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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The Backbone Trail of Southern California

For this hiking-related entry, I decided to write about an epic, multi-day hike across the spine – or “backbone” – of the mountain range in which I have spent the most time. During the twelve years I lived in Los Angeles, I spent many a weekend day exploring LA and Ventura Counties’ literally hundreds of hiking trails. Three transverse mountain ranges pass through LA, and my favorite trails to hike are in the Santa Monica Mountains. These mountains follow the coast (more east-west than north-south in SoCal), cross the 405 Freeway to comprise the Hollywood Hills, and end at Griffith Park, one of the world’s largest urban green spaces.

SMMNRA sign

The Backbone Trail is a 65-mile hike that takes you from the highlands of star-studded Pacific Palisades, into the hills above Malibu and the canyons beyond, ending at Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County. Along the way, the trail ascends and descends over 11,000 vertical feet, passing through five Mediterranean ecosystems and past geological and cultural treasures. The trail passes two Inspiration Points, at least two split rocks, and is a short scramble from the highest point in the range. Best of all? The highest point is just 3,111 feet above sea level, so cold weather is seldom much of a factor. This is one trail that is actually better when hiking during the fall-winter-spring off-season than during the scorching summer months. Are you ready to give it a try?

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My Crazy Traveling Friends…Whom I Love

A few years ago I came up with this random travel goal: for my country count to always be at least twice the number as I am years old. I am now 38, and have set foot in 70 countries at last count. I have hardly traveled at all this year, and most of my 2012 travel was to Mexico, so I’m six countries behind my goal as a result.

But it doesn’t matter so much anymore. I don’t feel the hurry-up-and-travel clock ticking the way I once did, and frankly, the exhaustive travel pace that allowed me to visit so many places – most of them over a single eleven-year span – was starting to wear me down. I won’t make it to anymore new countries for the remainder of 2013…and I doubt I’ll hit up any new countries in 2014, either. (The money has finally run out, Loyal Reader, the money has finally run out.) If this makes me sad, I at least take some degree of comfort knowing that I’ve seen more corners of the world than perhaps any of my crazy traveling friends…the majority of whom are no travel slouches themselves.

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