It’s the holiday season – time to think of others first and give back in whatever ways you can. So it’s an appropriate time for Hellgate (Missoula, Mont.) senior runner Adam Peterman to embark on his senior project.
Peterman is raising awareness plus $5,000 for Outdoor Nation, a nonprofit organization that helps develop young outdoor leaders, by biking and hiking from the lowest point in the U.S., Death Valley, Calif., to the highest summit in the Continental U.S. (14,505 feet), Mount Whitney. That’s roughly 155 miles – 135 miles biking and 20 hiking up Mount Whitney – if you’re counting.
Peterman, who will run for the University of Colorado, hit the road last week.
He checked back with USA TODAY High School Sports along the way. Follow along all week to see how Peterman progressed.
Blog Entry No. 4
I woke up at 3 a.m. to Mike rustling around outside the tent. As I took a deep breath, my chest felt the same as last night (not good). But as I stretched, I happily realized I wasn’t very sore anymore.
Mike made five servings of oatmeal, and I ate all of it. At this point, I realized that I was strong enough to summit Whitney. It would take a lot of effort, but I felt much better than I did six hours prior.
We began the hike at 4 a.m., leaving Cody to have the day to hang out in Lone Pine. Outside was pitch black, but I was pleasantly surprised to find trees obscuring the view of the stars. We had finally surfaced out of the basins of drought and desolation to reach tree line.
After hiking for an hour, we ran into a man who claimed to have attempted to climb Whitney. He said he was deterred because of “crazy winds.” We took his advice lightly and continued trekking.
The trail was easy to follow, as there wasn’t much snow covering our path. Whatever snow we saw, past footprints guided the way. As we gained elevation, the wind began to roar through the trees and down the steep valley below us. We traveled for a long time in darkness.
I felt surprisingly good, especially compared to the night before. My chest had opened up, and my quads had shaken the lactic acid pooled inside from the bike ride. Time quickly passed. I don’t remember everything as vividly from the hike as I did from the bike portion.
Mount Whiney was visible as we climbed, and it looked totally doable. At this point, I never doubted myself. I simply knew that I had to do it. I enjoyed the landscape and felt much more in my element than I had the day prior.
The hills were rugged, with vertical walls of grey granite towering out of huge talus fields. Cracks echoed through the rocks, forming intricate routes that climbers scramble up during the summer months. As the wind erupted, bursts of fresh snow pelted into my eyes, and it felt sharp as sand. The cloudless sky was an incredible blue.
We entered the section of the trail known as the “99 Switchbacks.” I didn’t count to see if there were actually 99, but there were indeed a lot. This area passed quickly, and to my chagrin we reached an altitude of 13,000 feet — the tallest I had ever been. The wind had steadily picked up, but I knew it was nothing compared to the blast force we would experience after cresting the ridge.
Once Mike and I neared the ridge, we encountered a steep snowfield covering the trail with a long runoff. Normally, I’d be tentative and nervous in an area with such exposure, but I felt no fear.
We reached the ridge and encountered two men from Florida who told us the summit was impossible because it was too windy.
And it was. We got on the other side of the ridge, and instantly the wind nearly knocked me over. After walking for a while, the wind eased, and we realized that where the Florida boys had stopped was probably the windiest part on the trail.
At this point, I was wearing all of my clothes and felt at a comfortable temp. The only exposed section of my body was my face and eyes, and it was frigid. I went through a cycle of my face feeling numb and covering the windward side of my head with my glove. We were beating the wind and only had two more miles to the summit.
I felt delirious and dehydrated, but I was pleased because I realized we were going to make the summit in about 90 minutes. The air was thin approaching 14,000 feet. We walked as if we were dizzy, relying on the rocks around us like walking down a hallway in the dark.
When I stopped for a break, it looked as if my feet were shrinking beneath me. The mountains appeared to scoot away. My lips and jaw felt frozen, and my eyes were squinted shut due to the windburn. Wind chill was probably around negative 15, and the wind was a constant 30 miles an hour, with gusts up to 50.
Mike yelled, “We’re doing it, Adam! Badwater to Whitney!”
Although I was extremely happy, all I could muster were slurred and slow words, “Uhhhhh, yeahhh!”
After eight hours of climbing, we reached the summit. It was glorious and breathtaking. I wanted to be proud of myself for accomplishing my goal, but I could only focus on the next task ahead: the 11-mile hike back.
We spend a few moments taking photos, videos and sending out a text to our friends and family. I remember thinking, “Well, I made it from Badwater to Whitney. What does it matter what happens on the way down!”
It was definitely one my proudest moments, in a skewed and unusual way. I didn’t feel a rush of joy at the summit, but more of a desire to get the job done and finish the descent to the car.
The climb down wasn’t too eventful, but it was challenging — even more so than the climb up. Mike and I had become depleted on water and food, and the altitude had taken a toll on our minds. Time slowed, and I kept getting hung up on random thoughts. I swear for the majority of the hike down I thought about a girl I wanted to ask to prom. It’s strange to be in such a beautiful area and doing something that requires so much focus, yet be so withdrawn.
The final hours consisted of Mike and I slogging our way to the finish. It became dark and windy in the valley and snow had blown over our tracks from the morning. I wasn’t in horrible pain, but I definitely wanted to stop moving.
After 14 hours of hiking, we made it back to the car, where Cody happily greeted us. It was an awesome moment to have it all done, and I couldn’t have shared it with any better dudes. We completed our goal, and did it in 38 hours.
After we rapidly took down camp, we drove into Lone Pine and we treated ourselves to a hotel room and thousands of calories worth of pizza.
Now that it’s been a few days since I got back from the expedition, I’m incredibly proud to have accomplished the journey. It’s been a long period of recovery, and I still eat like none other.
After the hike, I didn’t understand why I put myself through it. But now that time has passed, I’d gladly do it all over again. The journey was primal and raw and incredibly rewarding.
I have a strong sense of self-accomplishment, and I’m even prouder to be helping other teens find passion for the outdoors. Doing this expedition and generating money toward Outdoor Nation is an honor. When we reach our goal of $5,000, I know that it will be even more special.
I’d like to thank Mike, Cody, my family and friends and all those who supported my cause. Also, a huge thanks to The North Face, Injinji, El Diablo, Big Sky Bikes, Missoula Bicycle Works and The Runner’s Edge.