MT. WHITNEY (14,495') August 5-7, 1970

Movie clips. Quick Time plug-in or iOS required. From Kodachrome Super 8 movies, low quality, dusty and scratched, but viewable. Filmed by Petesthousandpeaks, Spring and Summer, 1970. All in 640 x 480 pixels.

Berkeley, 1970 35.7 MB (1:54)

Climbing Mt. Whitney, August, 1970 56.4 MB (3:08)

In the spring of 1970, the Vietnam War was at its height. Half a million G.I.'s fought a desperate battle, over there, 10,000 miles away, in a foreign land. Soldiers were coming home, 500 a week, in boxes. Myself, I was fairly oblivious to it all, enjoying being a young freshman at the best public school in Northern California. I had seen and filmed the huge anti-war rallies at the campus and elsewhere, and soon, the prospect of me going over there to meet my destiny was shortly to be at hand.

The draft was then run on a lottery system. I had declined to volunteer at 17, as my high school friends had headed for the recruiting station after they had a final party and fling, upon graduation. I still required parental permission. So, reaching 18, I was now studying series and linear algebra, and long understanding relativistic dynamics, as my high school term paper on the war had vaulted me into the scholarly world of higher learning. The University was in turmoil. A strike was pending. I went home upon my eighteenth birthday to await my draft notice, and report for duty, no doubt.

Well, nothing came. I wondered what to do. The selective service people had implied me as being crazy, for even registering for the draft. "We want doctors, and scientists, not trained killers." You had to really believe in the war, and military service, of which I began to have my doubts. I did nothing, but wait. Then, I decided to get work.

With free weekends, I opted to start my exploration career by hitch-hiking to climb Lassen Peak in June, 1970. That turned out successfully, so I drove in July to climb Half Dome, in Yosemite National Park. I liked this. It began to appear that I wouldn't have to sacrifice anything, by just not going into the service.

So, my plans came about to hike Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the Lower 48. Accumulating backpack gear, I left home at 8 a.m., and stuck out my thumb on the freeway on-ramp, with a sign, "Mt. Whitney." I had my movie camera, with thoughts of getting into filmmaking. I'd do a documentary of my travels.

Getting friendly enough rides all the way, that day, to Whitney Portal, I began hiking at 9 p.m.--night. With no flashlight, I sometimes felt my way up the trail to about Lone Pine Lake, and near Outpost Camp. A horse jumped over me as I lay there in my sleeping bag.

Hiking further, the next day, on my summit bid, I carried some stuff, and passed campers at Mirror Lake. A pack train passed by as I hiked up, as then you could ride to the top of the peak. I began to dump gear, as it was getting warm. Soon, I reached Trail Crest, and never had I ever seen such scenic beauty! I was sold on this!

Exhausted by altitude as I summited, I had to sleep in the hut, but managed to capture the views. Magnificent! An hour later, I saw dark clouds coming in. I had to leave.

My survival tale begins. It started to rain, then lightning struck the crags right by the trail. I thought that a pinnacle lighted up strangely, and I might have seen St. Elmo's Fire. It was blowing and hailing, and I was already totally soaked and thoroughly chilled. I had no rainwear, fooled into thinking the weather would stay good.

Making it back to Trail Crest, some hiker sought refuge in a small cave. I had to ask him to move aside. I was in the second or third stage of hypothermia. I had stopped shivering and was sinking into death. Getting out of the wind was a help. But, I had to get back down the mountain. I began praying, not normally a very religious person.

Two hikers appeared. They were like angels. They told me, "If you can follow us, we're going down the trail." It took almost a superhuman effort on my part to hike through the fierce winds, and follow them down. I had not captured any of this on film, being that I was preoccupied with my survival and situation. The camera would have gotten soaked, too.

Struggling so much, I managed to get back to my dumped gear, while the storm abated. I had done the peak, and was now recovering from my hypothermia. Though, I thought later that I may have been brain damaged. Staggering back to camp, I slept soundly while still wet. I had heard warnings that it rained daily from 3 to 5. Never having experienced such things, I had thought nothing of that.

It was back down the trail to the Portal, the next morning, where I got a ride back to the highway. I began to thumb home, and arrived safely and successfully, with a tale to tell.

Doing Mt. Whitney, 2X, the next year on a backpack from South Lake, and via the John Muir Trail, I was to climb it again in 1984 and 2001, both as day hikes. I joined the Sierra Club in 1972, though at first, I was partly excluded. It isn't now seen as much of an ascent, compared to other peaks, but it was my first big one. My closest brush with doom, I was to buy special climbing and backpacking gear, and became so safety conscious. You can die while trying to have fun, and the mountains are not the hike haven or the safest place to play.

I try to assist people seeking to do the same, on the Internet, and before this, contributed my photos to a book on climbing Mt. Whitney. Most will hike the peak, and leave it as that. I came to be in complete agreement with this John Muir quote:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail.

And this:

Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever.