Climbing Mt Whitney

Some years ago, I read a magazine article that said you could summit Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous 48 states, without any climbing equipment, that it was one of those rare mountains on which you could essentially “walk” to the top. It sounded easy. An uphill stroll.

At the time, I had done some backpacking in Big Sur and Yosemite and I thought this would be a good next challenge. A couple of my friends said they would join me on this endeavor. At 22 total miles, in and back, with total elevation change of 6,100 feet, we thought we would just go slow and make three days out of it. We secured the necessary permits and in early September, my friends David and Bobbi joined me, driving first to Lone Pine, California, where we stayed at a motel for the first night, then through the Inyo National Forest to the portal, where the trail begins at 8,374 feet above sea level.

In retrospect, we had a lot of gear. Big 50 pound backpacks, with a tent, a stove, sleeping bags and cushions, freeze dried meals, and probably too many clothes. A camera. Lots of peanut M&M’s that I had read were good at high altitudes. It was all light and modern compared to what John Muir climbed with, but compared to today, another 35 years along the technology trail, it may have been pitiful.

The Whitney Trail begins in a high Alpine forest, beautiful, serene, with streams and boulders. A felled log was the bridge to cross the first stream we came to. There was about a three foot drop to the stream bed, and maybe six inches of water flowing through the stream. For some reason, I could not bring myself to venture out onto the log with my pack. Both Bobbie and I were suddenly afraid of falling off that log and into the water. David had to carry his pack across, and then return for each of our packs, and then for each of us. We walked across under our own leg power, but it took coaxing. There were at least six of these kind of stream crossings before the trail took us above the tree line, and I don’t remember David ever complaining about the time-consuming method we used to cross every one of them.

We continued to climb, crossing above the tree line, now following the cairn trail markers. We arrived at the base camp area later then planned but still managed to set up our tent, boil some water, and make some food before it was completely dark. All afternoon, the wind was picking up. I will never forget that wind. That night it blew so hard I was afraid to go out to pee because without my weight, the tent might blow off the mountain with my two friends in it. Between the relentless noise of the gale, and my imagination about the ferocious wild animals assembling outside, I don’t think I slept for a full hour.

Day two dawned clear and cold, and we assembled the smaller packs we would carry just to the summit and back. Relentless is too mild a word for the slope upward that morning. The cairns that marked the trail through our route’s infamous 97 switchbacks were difficult to see, and sometimes we would find ourselves 30 feet off the trail, climbing an imaginary path from which we would need to back track.

Sometimes the path would narrow as it snaked alongside the mountain, becoming just a walkway, a path maybe two feet wide with a 1,000 foot drop. That was kind of scary. It was absolutely terrifying, and also kind of impressive, when the trail was just a bridge with maybe a 1,000 foot drop down one side and 500 down the other. We inched forward over these, all the while conscious that we would have to revisit them again on the way down.

At some point, another climber on his way down told us that last year’s ice hadn’t melted near the last, steepest part of the climb and that we should “be careful.” I’ll tell you, that focused our minds.

Nearing the summit, we spent more time on our hands and feet, doing more of a big rock scramble than a hike as I had envisioned, or that promised stroll. Finally, however, we scrambled over the last stone and snow and ice and emerged onto the mountain top. It was surprisingly large up there, and flat. A big plaque said the elevation was 14,505 and we took some photos. A careful descent and we were back at basecamp and our tent and packs we had left there. That night, the wind was quiet, the wild things had dispersed, and I slept much better.

On day three, we got an early start down the mountain, and ran into several climbers coming up the trail, carrying just a small day pack, and maybe a hiking stick. When we talked briefly, it turns out that many people climb the mountain in just one day, all the way up and back. That was a revelation.

Bobbi and I crossed the log bridges we had to be coaxed over on day one in just three or four big confident strides. The contrast with the rest of the climb made these crossings seem so easy. The forested part of the trail seemed doubly lush and beautiful.

Back at the trailhead, we got into the car and headed home, feeling victorious and really proud of ourselves. We didn’t have social media then, so we just sat with our accomplishment, savoring it, turning it over amongst the three of us.

About 25 miles from the trailhead, we saw an A&W drive in restaurant. Perfect for three hungry, dirty, climbers; we wouldn’t even have to get out of the car. We pulled in and ordered and when the waitress returned to the car with our food, we burst out with the news that we had just climbed Mt. Whitney! “Uh huh,” she said, snapping her gum, “what’s that?”

In my mind’s eye I still search her face for signs of irony. Did she really not know?

In subsequent years, I traveled extensively and learned to love everything about hotels – warm rooms with comfortable beds, lobby bars and fancy restaurants. I had forgotten about this adventure and its exertion, weather, and altitude. It was a good adventure and one I wanted to record here as a testament to my now long-gone youth.

#SpringIsRunningLateThisYear

A poem in 28 hashtags, curated from Instagram

#winterwithoutend
#whereisspring
#cabinfever
#maplesyruponpancakes
#upnorthliving
#winterwonderland
#nobadweatheronlybadgear
#beautifulsnowlookswet
#howmanysnowblowersdoyouhavethereanyway
#pastieweather
#walkedtoschoolthroughworsethanthis
#uphillbothways
#makeanothercupofcoffee
#whatyouseeiswhatyouget
#weatherapps
#whenwillthesunshineagain
#sickafofwinter
#whitemood
#gameoftones
#notafraidtobecold
#aprilblizzardsbringwhatexactly
#snowfalltalltales
#wintersurvivalhasmanymeanings
#snowpocalpyse
#whereisspringalready
#willwebestuckinsnowforever
#eternalwinter
#rememberthattimewhenitwasntsnowing

Unretirement

This article at NYTimes.com about people retiring, then realizing how bored they are, really resonates with me. There are only so many things that need to be organized, so many friends you need to catch up with, after you retire. Purpose is paramount!

Time to Read – Q1 Books

One thing about retirement: I finally have enough time to read as much as I wish. In the first quarter of 2018 I read 15 books. Given how much time I actually have, this number begs the question, why so few? Anyway, I’d highly recommend the first six on this list:

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I loved this novel and read it in one big gulp. It is about a single historical incident, but structurally it paints a whole sweep of history. The concept is a bit Thornton Wilder, but the execution, well, the execution is marvelous.  The “Bardo” is a Buddhist liminal state between death and rebirth; Saunders imagines a whole world there with multiple voices. This books reads like a work of poetry (or like the play Saunders said he started to write), it is funny and sad and beautiful all in one.
A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City by Drew Philp
An amazing first non-fiction work. The story is structured around Drew’s complete rebuild of an auctioned house, while articulating how to rebuild a community. He gets, and articulates well, the big issues that have been facing Detroit for years. Very excited to see him speak in Traverse City in April.
The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) by Viet Thanh Nguyen
A contemporary novel about Vietnam, and the experience of Vietnamese immigrants, told by a narrator who is amazingly honest – also funny, crass, scary, and meditative. Fantastic and beautiful use of the English language.
City of Thieves: A Novel by David Benioff
A good, fast, interesting historical novel set in St. Petersburg during WWII. Reminded me a little of All the Light We Cannot See.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J D Vance
A straight up memoir, of a young man’s escape from the path his parents took. I liked it very much. J D Vance’s Mamaw is a character that will be with me for a long time. This is an important story about what the American dream has become in the 21st century.
First Snow, Last Light by Wayne Johnston
I really enjoyed this mysterious novel, set in Newfoundland.  The writing style was a bit different than any I have read before, and the story was compelling.  I liked the characters and wanted to follow them for all their quirks. I recommend this, and plan to pick up another novel by Wayne Johnson soon.
These were also good reads, and I recommend them in this order:
Celine by Peter Heller
The Painter by Peter Heller
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
The Tenth of December by George Saunders
Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss
The Nest by Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
A Good Cry, poetry by Nikki Giovanni

The Big Four

The four areas of health on which I have been focusing – sleep, nutrition, movement and stress control – are the fundamentals, the bedrock, of my health. I focus on no, or very low, cost interventions that anyone can implement. I was going to list my top recommendations to optimize each of these when I realized they are all elements of one main thing – health! They aren’t separate and alone. Each of them feeds the success of the others, and its impossible to say that what you eat does not impact your sleep, or vice versa.

Having said that, here’s what is working for me right now:

Eating a ketogenic diet and fasting intermittently each day (limiting eating to the hours between 11 am or noon and 6 pm)

Moving for a minimum of one hour each day, including some HIIT and some balancing.

Keeping a gratitude journal daily.

Thinking happy thoughts  😉

And … getting 8 hours of sleep every night, enhanced by:

1. A very dark room. No lights but moonlight.
2. Cooling the room, the bed, and my body.
3. Getting away from blue light well before bed time and reducing EMFs as much as possible. Basically, the mobile device must be put in another room, in airplane mode, in the earlier evening.
4. Generating my own melatonin by walking outside in the mornings.
5. Reducing nasal stuffiness by reducing histamine-rich foods, particularly red wine, dark chocolate, and aged cheeses. (I know, could I have listed three foods I love more?)
6. Getting enough vitamin D (with K2) and enough magnesium.
7. Drinking sleepy time tea before bed.
8. Getting to bed by 10 pm so I have at least three hours of sleep before the witching hour of 1 am.

 

Living in the Here and Now

Regardless of what you think is coming, health-wise or otherwise, you will feel better (and behave more in line with your values) if you can stay in the present. This quote from Frank Bruni’s memorable column on losing his vision in the NYTimes:

Joseph Lovett, 72, a filmmaker whose 2010 documentary, “Going Blind,” chronicles the slow worsening of his vision from glaucoma, told me that his best counsel was that “you cannot spend your life preparing for future losses.” It disrespects the blessings of the here and now.

Every stupid thought I have

Brain Tree

One of the doctors I have learned about in my quest to improve my health is Daniel Amen. He runs a number of clinics focused on optimizing brain health and decelerating the aging process, among other things, and one of his recommendations is this:

Don’t believe every stupid thought you have.

The brain is noisy, and skews negative. There is no imperative that you must believe every thought that is rattling around up there. Instead, ask yourself, “is it true?” This will help reframe the thought, and re-focus your mind.  I have found this helpful and I hope you do too.

What’s your story?

I love this video of Michele Cushatt and Michael Hyatt talking about the stories we tell ourselves and how these stories either empower or constrain us.

What is the story I am telling myself about my situation? How do I feel, and behave, when I tell myself this story? If I stopped telling myself this particular story, over and over, what else might I see, hear, or experience?