Doug McLean World Tour 1999-2000
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Date: Monday, July 26, 1999 3:07 PM
Subject: Climbing Mt. Whitney - July 10, 1999

OK...OK...so it is July 26 and I am just now typing in the tale of the Mt. Whitney climb...which many of you have heard from me or my compatriot John...so sue me...these e-mails are as much for me as a journal as for my friends to read...so here goes the story...again...
Once long ago in a land far far away (read: California in early July 1999), I was sitting with a group of volleyball buddies at Brewski's in Hermosa Beach after an evening of volleyball (go figure)...we had dinner and one of the guys (Andrew from Australia) started talking about how he and some buddies had just climbed Mt. Whitney and how great it was...they had left at 4am-ish, done the mountaineering trail, got lost for 2-3 hours, summited (sp?) at the top (kinda redundant isn't it...but what the heck), and got down by 10-11pm-ish...we started kicking the idea around the table...and I was very interested in doing it before I left California...and so was another guy...John G...

Now at this point...I had barely just met John and we really didn't know each other very well at all...(read: I was lucky to know that his firstname was John)...and we were suddenly talking about climbing Mt. Whitney (Note for all of those not familiar with Mt. Whitney...it is the highest point in the lower 48 states in the USA...is located in California...and attains an altitude of 14,495 feet)(Note: throughout this e-mail...I may refer to the summit as 14,500 feet...this is a conscious decision to ignore precision and to round up...also...since I am 6+ tall, I figure I actually was above 14,500 feet...so sue me)...back to John and I talking...for many people it would be just talk...but John and I had that look in our eyes (and lack of brains in our heads) to just maybe be serious about the whole deal...I got John's phone number (but not his last name...he said it would be easier to remember John G.) and we said we would be in touch (story of my life...but that is another story)...

Anyway...John and I did actually start planning for the trip...I called the ranger station and found that we needed permits...but that they were all taken...but they usually have a few cancellations and we could arrive early and wait for a standby permit to hike the mountain...neither John nor I were estatic about this option...but my roommate Joe said he had gone standby and gotten a pass before and that I should do it...So John and I kinda set aside the weekend of July 10-11 for the climb...but being the macho wonderhorses that we are...we decided that IF WE GO we must do it quicker, stronger, faster, and better than Andrew's group did it...

Preparation included a trip to REI for both of us...we got emergency blankets (read folded sheet of aluminum foil that promises to keep you warm in a blizzard...but for $3 we figured what the heck), water purifier, storm
proof matches, Just Add hot water Food (BBQ Beef and Honey/Mustard Chicken...no sense in being uncivillized), flashlights, a trailbook for hiking the mountain (written by presumably people that are more adept than
us at navigating their way up a mountain...wouldn't be hard to find), some powerbars, and other stuff.

We left Friday night, July 9th about 7pm...arriving in the thriving downtown of Lone Pine, California (Gateway to Mt. Whitney) around 11:30pm after fueling our trip by having In and Out Burgers before we left. The ranger's
station is in Lone Pine and already had 5 sleeping bags with people in them on the doorstep at around midnight...we slept in the car in a nearby parking lot (note: standby permits are given away in a random lottery in the
morning...so we knew that being in line would not help our chances...and the concrete entry looked harder than the comfortable bucket seats in John's car. Note: In the several hours it took to go from LA to Lone Pine I got
to know more about John G...I found out that he is from near Philly...has worked in hospitals and with fire departments...has hiked some...but not xtensively...and his last name was something between Greblexki and
Grostinski depending on how I was trying to pronnounce it...it really is a tough name...and his future wife (and a lucky woman she would be because John is a great guy)(John you owe me a drink) may wish to keep her maiden
name...anyway...we spent the night and woke early at 6:30am to ensure we were in line at the appointed time of 7am on Saturday morning, July 10, 1999.

Well...our luck didn't start early that day (maybe an omen of what was to come) because I chose the 2nd to last number in the lottery system...not a great move...so we waited behind others who took many permits...but we
eventually got to the counter...and low and behold...we actually got a permit (note: John and I had already decided that we were gonna hike the "!?!#$ mountain (also note the macho tone in my typing...this goes along with how we were feeling...muy macho) with or without a permit...but wanted to be legit for the trip...with permit in hand...we sped toward the mountain with lots of vim and vigor...arriving at the parking lot just before 8am and we hit the trail at 8:15am (note: Andrew's group had reportedly left at 4am...waiting on the permit had cost us mucho time)...also...it should be noted that Andrew had advised that it was a long trip but was great and all we needed was plenty of water, sunglasses (special trip was made back to John's house because he had left his sunglasses), and sunscreen...

As I mentioned...we hit the trail at 8:15am...the plan was to quickly climb the mountaineering trail to the top by way of Iceberg Lake...then return on the easy trail...The mountaineering route is 7 miles out and the easy route is 11 miles back...also note: The trailhead starts at about 8,000 feet and the summit is 14,500 feet...this is a VERTICAL climb of over 6,500 feet in addition to the 18 miles of roundtrip hiking...for those in Europe or who don't know the difference between a foot and your hand...6,500 feet is over a mile up...closer to 1.2-1.25 miles up...but no worry...we were looking for a good jaunt up the hill and back...We knew that we would be returning late...and set a time of 1pm at Iceberg Lake as our goal...and summiting by 4pm was the plan (Note: I had a $1 bet with my roommate Joe that we would do it by 4pm...yes not much...but hey, a bet is a bet...we had to do it!)...and return late at night to the car...that was the plan...

We probably went up the early parts of the trail the wrong way...but John's foresight to buy the trail book paid off big! It had pictures of landmarks and we actually made pretty good time overall...John and I stopped about every hour for 5 minutes to rest and get water...but we pushed on...John reported that we were behind our time...and it was looking like we would arrive at Iceberg Lake about 1:45-2pm...but we pressed on...and about every 400 yards I would make another stab at his last name...Grewblexski...Grisblowski ... and finally I started to get it right...Growbleski (note: this is probably a bad spelling of his last name...I learned how to say it...like hooked on phonics...not spell it...I'll leave that to his future wife...good luck)...I would practice this new skill (of saying his last name correctly) the rest of the trip...it was somewhat cool...but we were doing OK...I was hiking in just a t-shirt but had a water resistant windbreaker incase the weather turned a bit sour...
Well, sour it turned...by the time we arrived at Iceberg Lake we were high up and in the clouds...it was almost zero visibility...we literally asked the people camping around the lake where the lake was...they said "20 feet in that direction" and they were right...it was pretty soupy...There were several groups turning back...and we were pretty disappointed because we had missed our time...someone wanted to use the cell phone...so I turned mine on...it didn't have service (so much for technology...) but the time showed 12:45pm! We had read the time wrong earlier...and were actually 15 minutes ahead of schedule...like a jackass, I saw this as an omen from the gods that we were invincible and that we could do this! I proclaimed loudly to John and the group he was talking to...that we would climb this *&^%$# mountain by 4pm...as scheduled! This exclamation did actually lift my spirits and those of John...and another guy, Craig, who was with his father and brother who were turning back, said that he would like to join John and I as we ascended to the summit...

John was the Iron Man of the group...he charged up the mountain as Craig and I followed...even when it started raining...John kept going strong...Note: I donned my water resistant jacket at this point...underline RESISTANT...I was soaked to the bone in 10 minutes...and it was cool...NO...it was *&*^*% COLD...halfway up the mountain I am shivering everytime we stop...while moving, I am OK...stopped I am a shiverring (sp?) ragdoll...so much for macho...I was cold...but we continued up the mountain...high altitude was not affecting me...I was just very tired and cold...Craig was definately feeling the effects of the altitude and was visibly weak...we were only halfway up the mountain in a very steep chute...things were looking grim...but not much to do but keep going...we were all cold...I was the coldest...John lent me his polypropelene (sp) gloves...which allowed me to feel my hands...note: there were large snowdrifts on the mountain to give you an idea of temperature...probably 45-50 degrees...and I was wet...We were absolutely spent...we made it to the top of the chute but still had almost zero visibility...and could not even see the mountain that we were climbing on...landmarks were nonexistent...we were starting to wonder if we would make it off the mountain...much less the idea of reaching the summit. I was cold...but knew I had a cookstove in my backpack and food that could be made...I knew I would need this energy in the near future...so after the chute we headed around the mountain looking for the easy trail...none of us said it...but we were all looking for the way down as much as the way up...we were in bad shape...we hit a large snow bank around the side of the mountain and decided that we had no alternatives but to continue to go UP...this was not a macho "let's head to the top!"...it was really the only option...going down the mountain via the mountaineer's route was not an option...we would have fallen off the mountain in the shape we were in...so we started climbing again...and summit we did! Now, realize that we really didn't realize that we were on the summit (remember, zero visibility) until we spread out and found the hut at the top and the landmark showing we had reached the top...we were happy but physically drained and exhausted...it was 4:45pm...I had lost my bet...but couldn't care less.

We entered the hut...and my first instinct was to heat and eat food...I needed calories to continue to maintain my warmth...Craig was in no condition to eat and was really experiencing altitude sickness and nausea...John was in better shape...but was not very interested in food...just warmth and getting off the mountain...I cooked for us all...but was really the only person eating. At Craig's suggestion, I took off my t-shirt and windbreaker (actually felt warmer once these wet clothes were off)...I then cut a hole in my emergency blanket and put it on like a poncho...yes...we considered it Emergency time...then put my shirt over the new poncho and my windbreaker over the whole thing...We left the summit around 5:30pm...having never enjoyed the scenic overlook and only taking 1-2 pictures...

As we climbed down...it took us a while to find the "easy" trail...which was certainly much less strenuous...and as we moved maybe 1/2 mile away from the summit, the weather turned perfect...yes, it is true...the sun came out...it was fairly warm...we had great views...and we took some more pictures...but we were ready to be Pouring Like an Avalanche, Coming Down the Mountain (Reference: Pepper by the Butthole Surfers)! We hit the trail hard...I actually was probably the fastest leader on the downhill on the switchbacks...but after dark...Craig was the man! We had no idea how he did it, but he could follow the trail at a very fast pace in the dark...quite a skill...anyway...as tired as we were, if Craig had walked off a cliff, John and I would have probably followed...we were not looking much farther ahead than the next person's footsteps... believe me when I tell you...that trail took forever! I mean forever...it just kept going and going...and going...and going...on the way down, at one point John was nauseated also...he had pushed so hard on the way up...he didn't have as much for the way down...but we all kept going....and eventually we made it back to the start of the trailhead and the car...at 11:15pm...15 hours of solid hiking...18 miles roundtrip...1+ mile climb...cold ...rain ...fog ... altitude sickness ...and much more had been experienced by us all...we were never so happy to get back to a car in our lives (speaking for myself anyway)...we had done it...but somehow we all felt a little less macho...we had done it...but we had not by any means conquered Mount Whitney...we had just experienced it...and were happy to have survived.
Doug