Reaching for the Sky: Climbing Mount Whitney

Once upon a time, I lived in Southern California and took advantage of the state’s mild climate by vowing to hike as many miles as I could and summit as many non-technical peaks as possible. My ultimate goal: the 14,505-foot (4,421-meter) summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the 48 contiguous United States.

Although there are several approaches to Whitney’s rocky summit, the most well-trod route is via the simply-named Mount Whitney Trail. Hundreds of hikers tackle the route each summer day, making the Whitney permit business a lucrative one.

It was more years ago this very month than I’d like to admit when I made the climb. How long ago? Put it this way: the pictures I took that accompany this article were on a non-digital camera! (This fact is no doubt reflected in their poor quality.)

But I did it! In the paragraphs that follow, I’ll share my story and give you the latest information on the permit process. If the hike itself interests you, think about some training hikes you’d like to pursue to get ready; it’s never too soon to start preparing for a Whitney hike or climb.

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Climbing Concepción Volcano

Some evenings, when sleep is slow to come, I watch the show Naked and Afraid. If you aren’t familiar with the show’s premise, it pairs up an adventurous man and woman who have never met before and drops them off into the hostile wilderness for 21 days. They are removed of clothes and personal belongings and left to fend for themselves. There is, of course, an element of phoniness to the whole thing, as medics and camera crewmen are never more than a few steps away. Still, the editing, which focuses largely on the snakes (vegetarians, avert your eyes) they often eat and on the ruggedness of the terrain, makes for a thrilling hour of reality television.

A recent episode found the protagonists in a rural swath of Nicaraguan jungle. Humidity was in the high double digits and there was an even larger presence of venomous snakes than normal, but of course our heroes survived their ordeal, dirtier and skinnier but otherwise little worse for wear. The episode reminded me of my recent trip to Nicaragua, a country about which I have not written nearly enough aside from a single photo gallery in late January. In particular, watching the participants navigate steep slopes and contend with ankle-twisting tree root “stairs” recalled the vigorous 12 hours during which time I successfully climbed Concepción, at 5,282 feet/1,610 meters the country’s second-highest volcano.

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Tennessee Hiking

Summer in Tennessee is normally too hot for hiking, but these past few weeks have seen temperatures perfect for enjoying the great outdoors. Additionally, rainfall for the year has been well above average, so that means that Tennessee’s lakes are full and its waterfalls are raging.

I have tried to take advantage of every free day to get out and about. Here are a few Tennessee hiking destinations from recent excursions worth mentioning:

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Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

I have mentioned more than once in this blog that September is one of the best months for hiking. My Mount Kilimanjaro hike, in 2010, is just one example of successful multi-day, late summer/early fall hiking. I can hardly fathom the thought that it has been exactly 11 years ago this month since I hiked the Inca Trail through the Peruvian Andes to the pre-Colombian citadel of Machu Picchu.

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Hiking the Grand Canyon – Part Two

As you recall from Part One, I hiked the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2010 – the South Kaibab Trail down and the Bright Angel Trail up. Not easily sated, I returned two years later and tackled the much, much longer North Kaibab Trail.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a long way from anywhere. It is over 1,000 feet higher in elevation than the South Rim, and its northern exposure makes it a dumping ground for snow for seven months of the year (the North Rim is closed to visitors from mid-October to mid-April). The flora and fauna are different, too. The access road from the one-trick hamlet of Jacob Lake passes through terrain that looks like Yellowstone. “Beefalo” – cow and bison hybrids – graze peacefully along the roadside, and sub-alpine meadows are home to wildflowers during the warmer months. The scent of pine is all around.

Highway 67-10 - Beefalo

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Hiking the Grand Canyon – Part One

Earlier this summer, TripAdvisor ranked the Grand Canyon as the #1 National Park. I couldn’t agree more with their top pick. I have meaning to write about the Grand Canyon ever since I first saw TripAdvisor’s list (the complete ranking is here, BTW), but it has taken me until the hottest week of summer to get my thoughts on paper. It was similarly hot when I hiked from the rim (top) of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back…twice! No wonder my ex-girlfriend called me crazy! 😉

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My first visit to the Grand Canyon was in October, 2000. It was little more than a two-hour stopover on my way from Chicago to Los Angeles, my first cross-country move. My friend Chuck came along for the ride. We took photos from various South Rim vantage points, hiked perhaps one-quarter mile down the Bright Angel Trail, ate at one of the Grand Canyon Village restaurants, and continued on our way. Still…the few pictures I took, including the photo above, taken from Hopi Point with my $60 manual camera, lent quite the inspiration, and I promised myself that I would one day return and hike all the way down to the canyon floor.

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Photo Locale of the Month – May 2016

It is late May and it finally feels like summer in East Tennessee. The weather has been unseasonably cool and rainy, until just a few days ago, when – almost overnight – temperatures shot up into the mid-80’s. Now that’s more like it!

Out West, May is an ideal month for exploring the National Parks of Utah and Arizona. I took several road trips while residing in Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Lake Powell, and elsewhere. It was four years ago when my car seemingly drove itself during one of the hottest weeks of the year to one of the hottest places in the country: beautiful Monument Valley.

Goulding's Trading Post and Museum 1 - view of Sentinel Mesa

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Photo Locale of the Month – February 2016

News footage this past week has been rife with images of destruction following the 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck the Taiwanese port city of Tainan. At time of writing, 59 people have perished. Over 500 people have been injured, and another 76 are still reported missing.

Such natural disasters, tragic though they may be, are all too commonplace in “Ring of Fire” countries such as Taiwan. I visited the small island nation with a friend in 2010, and was floored by the spectacular topography. We spent several days in earthquake-carved Taroko National Park, and I am sharing of my park pictures with you today.

Taroko NP 45

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Gorillas (Not Quite) in the Mist – Part Three

Speechless. Astonished. Flabbergasted. Those are just three superlatives that I can use to describe my elation at having spent an hour with mountain gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Uganda, neighboring Rwanda, and the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) are the only places in the world where these great apes still roam free. And I saw them.

Bwindi gorillas 112

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Gorillas (Not Quite) in the Mist – Part Two

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was just 50 yards from our lodge, Lake Kitandara Bwindi Camp. Our driver, Matthieu, escorted us to the park gate, where we signed in and met the park staff and other trekkers. We showed our permits – a whopping $500 apiece – and were led through orientation. The head guide was a female, something of a surprise in this male-dominated part of the world.

Bwindi gorillas 3

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