Follow us as we tag along with Grind Life friend, Zach French and his brother. This is his account of their attempt to summit Mt. Whitney in 24 hr. Will they make it and what does this adventure have in store?
August of 2018, my brother and I set out to summit Mt. Whitney. The tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. After climbing for a couple years and hiking every other day for over a year, we were confident we could summit with anything that was thrown at us. In order to climb Mt. Whitney, you enter a lottery system and have a chance to win a permit to climb but if you aren’t awarded a permit, you can’t climb. In order to increase your odds, the less time you ask to climb it, the more you increase your odds of winning. We lucked out and finally drew our permit! We had 24 hours to summit and be back to base camp. We got to base camp on August 18th at 8 pm and we set up a tent at 8,000 ft to adjust to the altitude and planned to start our hike to the mountain at midnight. We woke up at 11:50 pm and started packing our gear and headed for the car to load up last minute items. As we were packing our gear, my brother said “bear”. I was at the trunk and as I went around the driver tail light, a bear was standing under the driver side view mirror, less than 4 feet away and we locked eyes for about ten seconds which felt like ten minutes. The bear calmly turned around and walked back to the front of the car and headed downhill towards base camp. We started our journey up the mountain. The stars at that elevation with no light pollution were insane. Almost like a fuzzy tv screen with the sounds of wildlife all around, from mule deer to a mountain lion scream to even a rock slide which was the most eerie sound I’ve ever heard.
Hiking through the night helped pass time and we made better time than we planned, covering a lot of ground which seemed great but little did we know, it would hurt us in the end. We planned on filling our water bottles and hydration packs with the stream and glacier lake water that we would pass on the way to the base of the mountain. We had hiked so hard and covered so much ground that we passed the streams and the two glacier lakes in the dark and didn’t know it. We had made it out of the valley and to the last stretch before the base of the mountain when the sun started coming up. We were at 12,000 ft with 3,505 ft left until the summit. After taking a break and taking in the beautiful sunrise and landscape, we pushed on. We made it to the hardest part of the climb, where you gain 2,500 feet in elevation. It’s straight up and it was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s legendary and the most well known part of Mt. Whitney.
By the time we reached the top, it was 11 am. We reached the top, and crossed over the ridge which actually puts you in Sequoia National Park. We hiked the ridge another ½ mile and that’s when you reach the last push to the summit. At this point, we are suffering from altitude sickness, we are on the last bottle of water between the two of us and some gear had failed and was being held together by medical tape. We finally reached the summit and we got a second boost of energy. It was beautiful, the most amazing sights I’ve seen in my whole life, standing on the highest point on the contiguous United States and being the closest to flying I’ve ever been. What a dream it was. We ate lunch on the summit and let our heart rates drop a little.
Time to descend the mountain. With the altitude sickness worsening, we started our descent. Out of water, we pushed as hard as we could trying to get the first lake or stream so we could filter our water and hydrate. After 3,000 feet of going down, we finally found a spring coming out from under rocks. We filled our hydration packs and water bottles with ice cold mountain water, the best tasting water I’ve ever had. We pushed on and reached the valley which meant shade. We were amazed by the sights around us since they were new, having passed through the valley and hills at night. With 3 miles left to go until base camp, blisters had covered my feet. The altitude had caused my feet to swell, so as we descended, it was impossible to keep my boots tied tight since the swelling was slowly going down. I ended up having to hike the last 3 miles out with no boots, only socks. We could see the trail head just below and when we were off the trail, I turned around and was just in awe. 22 miles and 18 hours later, the hardest, most rewarding and beautiful thing I’ve ever done had come to an end. The pride and joy was something I had not experienced in a long time and I realized in that moment what’s important in life and how blessed our lives truly are.
Author: Zach French