Two years ago, Mount Whitney was little more than an abstract idea I’d hear about on the trails. As I tagged the highest peaks in Southern California, I was often met with the same question: “Are you training for Whitney?” At the time, I was clueless that this mountain, with whom everyone seemed to be on a first name basis yet upheld as some sort of Holy Grail, happened to be the highest peak in the lower 48, and quite frankly, I was a tad irritated. Why do I have to be training for something? Can’t I just experience each mountain as its own entity and not a means to an end? And where the heck is this Whitney anyway? I had only just begun to see myself as a hiker rather than a runner who was cross training. I carried an Oakley surf backpack and left it slightly unzipped to access my water bladder. I didn’t use trekking poles and assumed they’d feel awkward. I day hiked everywhere no matter the mileage, because I didn’t have any camping gear, and I took some measure of pride in knowing that years of speed and endurance proved so valuable.
Little by little, I decided to see what this Holy Grail was all about, and I began researching. I studied a map and memorized the water sources and major landmarks. I bought my first “big girl” backpack and gave in to purchasing trekking poles. They weren’t so awkward, after all, and my knees began to thank me. Advance permits were long gone, so I decided I would get lucky in the Whitney lottery on Labor Day weekend that year. I did, indeed, get lucky, and completed the climb in just under 17 grueling hours. Within days, I declared my intention to climb Kilimanjaro the following year.
Returning to Whitney, this time on an overnight permit with @tiffle_sniffle
, and @suzetty
, was a poignant reminder that an abstract idea can become a reality with a concrete plan. Dreams can materialize out of that thin mountain air, dreams so big they may scare you if you allow them to remain nebulous and forget just how far and how high you’ve already climbed. And like mountains, no matter how big, dreams are reached simply by putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.