Recent Auburn graduates Brooke Donald and Anna Wells did not take a typical graduation trip. They asked their parents to got to California, but were not seeking the beaches of Los Angeles.
Instead, they asked their parents for a trip to climb Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States.
The trip was anything but relaxing.
The pair had previously climbed Mt. Shasta in Northern California, but it did not prepare them for their pursuit of Mt. Whitney’s Summit.
“This one was a lot harder,” Wells said.
Donald and Wells, along with three native Californians, climbed without guides, dealt with rough terrain and were faced with strong mental challenges.
At times, the beach seemed like the better vacation destination
“At one point, Anna was laughing and said ‘Brooke, we could’ve gone anywhere, and we chose to come here,’” Donald said. “At that point, we were camping in a tent in the freezing cold. It was kind of miserable.”
They began their climb at 3 p.m. and hiked the first 12,000 feet in five hours, carrying 40-pound bags with them the entire time.
They then set up camp and slept.
The next morning they began climbing again but faced new, more challenging obstacles.
“During the day we hit snow, and that was probably the hardest part,” Wells said. “It was literally straight vertical and you feel like you’re never getting anywhere. It took probably three hours to go less than a mile in distance.”
This vertical stretch causes many climbers to throw in the towel.
From April to June, the summit rate for Mt. Whitney is 30 percent, meaning that only 30 percent of climbers reach the summit.
“There were parts we were not prepared for, a little bit of rock climbing and snow,” Donald said. “It was intense if I could describe it in one word.”
However, the most challenging aspect of the climb for Wells and Donald was not the physical act of climbing the mountain.
“The hardest part honestly is probably overcoming the mountain mentally and not allowing yourself to have the option of quitting,” Wells said.
The girls’ strong resolve and patience eventually prevailed as they reached Mt. Whitney’s summit. They spent the next few minutes celebrating with other groups who also made it to the top.
“I’ve never gotten the since of accomplishment,” Wells said. “It’s a huge reward when you’re up at the summit looking down.”
Donald had similar feelings.
“You are so exhausted, but it’s just an incredible feeling of accomplishment,” Donald said.
However, their excitement was short-lived.
The human body can only stay at that altitude for about twenty minutes, and the group was forced to climb seven hours back down the mountain.
“It’s so different than something like running a marathon where when you get to the 26th mile you’re done,” Donald said. “When you summit, you celebrate, and you’re excited, but then you realize you still have another journey to go. The thought of going back down was nauseating.”
They eventually made it back down the mountain and are already talking about climbing again, just not on Mt. Whitney. They both said Mt. Whitney could be scratched off their bucket lists.
“Anna and I definitely have plans to climb other mountains,” Donald said. “Maybe McKinley in Alaska or Kilimanjaro in South Africa.