Before the trip
It’s all about the luxury items.
The scale is actually quite ruthless, and ever since Brad convinced me to try using it before our trip to Rainier, I’ve been letting the scale make most decisions. The pack weighs 1191 g, the sleeping bag 1038 g; and the second shirt 156 g. In total, my pack’s base weight, sans food and water, is 29 lbs. That’s including my luxury items—all the camera stuff, with the body, lens, tripod, and other accessories, making up the extra 7.5 lbs.
But the scale doesn’t really decide our luxury items. I can’t part with my camera. Mark, third year orthopaedic resident, packs fishing tackle and extra fuel to make warm water for baths. I convince him to leave behind his pillow and the ugly pink emesis basin, which he wanted to use for doing dishes and taking warm baths.
The daily ration of food is set out according to the hiking and eating plan—affectionately dubbed “the grid” by Kevin, then a third-year resident, on our Thousand Island Lake trip. Each meal is carefully packed into bear canisters. Mark suggests we bring fresh produce, so we include lettuce, red peppers, cabbage, kale, a tomato, lemons, herbs, garlic, an onion, and a carrot.
Mark offers to carry the pots while I carry the tent. I figure that’s a fair trade, even though the tent weighs twice the pots. In the end, with the bulky bear canisters full of food and hydration sacks full of water, our packs turned out to be the same weight.
This whole trip started because of Mickey, Medical Coordinator of Addiction Treatment Program at the Loma Linda VA Hospital. For the last few years, Mickey and I had discussed this trip; it had been on his bucket list. Then back in February, we met and simply set the date. My resident, Mark, was one of the first to confirm. I applied for and got our first choice for permit dates. Over the next few months, our group size grew to include two members of the Preventive Medicine Department: Wayne, Chair, and Mike, Residency Program Director.
Hans, Director of the Masters of Science in Orthopaedics and Prosthetics Program, had graciously offered to drive us up to Visalia. We have known each other for twenty years, when we first met to finish the lacquer coat on my lute using his HVLP spray gun. His wife, Mary Ann, was in my med school class.
We all convene at Mickey’s house. First, there are introductions: Mickey, Wayne, Mike, Hans, and Mark. Mickey shows off his little waterproof notepad; he’s going to jot down thoughts while on the trail. The overhead carrier and the back of the car are overstuffed with backpacking gear, but it all fits. During the four-hour drive north, we share a little about ourselves.
In Visalia, we check in at the Hampton Inn and spend the night. Since the continental breakfast line doesn’t open until 6:00, Mark and I have an early in-room breakfast that we prepared ahead of time: apples and coffee from the hotel, hard-boiled eggs from home, and coffee cake with trail mix.
We’re all ready when the shuttle arrives in front of our hotel, right on the dot, at 6:07.
Onboard, Mark explains to us that he is wearing his wedding band on a cord hung around his neck. He makes a phone call to his wife Sarah to tell her that. Mickey will later correct him: “You’re supposed to say that the ring is hanging in by my heart.” I snap a picture of Mark on the phone with the ring on a rope and send it to Sarah.
After winding up the mountain, we step into the Lodgepole Ranger Station’s backcountry office. Ranger Ben gives us all the regulations, and I pull the permit for 7 hikers, because Lucas and Ashlene couldn’t make it for this first part of the hike but will join us later. Mark takes pictures—later to be lost—of the fact sheet depicting fishes that are protected below 9,000 ft. Ranger Ben didn’t seem to concerned anyways: “Read this, and you’re on your own out there.” As we turn to leave, he says, “Oh, I almost forgot. You guys will be in the Whitney zone, so here are wag bags. Take a few extra.” We all dread when we will have to use and carry them out.
From Lodgepole, the driver takes us directly to Crescent Meadow, putting us there 45 minutes ahead of schedule. We’re now all set for what would be an epic hike across two major mountain passes, Kaweah Gap in the Great Western Divide and Trail Crest along Mt. Whitney’s ridgeline, traversing 72 miles to end up at Whitney Portal. I have my camera ready, and Mark wields his fishing pole and totes comfort fuel.