The Longest Climb redux

The first 40 miles on the bike were all bliss. Ok, it may have been a bit hot – over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (around 40C) – but the nice rolling terrain, slight tailwind and beautiful vistas made us feel glorious. We were moving swiftly and did just under two hours over the first part. The darkness fell and a full moon rose, pointing us to the first climb. Much tougher than anticipated, partly due to the strong headwind, and the endless straight, steep and demoralising nature of the climb.

Long hours passed. Franz needed to be reanimated at regular intervals (good that Rachel and our support vehicle were there) and I gladly started to follow his example and spread out flat on my back along the roadside. At last, we reached the ridge and decided to sleep a couple of hours (it was in the middle of the night, after all!). After verifying no scorpions had invaded our possessions, we geared up again and started going. And going and going. First a rollercoaster downhill. Then the second climb, which was nicer on the mind (many curves, not too much wind) but not on the legs. When we reached the crest, there were still 30 rolling miles ahead of us to reach Lone Pine (‘rolling’ meaning with few nice downhill sections interrupted by a whole lot of calve scourging climbs). We started doing our alternating routine again (leading for a mile, drafting for a mile) and around noon we finally made it into town. Too late to do the last part to the Whitney Portal (trailhead) though – it seemed like trying that was forgetting about the hike. Next time. We had 120 miles with 10000 feet of climbing behind the belt, and we felt pretty wasted. But that was nothing compared to how we’d feel by the end of the next day!

Getting up at 4 in the morning after a ride like that isn’t everyones idea of fun. But once you convince yourself it is, you’d be amazed what you can do (consuming liberal amounts of caffeine and chocolate does help I must admit). The first miles of hiking (uphill) go by smoothly. We hook up with Franz’s group and soon we’re halfway up, at the Trail Camp. The ‘switchbacks’ are next; notorious, but I don’t dislike them. They bring you up fairly quickly where you need to be; the Trail Crest: beautiful views over both sides of the Sierra’s, sporting some nice ravines and abysses. At this point, the elevation starts to become a serious factor. The final part looks innocuous but feels like an absolute ordeal. The thin air here starts turning a lot of hikers into stumbling zombies. Reaching the summit, taking a nap at the highest point of the lower 48, enjoying some champagne in the thin air with your friends on the other hand makes it all worth though! 6000 feet of climbing over 11 miles; unfortunately this means there are 11 more miles to get back to the trailhead. The hike home is nightmarish: the elevation, fatigue, general exhaustion are turning me into a semi-lucid sleepwalker – these are the longest miles I’ve ever walked but every step is now bringing us closer to the car. We make it, briefly after sunset. The last bits of remaining energy are used to drive us to the lousy pizza joint in downtown Lone Pine. Pizza and beer, and a hotel bed that I would have never imagined could feel so good, wrap up the (long) day – as well as our long, long climb.

Photos here.


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