Day 58: On Top of the Lower 48

Mount Whitney is a thing of beauty. Just the thought of it sends my brain in spirals of wonder. It is the highest point in the entire contiguous United States. How can one not be amazed?
In person, the mountain does even more. Its jagged peak stretches high into the sky — and it is attended by a multitude of other, fierce looking granite shards. The earth looks like it ripped its meanest rocks from its bosom and threw them into the air. When my eyes meet its gaze, I am humbled and tremble. 

 But today, with a lot of luck and a little bit of work, I stood on its peak, and looked out at the world beneath me.

It all began, as it seems to often, at 3am. I fumbled around, making myself ready in the deep darkness. We started treading carefully along in the dark, quietly marching onward. It was beautiful. The stars winked merrily above, the stream’s tinkling laughter accompanied us for miles, and the sun stretched awake across the glorious mountains long before the sunrise. 

 As the light began to put color into the wood, we noticed the birds singing us along, and the rocks that were scattered far and wide in and around the path.

Eventually we came upon Guitar Lake, where many hikers rest for the night, and encountered a new cold. The ground was sprinkled with snow and ice, much new from the previous night. We looked at the crown of cruel mountains protecting their precious jewel, and wondered what the day would bring. 

 Up we started, finding the snow much better than expected. Up we continued, and I found that the elevation suited me today — I fell skyward with every step, invigorated by the slow withdrawal of air, by the beginning of pressure in my head.

We made quick work of the mountain before the Trail Crest (not the actual crest, but the point at which our path met the Whitney Portal Trail to walk up together toward the summit). There were signs warning of the danger of lightening (that I know well, thanks to the terrifying book Shattered Air that Mike Stuckey so kindly recommended to me), which we smiled at and went right past. 

 Up and up, we walked into a sky that looked like an old photo — strangely blackened with some sort of beautiful magic that made me feel like an explorer from ages past. The snow deepened and became treacherous and I took the lead, excited by the harder path and pushed on by the thought of the summit. Some parts of the path held slippery snow, ready to send a hiker to their quick death hundreds of feet below. But we picked our way carefully, and stayed safe.

And then we were on the awesome mountain itself, held up in the cathedral built by nature itself. We were here, we were deemed worthy, we arrived at the summit. 

 I peered down at a frozen little lake, seeming to be almost right below, looking like it could catch me if (in a moment of insanity) I took to the air. There was a flurry of activity on the top, and (strangely) cell service — the first in weeks. I was able to sit quietly after sending out my two mandatory “I’m here!” texts and writing in the register:

“What a day it has been,
What a mood I am in,
Why it’s almost like being in love!”

And then, thinking better, scratching out the “almost.” 

 I had been dreaming of this moment for years, and there it was. The mountains stretched their arms out all around me, holding me and my joy right where I was. They went on and on right until they blended up into the deep blue sky. Fluffy clouds spun wildly above me, one becoming the next becoming the next. I was there, at the top of the country, feeling my smallness and the might of it all around me.

A young man took out his harmonica and played as he reached the summit:

“I once was lost,
But now I’m found,
Was blind but now I see.”  

But my journey was only halfway over, and as I was overjoyed at my own ease with the altitude, I was worried about Rainbow Dash’s dizziness. We wandered down, stepping carefully through the slushy snow, picking our way slowly over the sketchy parts with the faraway drop-offs. We went down and down, the same way we had come. We remembered this rock and that point, this place where the marmots were attacking backpacks left behind (pro tip: don’t!) and that lake far below.
I was dazzled by the splendor of it all laid out before us. Here is where I find the sunlight of the spirit. Here is where my soul feels right. Here is where I am born and reborn anew. Here is where I find the belly button of my world. Here is where all love springs forth. Here is heaven on earth.

And, after quite some work, we arrived back at Guitar Lake where all the mountains were reflected on its clear, still face. We flattened ourselves against a large warm rock before rushing past the spruce and pine and occasional sequoia and marshy meadow and babbling stream all the way back to our bear cans and campsite. 

 And I ate barley and lentils and spring vegetable mix, and it was the best meal of my life.

I only wish I could take this perfect day out of my heart and give it right to you. Maybe then you would understand, as my words and pictures can’t explain the awe and wonder and brightness of it all. But you probably know just this feeling from some other day, and know exactly the ecstasy I have right now in me.