The Joy of Summiting, and Realizing it is Only Halfway

The last Mt. Whitney trip went very well considering weather and medical hardships. The trip started out of the Whitney Portal with forecasted winds around 115 mph at 12,000ft. This is not a good outlook at any elevation, but of course, the summit is another 2,500 ft above that.

The first night at low camp (10,000 ft) we received 85 mph winds and really had to hunker down to make it through the night. The next day looked bleak as the winds were supposed to be even stronger. When we woke to a chilly but bluebird day, we were all very surprised and thrilled – there was no question which way we were heading. The next day proved to be very cold but manageable.

We awoke around 4 a.m. to start our summit bid. Everyone did very well getting ready in the frigid temps, and we made it to the notch at 14,000 ft around 10:30 a.m. After summiting, the winds picked up and made the lowering quite challenging for all the guides at their belays. We all made it to the notch and descended back to camp with the last group rolling in a bit later around 6 p.m. One of them didn’t feel well and was coughing quite a bit. Another client (who is a doctor) came up and made me aware of the situation. After further examination, it was apparent this client had pulmonary edema; the best thing to do was head down.

After some logistical arrangements, I took the client all the way to the trail head and then drove him to Lone Pine. Following a few hours of sleep, I headed up to low camp to meet the others and help carry loads down. We all made it back to Lone Pine for some celebratory beers and pizza. The whole crew was back together relating stories of our great adventure.

It is always good to remember the summit is only halfway. Had we not been able to get our client down it could have turned the situation into something much worse. I think we pushed the limits a little by summiting everyone, though in the end was the right call. I also think we made the right call by putting in the effort to get someone with pulmonary edema all the way down and not taking a chance even though we did have altitude drugs to give him.

Here are more pics from the trip:


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