3:45 AM July 5 We’re at the Portal again, ready to go up. There are a few other groups who have come out for the day to climb the mountain. They all look to be a little fresher than we are. That being said, the sleep overnight was wonderful. I was finally able to relax (without hallucinating) and give myself permission to go to sleep. This part is “gravy” and should be a nice hike. For some reason, I’m discounting the fact that we’re going to climb over 6000 feet in 11 miles (what was that about yesterday being the “toughest climb?”) and have to deal with altitude for the first time. By going to 14,500 feet, we’ll be on top of the highest peak in the lower 48 states, but we just came through 135 miles in scorching temperatures. How hard can this be? :)
Because it’s dark, we start with headlamps. Although we don’t see any bears, the evidence of bear occupation is everywhere. Hopefully, we’re making enough noise, they’re more scared of us than we are of them, and we don’t accidentally get between a mother and her cubs, because the old adage about not having to outrun the bear isn’t going to protect me…I’m not going to be able to outrun anyone. (I’ve also forgotten about the “bear bell” my wife bought me as a joke for Christmas. I don’t know if it works as a deterrent or a dinner bell, but it once again proves that she’s always thinking and I’m always forgetting things).
Sunrise in the mountains is amazing and we make the halfway point, a base camp camping area at about 8 AM.
Then the “100 switchbacks” begin.
We think about counting them, but then decide that might not be very productive and stick to watching our footing. The drop-offs on each side are getting steeper, and my paralyzing fear of heights is not helping things. Scott isn’t feeling 100%, so he tells the three of us to go ahead and he’ll meet us back at the bottom. We press on, with the air getting thinner, the temperature dropping and the previous 140 miles starting to catch up with us. Near the top, I stumble and reluctantly agree to let David take my pack. He’s already carried a lot of my water up for me, in addition to his own, and he’s been asking for it for the past mile or so, but I’m reluctant to add to his burden. The stumble, while not near an edge and nowhere near dangerous, reminds me that I need to keep relying on my crew if we’re going to make it. We take rest breaks more frequently now and I pick my way to the top, through snow in some places, with their help.
Finally, at 12:15 PM, 81 hours from our starting time, we’re at the summit! It’s a great feeling and I marvel at what it took to get to this point. We take pictures, talk to the others basking in the sun, eat and rest for about 45 minutes. Time to go back down. I confidently predict that we’ll be down in 4 ½ hours. It’s downhill right? Rookie mistake.
While it’s true that going down is easier than coming up, we can now see some of the drops from a very different angle (read: not a good angle). It takes me some time to inch my way down certain sections. The good news is that when we do get away from the “one misstep and we will learn if man can fly” sections, it does go more quickly. The bad news is that after a few hours of landing on my dominant right leg, my knee is screaming at me. On top of that, we have a problem. We’re just about out of water and we still have a way to go. Remember when Scott had to turn back? Well, he had the water purification system that we’d need because you just can’t carry that much water with you. We forgot to get it from him and now we were potentially in trouble. We get to the switchbacks leading down to the base camp, hoping that someone there will be able to help us, instead we run into Scott! He realized the same thing and had been slowly making his way up to us. We stop at a stream, fill our water bottles, and start down again.
The rest of the way down is a series of hops, followed by pain, followed by more hops, we get below the camp. I don’t know if it’s the fact that we’re almost done, or that I know we haven’t been tracked by GPS and my wife will be worried, or the accumulation of miles, but it seems to take FOREVER. I get to the logs and think, Yes! Almost there! Forgetting that it took from 3:45 AM until dawn to get up to the logs (about 3 ½ hours) and it will be about another 2 or so hours until I’m off the mountain. Luckily, again, no bear sightings, and I walk through the Portals for the final time at 6:20 PM. Truly done this time. We get down to Lone Pine as quickly as possible, call my very relieved wife, eat another cheeseburger (why mess with what’s working?) and crash.
So, that’s it. I was able to get through this journey on the inspiration from the kids, the training from my coach, the on-site support from my crew, and the great support that I experienced from both people I know and complete strangers. It has reinforced my belief that we should help each other out whenever we get the chance.
On final reflection, the great thing about a solo run is that I came in both first and last. In other words, it doesn’t matter. Helping these great kids is what matters. Raising the awareness of SouthSide is what matters. Everyone coming together to overcome barriers is what matters. Period.