Mt. Whitney (Optimism:3, Realism: 0)

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I love hiking. Very few things give me as much joy looking down on a valley from above. Fewer things give me as much joy as knowing I have come a long way from my past habits which made me a diabetic in my teens. Even fewer things allow me to have a guilt free sweet(s). I have been calling San Francisco my home for last thirty three months. In these months , I have climbed Fuji, Triglav, Half dome , backpacked across Iceland, New Zealand and as of yesterday Whitney. In all of my trips, I have tried to shun cities and stick to remote wilderness.

Ever since I moved to San Francisco, I wanted to climb half dome. The lottery to climb it presented a further challenge. To compound matters, for last two years, I forgot to apply for preseason lottery. Last year I did apply for end-season special lottery for last week but I was not lucky. This year I was determined to climb it using they daily lottery. I did the math (or rather some else did the math and published it),  there was a thirty percent chance of winning the lottery on a weekday. To further optimize on my odds, I decided to take leave on Friday and Monday. Now I had four days to apply for daily lottery. This meant I had 66%  probability of getting the lottery. To further increase odds I convinced my roommate and his two friends visiting  to apply for lottery on one of the weekdays that I was applying and my odds increased to 91% . To no surprise of me I got the lottery to get to half dome.

Unknown to me at that time, (I had not heard of Whitney then), I was planting the seeds of a Whitney hike. I do not have a car and try to avoid renting it unless I am forced to. I usually take public transit for my hiking trips. This meant I could not carry camp gear with me to Yosemite nor could I stay outside Yosemite for my twelve hour hike. I had to stay inside the park. Like a seasoned visitor of the park, I started looking for accommodation inside the park for my target days. I searched for all places that did not cost an iPhone or both kidneys. I booked myself two three nights at housekeeping camp and one at Tuolumne meadows. For the people not familiar with the terms , they are very far apart and there was no prayer for me to do a hike of half dome while I was staying in Tuolumne. Thankfully , I got the permit for one of the days I was staying in housekeeping camp and Tuolumne happened to the best part of Yosemite. Tuolomne is open for a very short window and is located at a higher elevation than the more visited parts of Yosemite. At Tuolomne, there is no place to eat dinner apart from the lodge dining and if you are a single guy traveling alone (exhibit me), you have to share table with strangers. All my life , I have found sharing meals with fellow travellers is a great way to learn about their culture . I have learnt a great deal about my adopted country from fellow travelers. One thing lead to another and I found that there exists a mountain called Whitney which is the highest point of continental US and it does not require any mountaineering skills. In other words, by the end of dinner, I had decided I was going to climb it.

Climbing Whitney requires permit which are usually sold in April and August was not April. I had to do the math. I saw that there is a high probability of getting a permit on Tuesdays,Wednesdays and Thursdays.  I took leave for one Tuesday to Friday with an eye to climbing on Wednesday or Thursday .  I convinced my office colleague to join me. I planned on taking train and bus from San Francisco to Mammoth lakes,  staying at Mammoth lakes, taking a rental car from Mammoth, getting the Thursday permit on Wednesday and climbing Whitney on Thursday.

There was a problem though unlike the last few weeks, the option to buy Thursday permit did not appear on website Wednesday morning. The website said “W” as in “Walk in permits”. I decided to take the chance . Now I had to get a rental car from Yosemite airport . I went to website and tried to book a car but for some reason, I could not. I decided to take another chance and took a cab to the rental car center. The reason I was not able to book any car was because there were no cars available . I was out of luck on how to reach the “Walk-In” permit center. But while we were getting disappointed at the rental car center, there was Alison from Mammoth who was heading to San Diego. She overheard that we needed to go to Bishop. She told us she will take us there.(What were the odds?). The rental car center could not believe their ears and eyes. They called the rental car center at Bishop and blocked a car for us .

Optimism: 1, Realism: 0

An hour after the miracle at Mammoth rental center, I was on a car to Lone Pine to try my luck at Walk In permit. Once I reached the “permit center”, I was told that they do not give “Walk in Permits”, they had been asking recreation.gov to stop listing the option on their website for a long time.  They told we need to book it online . I had checked online in the morning but I tried to do the same experiment and expect different results. The Gods did not disappoint. Out of nowhere, two permits became available and we found ourselves with permits to Whitney for next day.

Optimism: 2, Realism: 0

Thursday we climbed Whitney. Unlike my other climbs, I got a bout of AMS. I have had migraines ever since I could remember and I can usually power through it. Unfortunately another effect of AMS is diarrhea. I was not prepared for it. My stomach started bloating up around half a mile from the summit. I had to open my bag straps and belt and my stomach had bloated like a hot air balloon at the summit. I did not put on 3 inches of belly fat between 12000 feet and fourteen thousand five hundred feet as the images of my summit might suggest. The climb back from the summit to parking lot was miserable till about 11000 feet. I was barely able to 1 mile an hour and had to take very frequent breaks to tend to my bodily functions. But towards the end of the never-ending descent, I had recovered enough to carry the bags of a fellow climber Mark . He had given up about a mile before the summit and had left for the parking lot about three hours before me. When I talked to him, he was very dis-oriented and tired and could barely tell his name. During the descent , we also lost the trail for a few minutes under darkness but we managed to find it . In net, I did the climb and down in eighteen hours instead of planned twelve and my pictures at the summit makes me look like a rounder Smiling Buddha than I am but I did climb the highest point of continental  US.

Our initial plan was to return the car at Bishop and take a cab to Mammoth and take the morning bus from Mammoth to San Francisco. But it was too late and I did not want to get stranded at Bishop. We instead drove to Mammoth . I hoped to return the car next day morning and take the 6:50 bus from Bishop to Mammoth. As per plan , I woke up @ 4:30 and dropped the car at the rental car center at 6:30. But uber told me there was no cab available at 6:30 am and I missed the bus. I then tried calling other local cab providers for a ride to Mammoth to reach by 8 a.m. But all calls went to voice mails. One guy did call back but he could not reach me and reach me to Mammoth by  8 am. He could drop me at Yosemite but that would cost me 450$. I would rather stay another day at Mammoth. I told my friend I will figure a way to reach Yosemite in time for 4:40 pm bus . I started looking for options to reach Yosemite. Google maps told me there was a bus leaving for Reno at 7:35 which could drop me at Juno lakes and I could then catch another bus to Yosemite with a connection time of 10 minutes. Unknown to me, I would be chasing the same bus that I was supposed to take at Mammoth. This time , I did not even try for uber. I sprinted to the bus stop with a forty pound backpack. I reached the Reno bus on time. The driver asked me where I was heading. He told me Juno bus was touch and go. Google had given me kind of false hope. It said that YARTS will leave from Juno at 9 am but it was to leave at 8:50. I booked another ticket for my trip to Yosemite.The ticket told me that the YARTs leaves at 8:50 and not 9. I panicked but then me and my friend realized I was trying to catch the same bus he was in and I was scheduled to travel. I told him to stall the bus for a few minutes in cases I was late at Juno.  The Reno bus driver was reading my mind, he said that Juno was touch and go for me and I should instead try to catch the YARTs at Lee Vining and he could drop me there with time to spare. I coordinated with Matthew my hiking buddy. The bus to Yosemite was to leave Juno at 8:57 and I was supposed to reach there at 8:58. Yosemite bus was supposed to reach Lee Vining at 9:20 and I was supposed to reach there at 9:10. I asked the Reno driver to drop me at Lee Vining and at the stroke of 9:20, I was on the bus to Yosemite en route to home.

Optimism: 3, Realism: 0