who love the mountains with all our hearts imbued the nonbelievers with the same fervor?  Attendees at my Whitney clinics respond and connect with the more personal aspects of the presentation.  I guess I seem less like Mr Climber Guy and more like someone moved by incredible life-changing experiences many people crave.  

Talk about the stuff that moves you, motivates you or scares the living daylights out of you.  Help these people feel it the way you do.

The next installment will be my attempt to do just that.

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