For me, standing on the summit of a 14,000 footer is a thrill beyond words - and it has been many years since I experienced that thrill (Mt. Whitney, 1971). After graduating from college, I got caught up in the business of earning a living and raising a family - climbing and hiking got, unfortunately, put on the back burner. At age 54, I realized that time may be running out to summit the big guys. When I saw my first picture of White Mountain Peak on summitpost.com, I knew that was the one I had to climb. And I would travel half way around the world to do it. I couldn't get that picture out of my mind, I was obsessed.
I left Tokyo in the late afternoon of September 2, 2002, arrived at LAX ten hours later, immediately rented a car and drove directly up to Lone Pine in four hours. I was so psyched up that jet lag wasn't even an issue. Layed low the following day, and made my bid on September 4th. Was on the highway toward Big Pine and Westgard Pass by 6 AM. As dawn broke over the Owens Valley, I noticed an unusual number of clouds in the sky, but it didn't really bother me. I was more concerned if my rented passenger car (a Hyundai Sonata) would make it over the long 15 mile dirt road to the trailhead in one piece. Having a break down out there would be hell. But the road wasn't that bad, I just took it slow and easy, and by 9:15 AM I was in my boots and on the trail. I had been imagining this moment for months, and was on a high.
After 2 1/2 hours of steady truckin', I came to where the trails drops down before the final climb to the summit. There I met two guys on mountainbikes looking pretty worried about the storm clouds forming overhead. Because of the long journey from Japan, I'd been out of touch with the news, and had no idea that tropical storm Hernan was now up in the jet stream heading west towards Utah , and bringing along seriously foul weather with it (any surfers remember Hernan's hugh waves along the CA coast?). I was so wired with adrenalin that nothin' could have turned me around. In one hour I was at the summit, greeted by a freezing blast of hail and snow. "Oh no," I thought, "This is a major f*!k up."
In less than ten minutes, I was on my way back down the mountain. No rain gear, wearing short sleeves, my arms turning purple. "I hope I don't die," was all I could think. But after about 30 minutes, the sky began to partially clear, and the rain stopped. My clothes were only slightly wet, and started to dry naturally when the precipitation ceased. Only my arms and hands remained purple from the steady wind. In exactly 2 1/2 hours, I was back at my car, fairly exhausted, but feeling GOOD. I did it. The drive out over the long , gnarled dirt road seemed to take forever, but the car heater was breathing new life into me. I was totally astonished to find it pouring rain in the Bristlecone Pine forests - "This never happens!' Down the Westgard Pass, south to Lone Pine, and back at the Dow Villa Inn after roughly 12 hours of adventure. That's my story of White Mountain Peak, and I wanna go back again soon as possible.
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