I never imagined that I would ever stand atop a mountain top that high. I never in my life could imagine how spectacular the views of Sequoia National Park could be from that elevation. I never knew how physically tough ninety nine switchbacks could be as my legs powered through them. I never knew how desperately I would wish I had taken Imodium as I stared down at my blue plastic wag bag and knew I was in that desperate moment that every Mt Whitney hiker dreads. Hiking Mt Whitney was an incredible adrenaline rush, it was incredibly hard physically and yes, it was even embarrassing.
The Mt Whitney Trail is one of the most gorgeous trails I have ever hiked as it winds its way through the peaks of the high Sierras past meadows of wild flowers and tall aspen trees. We saw deer, wild pheasants and tons of marmots near Consolation Lake. As the sun rose above the Sierra Nevada range and the sleepy town of Lone Pine began to come alive in the valley below we watched rainbow trout jumping in the trail side lakes and I wished I had the time to take a fishing break. There was no time to fish; we were on a mission. We needed to climb to the highest peak in the lower forty eight in one day.
Every hiker who hikes the twenty six mile Mt Whitney Trail is required to pick up a wag bag when you pick up your permit. If you have hiked the Mt Whitney Trail than no doubt you have heard all the wagbag jokes. When you hike Mt Whitney it is recommended that you start before three a.m. Hiking almost thirty miles in one day literally takes all day long. When you start up the trail before dark, you will for sure see a trail of headlamps ahead of you up the mountain as people who got way less sleep than you got going early. Some hikers take Imodium the night before just in case but being backed up for a day sounds like an uncomfortable way to hike so I decided to just power through with the whole wag bag idea and hope when the time came I would be at a private place on the trail.
I hiked the Mt Whitney Trail with about ten friends. I am the only person in that group who did not get altitude sickness. I do live at over six thousand feet so this could account for that. I don’t think I had altitude sickness anyway, but as I turned around after the summit and began to descend the great mountain my stomach began to churn.
It was wag bag time.
I was hiking back with a friend of a friend, a very attractive (This was back in my single days) trail runner I had met a few days prior. He barely felt the altitude sickness at all and we were well ahead of the rest of the group heading back when I told him
“Shit (literally) I’m going to have to wagbag it” He was understanding and gave me some privacy but here is the thing about the top of Mt Whitney; it is all exposed rock. This is not a place you want to stop and have a private toilet moment. Apart from that you are trying to rip open a tiny blue plastic bag, hold it up to the right spot… It took longer than anticipated and he walked in on me not quite finished. Pretty damn em-bare-assing.
Of course thirty minutes later he also had to use his wag bag so he felt my pain and we laughed, hoping none of our other friends would walk in on him. (They didn’t; they were hours behind us on the trail, even when we stopped for an hour to check out the marmots. Marmots are one of the cutest damn rodents you will ever see in your life!) After the marmot break we were on our way back down the great mountain once again. At this point in my athletic pursuits I had been training hardcore prior to this hike. I had run my first half marathon a few months prior and I was running twelve to fifteen miles once a week for my big run. I was in incredibly good shape. I felt like I was a couch potato by the last four miles hiking down the trail. I felt like every muscle in my legs hurt. My legs ached in places I had never even felt before. The last few miles we were so over the hiking (It was almost dark at this point!) we just wanted to go back to our camp, to a few beers and maybe driving into Lone Pine for some pizza. After hiking twenty six miles you crave carbs or a big juicy hamburger like you wouldn’t believe! We finished the hike a good hour and a half before the rest of our group. It might not have felt like it the last few miles but all that pre training really did help us out in the end.
My boyfriend and I are hoping to hike Mt Whitney again late this summer. It will be his first time and if I summit it will be my second time summiting and my third on the Mt Whitney Trail. My boyfriend is insanely jealous of my “cankles” as the days of training wear on. He might have incredibly muscular legs from years of cycling but I have runners ankles. I prefer to think of them as “rankles”
Lately I feel like my rankles are wasting away though as I can barely train at all right now. My doctor says I’m allowed to walk the dog. That’s it. I would love to be in the best shape of my life by late summer when we do this massive twenty six mile hike but a stubborn injury is holding me back at this point, so fingers crossed I will be trail side with trekking poles, light weight healthy snacks, camel back and water pump ready to go by late July.