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9 – 23 SEPTEMBER | 2016


PLANB by Briana Westmacott

When Briana isn’t lecturing for her writing courses at UCSB and SBCC, she contributes to The Santa Barbara Skinny, Wake & Wander and Flutter Magazine. Along with her passion for writing and all things Santa Barbara, much of her time is spent multitasking through her days as a mother, wife, sister, want-to-be chef and travel junky. Writing is an outlet that ensures mental stability... usually.



ed streaks shattered across my eyeballs. They matched the sunburned, wind-chapped color of my nose, lips, and entire face. My feet were ruined, much like every other muscle in my legs. It all ached, including my brain. Each shot of pain prompted a smirk of pride. This is what Mt. Whitney gave me. I thought of backing out more than once. I was warned, and often times belittled, about the idea of tackling such an endeavor. “Do you even know what you are doing?” “Have you trained enough?” “Are you ready?” “Are you crazy?” My typical response, “Of course!” and then I would retreat onto the Internet to continue to research the mountain and make sure that I did, in fact, know what I was doing. Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. It rises 14,495 feet into the sky. The route to the top from the Whitney Portal side of the mountain is 22 miles round-trip. It begins at 8,000 feet, and for the first 11 miles you climb more than 6,000 feet. To do the climb in one day (which I would not necessarily recommend) you must leave the trailhead by around 3:30 am. With headlamps and high hopes, our group of four women set off to conquer the one-day Whitney trek on September second. This was also my final day of being

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We did it! From left: Here I am with Katie Mahan, Ginny Miller, and Jessica Barker.

41 years old. I figured, why not ascend in elevation and years? The Whitney hike is not something you can decide to do at the last minute. There is careful planning that goes into the journey. First, you must have a permit, and this is not an easy undertaking (much like the trek itself ). My friend Ginny took care of this and all of the travel bookings seven months ahead of our departure. We all had assigned duties and we all did our fair share of training… though I still had my personal doubts. SOMETIMES IT TAKES A VILLAGE We were originally supposed to be six gals permitted to hike, but a week before departure, two dropped out. I get it; I was close to doing the same thing. When my firefighter friend told me that I had better pack a space blanket in my gear, I panicked. Why would I need a space blanket? I wasn’t going to sleep out there on Whitney, but I heeded to his warning, and I made yet another trip to REI to purchase this precautionary item. I packed that emergency blanket in with my water filter, snacks, map, walking stick, boots, medical kit, and layers of clothing items. I felt tough just surveying my gear… or maybe not

tough enough! For goodness sake, why do I need a water filter for a hike? Lone Pine is a little town at the foot of Mt. Whitney, approximately four hours from Santa Barbara. After we arrived to our Lone Pine hotel, we headed up to the mountain to scout the trailhead and hopefully acclimate to the higher elevation. One of the first people we encountered was a Search and Rescue volunteer heading out to help someone. (This was definitely not something you want to see, first thing!) A woman had broken her ankle and needed to be carried down off the trail. Along with this, we saw a couple of other people coming off the mountain describing their altitude sickness and where they were forced to turn around. These were not promising outcomes, but they weren’t ours and the group kept optimistic. Our plan was to go to bed as early as possible since the 3 am alarm was set. Sleep did not prove successful for me. I was continuing to panic, as I doubted my physical capabilities. It took me hours to finally drift off, and the ringing of the alarm came what felt like minutes later. My gear was ready (even if I thought my body was not). We loaded up the car and drove through the inky night to the base of the mountain. The stars above shone bright with no moon in sight. Those first hours were dark, but we felt great: deer were all over the trail having their breakfast; the sun came up and kept us entertained by reflecting off of Mirror Lake; Trailside Meadow’s greenery dazzled us with color and life. And then things began to shift. The plant life turned to dusted rock as we approached the dreaded 99 switchbacks. Yes, there are in fact 99 of them as you climb from 12,000 feet to 13,777 feet. It’s brutal, really, for two miles you go back and forth straight up the side of Trail Crest. Our group decided to use music for this section, so we plugged our ears with inspiration and we trudged on. People turned around in front of us (big, burly, mountain men, to be exact) and headed back down. This is when I finally started to believe in my physical capability; we were going to make it up to the summit! It took us nine hours to get to the top of Whitney. The final two hours at 13,500 feet through the Needles were a head game. For 1.9 miles we watched even more people turn around, all while being so close to the summit. The altitude really comes into play in this section. As we stumbled over shale rock and through skinny trails with drop-offs on either side, our legs felt weighted to the ground. The adrenaline rush at the summit was like no other. This truly was on top

of the world, at least the contiguous United States. There was a sense of camaraderie from fellow hikers who had achieved the feat. Even as the wind burned our faces and our feet throbbed, we felt strong and powerful as we highfived others who had made it, too. I signed the book at the summit in honor of my late father-in-law, who hiked many, many mountains. We also made a dedication for our friend who is battling cancer. It was a beautiful moment; little did we know that we still had six hours left to get back to the bottom. The route down was painful. There were moments of pride, but they were fleeting and quickly overtaken by the urgency to get the hell off the mountain. It was during this time I began to parallel the experience to child labor and at one point could be quoted saying, “I would never recommend this to anyone!” It was also during this time that I realized the power of our group. When one person would begin to slip into delusion, someone was always there to encourage them to go on. I was lucky to have these women by my side. I wouldn’t tell many people (or basically anyone for that matter) to do all of Whitney in one day. That was crazy and maybe a little dangerous, especially if you are not prepared. But there are two-day permits with camping halfway up available, and this would be the way to do it. You just have to carry all of your gear in and out. I was humbled by Whitney’s ruggedness. There has been no other time in my life when I submerged myself that deep into nature, far from the reach of modern society (or help for that matter). While our group didn’t encounter bad weather, or sickness, or injury, Whitney has made those who did experience these setbacks turn around and go home. It’s a good reminder that none of us can control Mother Nature. For me, Whitney was testimony of the strength that I have within my freshly 42-year-old legs, body, and mind. And most of all, it made me realize just what you can accomplish when you have a good friend at your side.  



must have made at least five trips to REI while packing and planning for this Whitney expedition. Each time, I was approached by overly helpful REI staff members who educated me about elements of backcountry hiking that I was clueless to. They were kind and patient, and we are lucky to have such a resource in Santa Barbara. Hit up REI for any and everything outdoorsy:

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