Facing Fear on Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney Summit
Mount Whitney Summit

Just a few short months ago, I cartwheeled down the northeast chute of Mount Whitney. It was the final day in completing the route Lowest to Highest: Badwater to Mount Whitney. The fall left me bruised and cut from head to toe, but very much alive.

Last weekend, I questioned my sanity when I found myself climbing this very peak once again in snow.

A few weeks ago, my good friend and long time hiking partner, Arrow contacted me with 3 Whitney permits she nabbed through the lottery and asked if I would be interested in joining her. Stealthy and I both agreed and envisioned a quick climb with warm temps and clear trail. As a bonus, we all recently had birthdays, so what a great way to celebrate!

While in route to meet Arrow for the trip, we were quite surprised when she contacted us from the ranger station reporting snow from the recent storm had covered Mount Whitney. Conditions were unclear with reports of many hikers turning around at Trail Crest due to deep snow. Luckily, we had thrown in micro-spikes last minute for inclement conditions.

This beautiful and challenging fall climb was done Rockin’ style:
-leave work on Friday afternoon, drive to trail head (Whitney Portal)
-hike in a few miles with headlamps, set-up camp and enjoy stars, beverage, laughter, and snacks (Outpost Camp, 10,300 feet)
-alpine start (5:00 am) Saturday morning
-climb peak (Mount Whitney)
-return to camp, pack up, hike out
-enjoy lots of in-town food (Totem Cafe in Lone Pine), drive home

I have climbed this famous and well-traveled peak many times from different approaches, conditions, and seasons. The lighting, rock, views, altitude, exposure, and sheer beauty always surprises me. After our alpine start, we hit Trail Camp just as the sun rose over the Inyo Mountains casting golden light over the spires of Mount Whitney. Morning light lit up the snow as we climbed higher and higher.

This was Stealthy’s first summit of Mount Whitney, but not her first 14er (peak over fourteen thousand feet). She attacked it Stealthy style: in the lead, swift, and quiet.  A climber she passed yelled back at me, “Hey, your friend is flying!”

That is when the unexpected happened…
First mistake…looking down over and over again
Second mistake…looking west at the chute I fell down…one too many times.
Heart-rate way too high… breathing shallow and fast…dizziness…lots of dizziness…nausea
Then the crying started…
My body was panicking and I was not mentally ready. Caught unprepared. Fear had taken over.

Arrow was kind enough to sit down with me on the steep snow covered slope, get a snack, some water, and regroup. She was reassuring, kind, and supportive. Years ago, Arrow and I both glissaded down that same chute safely in soft snow. It was still steep and long.  She knew.

After that, things got better, I focused on touching the mountain one step at a time, thinking positive thoughts, planning new trips, and visualizing getting off the mountain without any mishaps. The rest of the day was met with celebration and thankfulness. We climbed to the top and even met hiker friends along the way.

Fear does crazy and dangerous things to our bodies and minds. I think Eleanor Roosevelt was on the right track when she said:

“I believe anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do, provided he keeps doing them until he gets a record of successful experience behind him.”

 

Northeast Chute Mount Whitney
Chute I I tumbled down in full snow on the last day of hiking Lowest to Highest

Photos

View all photos from the day on Flicker

 

Click once on any photo below to view full size. Flip through all photos by clicking arrows on the sides of photos or on mobile device, swipe. To exit slide show, click X in the upper left hand corner.

 

Rockin’s Mount Whitney Trip Reports

Fear happens. Do you have a strategy to overcome fear? Please share in the comments below.

20 Comments

  1. Sorry it took so long to figure out how to comment on your new blog location. I was going to compliment you on sharing your emotions but a lot of your friends/followers beat me to it. I would encourage you to do it more often. I think it will lighten your burden along the trail.
    Hope to meet you sometime in Mammoth or along the trail (as you pass me!)

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Rambler,
      Boy, I was sure afraid I would lose important readers in the change from wordpress.com to wordpress.org. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. This is especially true if a reader to following on a RSS feed and not by email. I hope to meet you sometime as well. I think we need to get ready for snowy outdoor adventures. Yaaaaay.

  2. Scott Bailey

    Climbed the 5.4 Fresh Air traverse end of Aug.1982. Celebration pics on summit. Coiled rope & put in pack. Big Mistake. When we got to “stair steps” down to Mountaineers Route, use rope for quick belays. Our one headlamp failed. Now in the dark, don’t want to fall, break a limb getting back to the 1st Tower. SOLUTION. Stay in the colour with one foot on the snow and one oN the rock. Crabbed down to camp at E Face Lake. Made soup for partner/me. Made sure he ate pudding/nuts B4 zoning out.

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Now that is an epic adventure. I just love how you remembered the details. Especially the food. That is hard core!

  3. SkiCounselor

    To flush out all the adrenaline caused by panic and regaining your composure try breathing slowly and deeply, in for 4 seconds, out for 5. After doing that a few times, your body should settle down.

  4. Good for you to face that again. I am impressed. Posts like these are why I love following you!

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Sonja, thank you for that! I am working on a a post that discusses, getting out and going even though it is inconvenient or uncertain.

  5. Nicely done, great pic’s too!

  6. I’m not sure what else can be said but, well done. Sharing your fears and facts is a great exposition of your character. That is Rockin’!

    Nobody mentioned how well Stealthy did but I know that Whitney is a very difficult climb/hike. It’s amazing how well she is coming along. Good teacher she has.

    And I did observe in the lead-in photo how much taller Arrow is than the two of you. She is taller than the “two ladies” standing on a rock. Does her tall status have anything to do with her trail name? Or am I just in the woods on that one?

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      I am going to brag! Stealthy was incredible. It was her first time using microspikes on steep snow. She blazed new tracks and didn’t get a headache or any of the other symptoms high altitude can bring. I think she gained new confidence, her knees didn’t hurt, and her feet stayed in good shape.

      Yes, Arrow is very tall, beautiful, and thin. Arrow is short for Arrowhead Magnet. I would say about 90% of the backpacking trips we have been on through the years, she has found a very rare complete arrowhead. Quite incredible. Good call on that one Warren! Hope you are well.

  7. So proud of you for going back up there!….And even prouder of you for sharing it so openly and honestly!

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Ya… well… you know above anyone how I really don’t like sharing feelings and emotions. I am good with facts, but somehow those feelings get shoved away.

      So we are going to have to work on your log fear. On the other hand cancel that…it is fun to watch you crawl across. 🙂

  8. You continue to be my hero. Admitting our fears and finding the courage to challenge is monumental. Glad you survived again!

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      BeeKeeper you continue to motivate ME! Okay, so I have to add that when I had to cross the top of that chute that is a few feet from Trail Crest, I ran, got to the other side, Stealthy was waiting casually, I grabbed her and hugged hard, sobbed a little, and that was it. Everything was better. She didn’t even make me feel bad.

  9. Hamburger Helper

    When I retired from a 3 decade public safety career I became a staff member of a corporate leadership training program that uses outdoor venues to “teach” decision making and problem solving under pressure. Like me, the other 3 facilitators were also Marine Corps officers in their former lives. One thing I share with the participants is that I found it helpful when “scared” to just concentrate on the next right thing that needs doing. Everybody has fear–it is a God-given gift that warns and allows us to be careful, or fast, or strong at certain times. So get over it. “Scared”, on the other hand, is fear trying to leave the body (and mind); that is the challenge.

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Seriously, I needed you up there. “Fear leaving the body”, I love that phrase. It is manageable. Doable. Comforting. Thank you Hamburger Helper for sharing this with the readers. And thank you for years of service devoted to promoting safety in the wilderness.

  10. Glad to hear you went back, to pay your respects to that moment. I can empathize with that feeling.

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      I know you can. A lot of mixed feelings go along with an accident and misplacement. I think that is what makes us better, stronger, and more interesting as human beings. Pulling deep inside and just going forward becomes everything.

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