“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Day hiking Mt. Whitney is accurately described as “strenuous.” I knew what we were up for and my hiking partners and I trained well for this monster hike, including completing the majority of the six pack of peaks and Cactus to Clouds. I thought the few days rest at Lone Pine Campground (6,000 ft.) and spending the day at Lone Pine Lake (10,050 ft.) the day before the hike would help, but I clearly underestimated the time and value of acclimatizing. In retrospect, I would like to have camped at a higher elevation for at least one night to prevent the altitude headache, but we booked what was available to us on a busy holiday weekend.
Mt. Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of 14,505 ft., so this hike went well beyond my previous highest elevation point of 11,503 ft. (Mt. San Gorgonio). I expected a strenuous hike and prepared for it, but I reached a level of exhaustion that I had never experienced before. I was able to push through the 22 mile round trip hike, with an elevation gain of over 6,100 ft., in 15 hours. We had less than ideal weather including rain, sleet and gusty wind chills in the 30’s. I “landed” back at Whitney Portal with extremely sore feet, a headache, mineral deficient and very thirsty. The funny thing is that as soon as I sat down, drank some vegetable juice, and acknowledged that it was officially over I felt better right away. And now when I look back at the photos I feel proud for pushing beyond my comfort zone and privileged to have witnessed such spectacular scenery (including a rainbow when we were at 13K!).
I’m sorry that I haven’t posted photos for you to see from some of my hiking adventures. I know that we chat all the time and I described each hike to you vividly, but I told you that I would e-mail some photos to you and I never did. I have repeated this same offense multiple times for over ten months. The shameful truth is that I’ve shared these photos with complete strangers before I shared them with you.
For example, there is a girl named Polly who lives in Ukraine who I am “friends” with on Instagram (a photo-sharing social networking service). I believe that she sent me a friend request as a case of mistaken identity yet neither of us “unfriend” each other out of continued curiosity or pure laziness. I don’t speak Russian, so I can’t tell you that much about Polly but here’s what I can tell you- she’s blonde, athletic, has a very cute blonde baby, has a blonde husband, and she also likes taking photos of her post-workout meals. Here’s what else I know about this stranger who lives over 6,000 miles away- I shared all of my photos with her before I shared them with you. For that I am sorry.
Part of my delay involved knowing that e-mail would be the most clunky way to view photos and I intended to put together what you deserve- a thoughtfully curated, visual presentation that is easy to revisit. You also wanted me to convert the elevation of each hike to a landmark that you recognize so I’ll be telling you how times I would have had to climb the Sears Tower (nobody calls it Willis Tower, right?) to match each hike.
I hope you enjoy seeing these overdue photos and I also hope that you know that I’d travel by foot (and swim, of course) all the way to the Ukraine if it meant I could sit by your side while you view these photos.
Back in April 2013 we did a short training hike to Eureka Peak in Joshua Tree National Park and this allowed us to get a good look at the mountain we were about to face. In the background of this photo below you can see the snow-capped Mt. San Jacinto peak that we would climb the following weekend. I definitely felt intimidated staring across the desert at this giant mountain.
The hike to Mt. San Jacinto peak is called “Cactus to Clouds Trail.” It is a hiking trail with the greatest elevation gain of any trail in the United States. It starts at the Palm Springs Art Museum (Elevation 520 ft.) and rises to San Jacinto peak (10,834 ft.). It’s an elevation gain of 10,314 ft., so essentially we climbed the Sears Tower 6 times (including its twin antenna). The higher you go the harder your body has to work because the oxygen is thinner and you really have to dig deep to keep pace.
We started at 4 AM to beat the desert heat and it took us almost 13 hours to complete the hike. Our total mileage was 17.34 miles. We got to take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway down from 8,500 ft. all the way back to our car. That felt heavenly after that arduous hike. Our friend posted the hike stats from his Garmin watch here (they’re slightly off as the watch tended to lose us from time to time).
Without a doubt it was one of the hardest hikes that I’ve ever done. But believe it or not there were people running this entire trail, and others were even doing the hike completely barefoot. There’s always someone out there who shows you what real toughness is.
Later in November we traveled to the Grand Canyon on a whim. Our goal was to hike down to the Colorado River and back to the top of the canyon in one day. There are signs all over the canyon recommending that you DO NOT attempt to do this, but we knew we could pull it off because we packed everything we’d need and the weather was cool.
We started at 5 AM and took the South Kaibab Trail down and the Bright Angel Trail back up (16.1 miles total). We started at 7,200 ft. and hiked down to the Colorado River at 2,400 ft. Then we had to climb back up again. In all, it took us 8 hours and 20 minutes. It is one of the most stunning places on Earth. I was constantly distracted by sheer beauty all around me so this hike didn’t feel as tough on my body as the Cactus to Clouds hike. We traveled nearly 1 mile down and 1 mile back up, that’s climbing the Sears Tower about 5.5 times. If you’re a geology lover you must go see the Grand Canyon because it’s like a fashion show for rocks.
The last big hike we did was the highest peak in Southern California – San Gorgonio Mountain. We hiked the Vivian Creek trail over Thanksgiving weekend. There was a bit of snowfall at the top of the mountain and this hike involved climbing from 6,080 ft. to the highest elevation that we’ve ever been – 11,503 ft. It took us just under 6 hours to go up and 4 hours to come back down. The overall elevation gain/loss was 5,423 ft. (over 17.3 miles) and that is climbing the Sears Tower a bit over 3 times. Even though we didn’t have a clear view at the top it was spectacular because we were literally IN the clouds. The lighting kept changing and swirls of white and gray clouds surrounded us. We were so tired and delirious when we finally got back to the car that we vowed never to climb that mountain again. Time will tell. I’d still like to climb higher but we’ll have to travel farther for that to happen. xxo.
While traveling back from Chicago a few weeks ago I grabbed a few of those free local papers to bring with me to the airport for some light reading. I came across a Rumi poem and it seemed to jump off the page and call my attention. I ripped the poem out of the paper and saved the fragile scrap it was printed on. I’m posting it here so that I can come back to it from time to time.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite
Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from
We had the privilege of hiking with our friends Joel and Frances to the top of Mt. Baldy near Los Angeles, CA. Having climbed the likes of Mt. Whitney (14,505 ft.) and Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341 ft.), they are much more experienced hikers that we are so it was great to have their guidance during our first high elevation hike. At the top of Mt. Baldy we reached 10,064 feet. The weather was perfect, the view was spectacular, and our legs were sore for three entire days after the hike (it was totally worth it!).
Below is a mix of photos taken by all of us at various moments towards the summit of Mt. Baldy.
The sky was definitely showing off for the last few days of 2012. I picked the top 12 photos that Donald and I took during the sunset in Southern California on December 30th, 2012 (yes, we both could not stop taking photos of this amazing cloud/rain/ocean show).
Here’s to a peaceful, mindful, healthy and prosperous 2013. And many more days of cloud watching!
A few outtakes from our 2012 Christmas photo below:
Recent trip to the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve, October 2012