Mt. Whitney Summit: ‘Cause It’s Worth It
By Amanda Renner
It was the fourth time in an hour I’d asked that question. Ben and I had been hiking for hours in the middle of the night to reach Mount Whitney’s summit by sunrise.
I already knew the answer. There was only one place for it to go–up! In the tiny bubbles of light that our headlamps created, our path looked much worse than it was. Winding along the backside of the mountain across its talus-covered edge, I could feel the emptiness beside us, the black abyss rising up thousands of feet from Sequoia National Park’s floor, and I wanted nothing more than to quit moving. I wanted to hunker down and wait to continue until the sun had risen, but as always, Ben refused to let me quit. Whose bright idea was it to make a sunrise summit anyway?
Oh yeah, mine.
I’d trained for months, hiked more than 100 miles and cycled about five times more than that in preparation. A few weeks before our permit date, I begged Ben to summit for the sunrise. Knowing my unusual love for waking up at the crack of dawn to watch the first light of day flood the horizon, he agreed. Now, 1.5 miles from the summit, he made me push on.
We continued on silently, carefully picking our way over and around small granite boulders. As we gained elevation the temperature dropped, but I refused to cover up the new Stonewear gear I’d received days before leaving. This was my first big trip as a Stonewear Ambassador and how was I ever going to be able to know how well their new Alpha Hoodie held up in cooler temps without a little suffering in the process? (I found out just how well their pants wicked moisture after we had to hike the last couple of hours back to the car in a downpour!)
Three miles after Trail Crest our path took a sharp turn to the right. Trying to follow it up with our headlamps, we both knew we were in the final stretch and that a few hundred feet above us was the summit hut and the goal we’d worked so hard to achieve. Soon, we’d be standing atop the Lower 48 looking down over Lone Pine, the White Mountains, and Death Valley.
We made it up with time to spare and in the remaining darkness hunkered down between two of the countless huge slabs that comprise Mount Whitney’s 14,508 ft. summit. Finally, coffee time! Or so I thought. I was anxious for the warm caffeine, but much to my dismay, Ben insisted we hold out until it started getting lighter.
Too excited and exhausted to care I snuggled up under the sleeping bag and closed my eyes to wait for the sun. Just as the horizon was lifting its sleepy eyelid, he offered to boil some water. Usually an expert packer, I noticed it was taking him an unusually long time to dig out our Jetboil and coffee supplies.
Next came a quiet, somewhat reserved “Amanda…”
My eyes shot open. I feared the worst. If the Jetboil, instant sticks, creamer or mugs were left at camp I was going to have a bit of a pre-dawn break down. I was not prepared for what came next.
“There’s something I want to ask you before it gets crowded up here,” he said.
And for a second, everything stopped. Crouched before me, holding a small box in his hand, I felt my cheeks warming up and tried to fight off the enormous grin that was making its way across my face.
“Oh man. Oh man!” were the only words I could seem to find.
After he opened the box, the rest was a blur of hugging and repeated yesses and probably a few curse words.
Seven years, countless adventures, a Tiny House, and the best dog in the world later, I couldn’t imagine life without my best friend. Between the long distance, cross-country road trips, and nights spent on the trail, our lifestyle is far from conventional, but it’s what makes us, us.
Over the years (and too many times to count), I’ve heard the phrase “I could never do what you do,” in reference to our relationship and the activities we choose to fill our time with. And every time I hear it I think the same thing “But you could.”
We forget sometimes just how much we can handle. We get comfortable or we give up too soon. Maybe whatever it is we were fighting for wasn’t worth it or maybe we just forgot how badly we wanted it. But I think of all memories I would have missed had I let thousands of miles come between us. I think of all the trails hiked, friends made, rocks climbed, and views taken in. Not doing it was never an option.
After all, the memories I took down from Whitney’s summit would have never been made had I refused to push myself out of my comfort zone that morning.
Visit Life as a Local for Amanda’s full Mount Whitney trip report. Like what Amanda’s wearing? Check out the Alpha Hoody on our website.