My Mt. Whitney Confession



I thought it would be nice to take a break from the poetry and share a life lesson. Something that happened to me last summer. I wrote this while trying to work through some frustration. It speaks of my character flaws and not anyone else’s.  I’m grateful to the Lord for reminding me of what’s really important.

   What constitutes a waste of time? That’s the question I’m asking today. I have just spent eighteen hours hiking seventeen miles and for what? My backpack weighed twenty four pounds, my expectations weighed a hundred. Oh, I had been here before, I had climbed this mountain many years ago, only then I had reached the top. A lot younger and lot more

naïve, but I had made it. I told myself then, that I would never do it again. However as I well know, time has a way of softening the details of the hard things in life and when the opportunity arose, I jumped on it. As a welcome member of this forming group, I set out to train for I knew enough to approach this mountain with the utmost caution. Climbing Mt. Whitney would require everything I had, I just didn’t realize in what way.

  As the day approached, we tried to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically. We planned, we talked and we counted the days. Three of us went on practice hikes, one member was never able to make it. Coming into this group through a friend, I did not meet the fourth member of this group until a few days before the hike. I had never hiked with her, but I knew the organizer of the trip had climbed the summit of Whitney four short years before. She had made it to the top, and this was her friend. I assumed that she, like I, knew what it would take. So I didn’t ask questions.

  With the day here and plan in place, we slept in the car, woke up at 2 am, got our backpacks, ate our rice, turned on our headlamps and started to hike. Sure, we were a little late, we had planned on getting on the trail at two thirty and we didn’t start until three, but we were only a half hour off schedule. We had plenty of time, or so we thought. From the beginning it was apparent that sticking to a schedule would be a problem. As this fourth member of the group revealed that she could not travel at speedy pace because of her asthma. Asthma that she said was controlled as long as she went slow. Well slow and steady was fine with us; we wanted no asthma attacks, especially on this mountain where they tell you going in, if you need help, be prepared to spend the night, because help may not get to you until the next day. No, no asthma attacks here. So we proceeded at a slower pace. We climbed and climbed and climbed.

  As time went on it was revealed that this same woman had a prior injury that required her to think about every step she was taking so that her leg would not give out. As the day progressed, there were more stop and more stops. My friend was experiencing heart palpitations, a common side effect of altitude gain. We had prepared for this, we talked about this, we knew this could happen, so we would stop for a moment, rest and continue on. My friend was determined to reach the top. She was doing well, and although we were all fatigued and a little short of breath, we found ourselves waiting longer and longer, not for my friend with the heart palpitations, but for this fourth member of the group who was now battling cramps and diarrhea. Cramps that come from a digestive problem she has. It’s a problem that’s in control as long as she eats rice. Well, we brought rice from home, we each our own bag of rice, we all ate rice that morning, but apparently she had not. She had decided to forgo her rice thinking she would be fine. Well she was wrong.

  Long story short, twelve hours into the hike, three quarters of the way up the switchbacks we realized we didn’t have enough time, enough daylight to reach the top and then get back down to a place where we felt comfortable hiking in the dark. We had to turn back now. So close, yet so far from the goal. As it was we didn’t reach the car until nine thirty that night, exhausted, but safe and sound. Barely able to think, barely able to process the events of the day, but at least we were safe and sound.

  As I woke up the next morning, a growing sense of frustration came over me. All the blisters, all the preparation, all of it felt like a waste of time. In my mind this was a set up for failure, a waste of time and money. If I had seen this woman hike, I would’ve known not to go.  It seems I had prepared for everything but this. I had not prepared for a lack of common sense. I was not prepared for something so obvious and it frustrated me. With a little discernment, a little honesty, a little heart to heart in advance, I feel all of this could have been avoided.

  So now I’m asking myself, did I just waste my time? Well I guess that depends on how you define “waste”.  I looked up the word. Waste is defined as “to use or expend carelessly, extravagantly or to no purpose”.  That makes me feel a little better. I was intentional with my time and I prepared. I had a purpose in mind, a goal and I was set on achieving it. So why do I still feel frustrated? I think it’s because reaching the top didn’t just depend on me, it depended on we. This was a team effort and it felt like one member of the team had dropped the ball, she had not taken it seriously and was not prepared. As a result we all failed to reach the goal.

  I knew this mountain would require everything I had, I just hadn’t realized in what way. In the way of patience, kindness and compassion. In the way of relinquishing my desire for what was best for us all, because I wanted to take off and climb the mountain. I truly wanted to say, are you kidding me? Why are you here? Thankfully I didn’t, I’m ashamed I even thought it, but I did.

A waste of time? I don’t know. Is  growing and displaying patience, kindness and compassion ever a waste of time?  You tell me. When I left that mountain two days ago, I swore I would never climb her again. However, as I well know time has a way of softening the details of the hard things in life. I guess we’ll see.


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