Curtis Kortemeier, chemistry teacher at Carson High School, wrote this column about climbing Mount Whitney this summer with Scott Vickrey, head of the high school’s science department.
Instead of writing about their adventure, I’ll let Curtis tell you in his own words.
“Scott and Curtis’ big adventure — the trail to Mount Whitney
It was right after school in mid-March of this year when Scott Vickrey burst into my room and proclaimed: ‘K! I won the lottery!’
‘Great,’ I replied. ‘Buy me lunch!’
‘No, not that lottery. I got a wilderness permit to climb Mt. Whitney. Are you in?’
‘Oh sure, why not?’ Little did I know what I was in for.
And so it began, two middle-aged men’s quest to summit the highest peak in the lower 48 states.
To be fair, it is not a technical climb, it is a walk up on a generally good trail that is very popular.
Training hikes began in May as school was winding down and included Davis Creek, Mount Rose, Freel Peak, Elephant Back as well as hours on the local “Stairmaster.”
Of course training was tempered with trips to the coast for extra carb-loading and general lazing about. For the hike itself we chose the two day option.
Day 1 consisted of about 3,600 feet vertical elevation gain over about six miles from Whitney Portal — 8,360 feet in elevation — to Trail Camp — 12,000-foot elevation — with full packs that somehow had ballooned to around 40 pounds.
Day 2 was the biggie. Wake at 4 a.m. Around 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Boil water, eat. Lose everything due to darkness, sleepiness and high altitude fuzzies, not to mention adrenaline-fueled excitement. Leave Trail Camp — 12,000 feet — to Mount Whitney Summit — 14,505 feet. That’s 2,500 vertical feet over 5 miles. On top by 10:30 a.m. and perfect weather. That means wind not howling and no lightning. Then descend 14,500 feet to 8,360 feet over 11 miles.
The trip, thanks mostly to Scott, came off without a hitch. The views from all parts of the trip were incredible. Our measly photos just do not do justice to Mother Nature.
Will climbing Mount Whitney change you forever? Absolutely. You’ll come back tanner, leaner, more appreciative of oxygen, indoor plumbing (instead of USFS issued WAG bags) and a mattress. You’ll learn a whole new vocabulary (much of it French): couloir, arete, cirque, moraine. Or geological: “Wow Scott do you see that compositionally zoned alkali-feldspar megacryst right there in the granodiorite!”
Or biological: “Curtis, did you see how dark green that alpine gentian is? Since it is protecting itself from the wind by growing deep inside that crack, it must be compensating by producing more chlorophyll to make up for the limited solar influx.”
If you set your sights high, start training early, make a bunch of beginner’s mistakes (too much water weight, too many clothes, too much food) but keep putting one foot in front of the other you will be amazed at what you — and your students — will accomplish.
Thank you again Scott for suggesting something I never would have gotten around to doing without you.”