Life is all about the journey; it’s never about the destination. Over the years, I have made many pilgrimages to Mount Whitney, a mountain that has “tattooed” my body and still lingers in my dreams. Many years ago, I began a dialogue with my “friend,” the tallest summit in the continental United States, and I am grateful that the conversation continues. On September 15, 2001 – a mere four days after 9/11 – I walked the pathway to the summit (14,497 ft.) for the first time with six friends. On that journey, the mountain helped me believe in my ability to prepare, plan and confront my fears and doubts. Unexpectedly, the mountain helped me grapple with the tragic events in New York City. In 2001, I reached the mountaintop, looked eastward and was gifted with a glorious view of my country; I saw strength, determination and resilience. Looking to the valley below, I saw the result of similar challenging times beset by fear and prejudice, as realized by the internment of Japanese-American Citizens at Manzanar.
Now, ten years later, I returned to visit my old friend the mountain and see what stories the mountain might share. Seven of us started the walk up Mount Whitney on September 17, 2011 at 3:00AM: Connie, David, Doug, Kim, Margaret, Matt and me. In 2001, it had taken me eighteen hours to reach the summit and return to camp at Whitney Portal. Hoisting my pack on my back, I imagined myself back at the campfire around 9 PM with a well-earned celebratory brew in my hand. My dear friend Pam was coming all the way from Sonora to make sure we had a warm fire, pizza and beer at the end of our hike. But before fast-forwarding, I rewound thinking about when this journey really began. It began months earlier with hours of hiking. April 2011, I hiked to Sill Hill waterfall in San Diego County with David and Margaret. May 2011, I circumnavigated Monterey Bay with my friends Irene and Sara. July 2011, Connie and I hiked Big Basin in Santa Cruz. August 2011, Irene and I hiked in the Sierras surrounding Convict Lake and summited Mt. Dana in Yosemite. August 2011, David, Margaret, Doug and I hiked Mt. San Jacinto near Palm Springs. September 2011, I hiked in the Hurricaine Ridge in the Olympics in Washington with Umberto and Giovanni. All lovely hikes with friends whose companionship I treasure.
Three of the seven argonauts made it to the summit this year; and I toast my compatriots David, Doug and Margaret for their accomplishment! Cheers! For me, this hike ended at nearly 13,400 feet somewhere amidst the 98 switchbacks between Consultation Lake and Trail Crest. More importantly, the journey to the mountaintop has never ended and I hope it never does. This time, my friend the mountain shared with me long-lasting stories: the joy helping others accomplish great things, the grace in humility, the sweetness of friendship during hardship and pain, and the wisdom in understanding “its never over ‘til its over.” I look forward to my next pilgrimage to the mountain.