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|July 17-23, 2008
• Bilateral deficiency can hurt you
by Wina Sturgeon
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Scaling Whitney in a day
Two climbers tackle ascent to summit at 14,496 feet
by Paul Bersebach
Self-arrest!” I yelled. “Dig in your ice axe.” We were glissading down the side of Mount Whitney and Carrie Turbow, my fiancee, was on the edge of out of control. Sliding on our backsides down an area called the Chute at about 13,000 feet we each did all we could to stay in control.
The Chute is an area used sometimes to by-pass part of the trail called 99 switchbacks. It gains 1,300 vertical feet while covering about a mile in distance. It’s a steep angle and easy to lose control. And sliding down a 1,300-foot icy snowfield on your backside with an axe in your hand is no place to lose control.
Coming up the trail to this point was no problem. As far back as last summer, after summiting Whitney in three days, we decided we needed a better challenge — a challenge like climbing Whitney in one day — 22 miles and 6,134 feet gain/loss in one day to arrive at the highest point peak in the lower 48.
We were on trail at 3 a.m. and hiked the first two hours in the dark. The trail is easily marked, and by sunrise we were at the Outpost Camp at 10,000 feet. Crossing streams and snow patches we hit Trail Camp at 12,000 feet.
Then came the series of 99 switchbacks and the reward at the top of Trail Crest at 13,300 feet. At Trail Crest we looked to the east over Inyo National Forest and to the west over Sequoia National Park. And straight north, two miles ahead was the summit of Mount Whitney at 14,496 feet.
The altitude and the eight hours we’d already put in climbing made this the hardest part of the day. Our hearts pumped, breathing quickened, and our slow pace became even slower. After pounding away for two hours we were finally at the top to enjoy a perfect day with 50-degree temperatures and clear, sunny skies. After a short stay at the top we were heading down, back to Trail Crest and the Chute.
On the way up we had seen a guy practicing glissading and self-arrest. Self-arrest is a technique used to stop an out-of-control slide by flipping on your belly and digging the pick of the ice axe into the snow to stop. This looked easy enough. The Chute is steep but certainly do-able, we thought. And we were feeling strong.
The problem is that there is a difference between looking do-able and being do-able. We hopped into a groove made by earlier sliders and it felt like we were at a 45-degree angle. I pictured that cartoon character falling down the hill and becoming a giant snowball by the end. Even as I started sliding I saw this giant snowball with me inside.
My boots dug into the snow to slow my speed and a shower of snow came to life in front of me. My ice axe dug into the snow like a rudder to steer me down the hill and it pulled me to one side. Picture an Olympic bobsled shimmering form side to side just before it crashes on its side and slides 500 feet to a stop.
All these things went through my mind as we slid 900 feet down the Chute — the snowball, the bobsled, and Carrie and me. We slid 20-foot sections at a time and eventually got to a point where the mountain’s shadow had started freezing the snow to ice and it became too dangerous. We put on our crampons and hiked back to the established trail and became regular hikers again.
We had done all we set out to do a year earlier and more. We were both proud we had made it to the summit in one day, glissaded down a 900-foot snowfield and definitely remained in control.
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