Mount Whitney summit - 14,495' - as seen from Lone Pine

 

Travels of the High Sierra Kiwi


The Memory of Climbing

 

A massive white ramp towers over me, reaching endlessly to where the deep indigo sky meets the rim of the world. Thin banners of snow stream downwind off the slopes above, obscuring any possible view of the summit ridge. Mingma Sherpa is up ahead, waiting patiently, as he has for the last six hours after leaving our High Camp at 19,000 feet. For the hundredth time I marvel at his ability to climb so effortlessly in this thin air, and envy his Sherpa genes, and his youth.

Mingma suggests we rest awhile and I slump into the snow, looking down slope and towards the north. If for no other reason, the view is worth the climb. The massive black rock faces of Everest and Lhotse tower above us to the north. East to northeast is Kanchenjunga, Chamlang, Makalu and Baruntse. To the west are the peaks of Ama Dablan, Cho Oyu and Kangtega. Six of the highest peaks of the World are in view from this vantage point. Should I be satisfied with this achievement? Mingma is silent. We're temporarily sheltered from the wind, and in the quiet I ponder my motives for being here .... Mera Peak, 21,300 feet, Nepal, March 1992.

It was a journey that had begun many years ago on the alpine peaks and glaciers of New Zealand. In 1959, as a 20 year old Air Force officer and pilot, it was my good fortune to be selected for participation in New Zealand's Antarctic program.  The extensive specialized training included a lengthy period in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, learning the techniques of glacier travel and survival in extreme cold environments.   Our tutors for this activity were professional mountain guides.  I still recall the unique combination of hard physical effort, some fear and the ultimate exhilaration that is so much part of alpine mountaineering.  By today's standards our equipment was primitive: wood-shaft ice axes, 10 point iron crampons, manila ropes, no harnesses or mechanical descenders, leather boots and inadequate clothing. The latest equipment and clothing of today makes the alpine experience much easier, more fun and certainly much safer.

It was many years later, in 1983, that I had the opportunity to return to serious mountaineering on a more regular basis than had been possible during a professional military career, that included extensive wartime service in South East Asia. 

As a warm up to this new future, I signed up for a tough, five week, high altitude trek in Nepal.  This trek around the Annapurna Circuit was a 200 mile walk over some of the highest mountain passes and deepest valleys in the world. Then six years on, at the age of 50, reaching 19,700' on Denali and later at the age of 52 standing on the 21,300' summit of Mera Peak in Nepal, convinced me I still had the fitness level to continue serious climbing; and what better place than in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada of the western United States.

From 1987 to 2003, I climbed the volcanic peaks of the Cascades, from Mount Baker in the north, to Mount Shasta in the south; some many times. However, during the same period, I found my true and lasting climbing epiphany in the high peaks and deep valleys of the Sierra Nevada, initially in the Whitney area, then Yosemite, and finally in the Palisades.

The Gradual Shift to Long Distance Hiking

In 2001, at age 62, I decided to try hiking sections of the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail in my home State of Washington. This included the sections from Cascade Locks to White Pass and then Stevens Pass to Stehekin. A year later, I hiked the 220 mile John Muir Trail for the first time ... an easy and pleasant transition from mountaineering. No longer carrying climbing equipment, still with the joys of being in the High Sierra environment and a worthwhile challenge to stay on schedule for three weeks at a time. I continued to climb the occasional peak in both the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, but hiking the John Muir Trail each successive year became the most important summer adventure.

Each year reaching the summit of Whitney from Yosemite, I've experienced an epiphany ... a clear understanding that I'm still very much alive. I was told once, probably by Sherpas, that those who live among, or at the foot of mountains see them as bridges between the human world and the dominion of the gods. Perhaps, hidden beneath each step from Yosemite there’s been a feeling of transcendence, a knowledge that the final direction of my life will be ultimately changed somewhere between heaven and earth.

This website is primarily dedicated to travel on the John Muir Trail from 2002 until the present, but recalls with fondness the wonderful years of mountaineering.

 

©Peter W Tremayne, Reno NV, 2017

The Whitney Chronicles: 1988 - 2015

 


Antarctica: 1959 - 1962

Climbing Mera Peak [21,300'] Nepal -1992


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