Wild July: Summer Days on Top of Mount Whitney, Cathedral Peak and Mammoth

The gorgeous Tuolomne Meadows from halfway up the iconic Cathedral Peak.

Passing by in a whirlwind of concerts, climbing, hiking and travel, I sped through 2016’s hottest months at full-speed. Summit Mount Whitney? Check. Relax and bask in Mammoth’s beauty? Check. Climb possibly the best 5.6 climb in the country and stand in the footsteps of John Muir? Check.

This summer has been about pushing to new personal limits and seeing if I would rise to the challenge. As a full-time professional, I’m constantly torn between daily responsibilities and my desire to be adventuring. Thus, I set out this summer to push myself on the hiking and climbing, to see if I am actually cut out in real life to handle the adventures I dream up at my desk.

Mammoth

This wasn’t so much of a challenge as it was a pleasure trip. However, my determination to bring a floatie to Valentine Lake turned out to be a great test of my lung capacity after my automatic pump failed and I was forced to blow it up via manual wind power…

Remember to change the batteries on your portable air pump kids.

Surviving an onslaught of mosquitoes the entire night turned out to be the most challenging aspect of the trip, with no one making it out unscathed (my girlfriend alone came back with over 40 bites on her legs). Despite being someone else’s dinner, being lakeside for the 4th of July was relaxing and patriotic, a perfect kickstart to July.

Lounging in style

Mount Whitney

The crew on the backside of the Whitney Trail, pushing on to the summit.

Many people hate the Whitney Trail; I love it. Putting in the proper prep time for 2 months before I got on the mountain, we hit the trail overpacked but enthused, and rocketed up the mountain, beating our desired hiking speeds by several hours. Cobbling a crew of random friends together last minute turned out to be a brilliant idea, and Mount Whitney quickly became my favorite hiking trip I’ve done yet.

Halfway up the Whitney Trail.

The scale of the mountain and surrounding peaks is difficult to put into words. Needless to say, I was reminded constantly of how small I am in the shadow of these massive and beautiful peaks.

Meadows en route to the basecamp for Whitney.

After spending a night at Trail Camp (12k feet), we got an alpine start and hit the 99 Switchbacks by 4am. Hiking in the dark is calming, putting you in a trance-like state of silence and darkness.

Trail Crest, 13,800 ft.

Topping out early in the morning, we soaked in the beauty of the Sierra range, with the incredibly powerful feeling of standing higher than every other person in contiguous USA sinking in.

Mount Whitney Summit

The crew then headed back down the mountain, limping to the finish thanks to the excess pack weight crushing our knees on downward granite steps. Returning to the roasting hot Lone Pine with torched calves and fried skin, we headed back to the comforts of LA exhausted but incredibly proud and satisfied. Luckily, I wouldn’t have to wait long for the next adventure.

Yosemite and Mammoth Climbing

Short roping atop the classic Crystal Crag in Mammoth Lakes.

I’d been dreaming about climbing outdoors for far too long until this summer. Sometimes the routine and sedentary nature of office life can really put me in a bind of ‘wanting, not doing,’ and I delay just getting out and accomplishing a goal for agonizingly long. Almost all styles of climbing interest me, making it painfully difficult to commit time to one style (i.e. alpine rock vs. mountaineering), and struggling with an irrational fear of options and not properly using my time and money correctly. Finally settling on some basic trad climbing, I set out to Mammoth Lakes yet again to get my feet wet.

The approach to Crystal Crag, in Mammoth Lakes.

Across several days, I climbed in Mammoth and Yosemite, managing all the moves and responsibilities of trad extremely well. Despite performing at a high level, the fear from the level of commitment and exposure was draining and challenged every bit of courage I had in me at the time.

In retrospect, diving head-first into outdoor climbing with only a few months of dedicated gym climbing under my belt (and one, brief outdoor top-roping session) was a little more than I could chew. Training in an older rock gym, I have only been exposed to walls that are barely 25 ft. I underestimated the intensity of the mental game of climbing drastically. After a few days of recovery from the trip, I felt the climbing bug bite yet again — those sweet splitter cracks were calling my name!

Hiking through the Meadows en route to Cathedral Peak (in the background).

Confronting my fear of exposure and moving at altitude is difficult but I realized that working more on sport climbing and getting comfortable with climbing more than 25 ft. off the ground before my next major climb will give make the next round far more enjoyable and manageable.

5 ft. and one nauseating off-width jump away from sending it.

In the meantime, I’m simply happy to have stood twice this summer where John Muir did, basking in the beauty of the California wild. Cheers to a great summer and overcoming limits — and on to the next adventure!

Yosemite from the top of Cathedral Peak.
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