My road to Mt Whitney started with a sporadic decision and the click of a mouse. I gave birth to my second child in November, and I was dreaming of the magical wildflower-filled Santa Barbara trails I would be running throughout the spring, gradually regaining my former awesome fitness.
It didn’t quite work out that way, though. As anyone with young children knows, what you do each day (or all night) is not exactly up to you, but is instead dictated by very short people. On top of that, I got caught in a few months of running setbacks (injury, sick, run, repeat). I needed some specific and reachable goals to keep me motivated and have something to look forward to. So on April 30, I logged onto Recreation.gov and scooped up a permit for Mt Whitney’s Mountaineer’s route on August 9.
My family already had plans to spend a good portion of the summer in Colorado, so I knew I would be well acclimated for the altitude. But my fitness and a record snowpack in the Sierras? Those factors were anyone’s guess. The last time I ran up Mt Whitney (on the main trail) was also after a Colorado summer, but I only had one child then (who nicely slept all night long) and I was in peak running shape. Oh, and how would my 9-month-old daughter do without me for 5-6 hours, when prior to our trip we had barely been apart for more than 1-2 hours?
As we set off driving for Colorado, my goals for the trip were to do 3 Fourteeners, at least one 12-mile trail run, and to have a LOT of fun running in the mountains. We spent 5 weeks total in Colorado, and got in a ton of mountain miles, far beyond my dreams! And climbing Fourteeners became a bit of a driving force. The kids played at the trailhead or at camp while my husband and I took turns climbing mountains. (We had two days in the beginning where my mom so nicely camped with us so we could go together, which was awesome.) In all, I made it up a surprising 13 of Colorado’s Fourteeners.
In these efforts, I was reminded of just how well I feel at high altitudes. Around 13,000, I feel my body sink into a rhythm and off I go, feeling better as I get closer to the summit. The thought started to percolate… Should I try and set the female Fastest Known Time (FKT) for Whitney’s Mountaineer’s route? It was low hanging fruit, in a way, since there was no previous female FKT. But I only wanted to try for it if I could give it my best effort. I decided to give it a shot, although there was still the snow factor in the upper part of the route that was a major unknown.
We arrived at Whitney Portal on Tuesday for a relaxing afternoon with my dad, who had agreed to watch the kids so Matt and I could do Whitney together. Dinner was veggie tacos (generally a family hit, and something I’ve made at least 5-6 times during this trip), and we got to share a campsite with my friend Rachel from Santa Barbara who happened to be heading up the trail the next day too. We knew by now that we were definitely going to encounter snow, but it wasn’t clear if that would slow me down or be too steep to ascend without tools like ice axes and crampons (which we did not have).
I started around 7:40 am, to give the snow a chance to soften up by the time I got to it. (And wouldn’t you know, of course the kids slept in too and I had to wake Sierra up to top her off with milk before I left.) There is nothing quite like a perfect bluebird sky contrasted with crisp white Sierra granite, and I broke into a smile so many times on the way up, I was so grateful to be on the way up to this mountain with Matt. Once we got to the gully, we stayed on the rock as much as possible. It felt great to be scrambling on granite, pulling my body up on those divine Sierra holds. We spent so many years rock climbing together, and that sense of vertical movement is one that comes naturally to me and gives me great joy.
The snow section was relatively short but steep and soft, perfect for kicking steps up. Then the best part of the entire climb, the slabs above the notch! A short run to the summit marker, tag 14,505 ft! 3 hours, 10 minutes, 8 seconds. The Dubberleys are king and queen of Whitney Mountaineer’s Route! (Matt got the FKT in August 2015.)
The snow was too steep to descend safely without tools, so the longer trail down it was, no question. All the switchbacks felt eternal, but I picked up the pace enough to give myself a 15 minute PR on the descent. In all, my time on the mountain was 5 hours, 10 minutes, 51 seconds.
Climbing Mt Whitney was the perfect ending to an incredible summer in the mountains. I far exceeded my goals, and rediscovered some of my own strengths. And in the end, I did get my wildflower-filled runs, just not in quite the way I expected. Which is pretty much a life lesson in general, and one worth embracing.
Mountain miles run/hiked on our trip: 244.1
Total elevation climbed: 76,753 ft