Maybe Next Time
Ten years ago, I learned about Mt. Whitney - the highest peak in the contiguous United States. Instinctively, I told myself: one day, I will climb it.
Four years ago, I applied for a permit to hike Mt. Whitney through the government’s once-a-year lottery system.
Three years ago, I entered my name into the lottery again.
Two years ago, I submitted again.
A year ago, I tried for another time.
This year, with relentless hope, I tried again…and received a day permit for the final day of June for Justin and I!
Without any hesitation, we excitedly confirmed our permit, found an Airbnb (we agreed that after hiking the mountain in just a day, we wanted a bed vs. a sleeping bag) and began training.
For the last few months, I woke up early on the weekends to hit the trails and get miles under my belt, rebuilding endurance from my old running days. I embarked on epic hikes (San Diego’s 5 Peak Challenge, Cucamonga Peak to name a few) and I tirelessly went to the gym at 5 a.m. during the week to train my back and legs to prep for an uphill grind. I nutrition tested on hikes, I invested in some new gear, I read hundreds of tips and tricks and I prioritized strength and endurance training over yoga for a few months.
Last week, as I began to pack and prep for our trip, I took another peek at Mt. Whitney’s message boards and the Mt. Whitney location tag on Instagram (you may laugh, but it’s a great way to find an instant, up-to-date visual for things!), and I was shocked to hear about/see the amount of snow still left on the mountain. Countless posts detailed the snow that began after just the first mile, the necessity of cramp-ons, ice axes and the knowledge of glissading and self-arresting. The main switchback route up the mountain was closed, and instead, only the mountaineering route up/down a steep chute was available. And then came a real kicker: three people - experienced hikers - had recently died on their treks.
Immediately, I panicked. I had never (successfully) hiked in the snow, I didn’t have any of the gear (nor the experience of using it), I had zero snow apparel and I knew I couldn’t glissade. I was terrified. I felt like an experienced hiker, but not a mountaineer.
And, then I panicked from a completely different angle. Mt. Whitney had been my goal for ten years, and something I actively pushed for over the last four years. After learning I could no longer run, I (reluctantly) dropped my marathon goal and replaced it with summiting Mt. Whitney. I had been patient with the lottery system, I had sucked up my jealousy when friends got permits and I sacrificed so many plans to train over the last three months. I felt distraught by the idea of giving up on another goal due to something so out of my control - first, all of the hip fractures…and now, the weather. I felt like all of my training had been for naught. Honestly, I felt like I’d never reach any of my big, epic goals - no matter how hard I tried and remained patient and kept fighting.
Over the course of the next few days, I weighed my options. Do I go and take the unsafe route and trust in my body? Do I suck it up and spend $300+ on new gear for one day? Do I trust that I could somehow learn how to use an ice axe and crampons on the fly? Do I trust I could teach myself how to glissade down the mountain? Do I just slog through it - not enjoying it, but at least making it to the top? Is the Airbnb just a sunk cost? How can I live with cancelling when it could be another four years? How could I think about training hard all over again?
In my typical state of deflecting decisions, I asked a few friends their thoughts. 90% told me I should wait until next year - that the trail looked unsafe and that it wouldn’t be worth it. The other 10% kept urging me to go - and made me feel like I was weak for considering not going. All of this made me even more confused.
After about 48 hours of hard contemplation, I reluctantly decided that this year was not our year. I wanted to enjoy and embrace the beauty of my surroundings. I wanted to relish in the hard journey to the top. I didn’t want to be scared and nervous the entire time- meticulously watching each step and completely forgetting my surroundings. I knew I didn’t have the technical mountaineering skills needed this year…and considering the recent activity on the mountain, I knew it wasn’t safe to learn on the highest peak. I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t safe to embark on the journey, as much as I initially tried to tamp the feeling down.
So, instead of fulfilling my goal of summiting the highest (and my dream) peak this past weekend, we had a chill weekend in San Diego. We cancelled our Airbnb in Lone Pine - not wanting to drive hours extra for better hikes north of the Airbnb after an already long drive there and knowing our Airbnb wasn’t the nicest (we booked it for convenience more than anything) for just hanging out. Right after we cancelled, Justin promptly got a fever, so the long drive wouldn’t have helped him rest up to get better in the long run.
At the end of the day, I know that it wasn’t my time. I know it was the universe presenting me a necessary lesson to learn how to adapt when things don’t go my way. I know it was time for me to reflect on why I take my goals so seriously - and a possible time for me to do some healing from my flopped marathon goals that I thought I had already moved through, but apparently, still need to process.
But, I’d be lying if I said I still wasn’t sad, angry and upset. I put my heart and soul (and body) into training. I had so much personally resting on this goal. I wanted to feel what it felt like on top of the world. I had exercised patience. I didn’t have time later this year to hike another 14er (hello, wedding season)…and none sounded as appealing as Mt. Whitney. As silly as it sounds, I feel betrayed by the universe…and while there are much bigger problems out there, I can’t help but think of how unfair the whole situation is.
At the moment, I’m not sure when I’ll try to summit Mt. Whitney next. Maybe I’ll submit my name into the annual lottery next year, but right now, the thought of training again sounds rough. But, maybe next time.
On a different note, if you can’t believe it’s still that snowy in the mountains in July…you’re with me. Global warming and climate change (more aptly, climate crisis) is real. This month, I’m trying to contribute a little more than normal to help out Mother Nature by committing to being plastic-free. Small actions add up. Hope you join me for a Plastic Free July!