Text by Alyx Schwarz
Photos by Alyx Schwarz & Rachel Rockstroh
In July, my friend Rachel and I summited Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. Located on the east side of the Great Western Divide, the challenging 22-mile hike via Whitney Portal climbs 6,100 feet to an elevation of 14,505. Many tackle the peak in a day, but we chose to summit gradually overnight.
The hike was a culmination of 135 miles on foot, 11 day hikes, 7 major summits and 2 states. Nearly three years post-back surgery, I finally felt strong enough to polka up Whitney in the footsteps of my Austrian ancestors, who summited over fifty years ago.
Day One was a steady 6.3-mi climb to Trail Camp. We arrived with heavy legs, devoured some rehydrated lasagna and ducked into our tent before dark. On Day Two, we woke up with the sunrise and set off to climb the infamous 99 Switchbacks. Gasping for our last breath, we made it to Trail Crest and continued our hike along the backside of the ridge toward the summit. The final stretch was a mental challenge for both of us, as the summit cabin bobbed in and out of sight.
At last, we arrived at the summit. I imagined my grandfather and Uncle Frank standing beside me as I stepped up to the edge for the panoramic view. Three years ago, I could not sit through a movie because of chronic back pain. Now here I was, standing on top of the tallest mountain in 48 states with my best friend.
After signing the trail registry, we began the long journey down, returning to the trailhead just before dark. We celebrated our victory with food truck quesadillas and energy shots at a gas station in Lone Pine before our 4 hour drive home.
The weight of our accomplishment settled in over the next few days. I’ve heard women sometimes experience labor amnesia once that adorable baby finally arrives. Well, Rachel and I agree Whitney was like that. Now that the pain in our muscles has gone, only the joy of standing on top of the world will remain with us forever.
Alyx Schwarz is an adventurer, photographer and storyteller based in Los Angeles. She spends her weekends exploring the outdoors and blogs about her experiences on ShoestringAdventures.com, hoping to inspire the weekend warrior in all of us.