On the 28th of April three Toreros set out to summit the highest peak in the contiguous 48. Rosie Bates, a senior studying psychology and president of the climbing team, pulled Connell Ford and myself from our respective studies in Environmental Science and Mechanical engineering to spend a weekend mountaineering. I met Rosie through the Outdoor Adventures program at USD and we quickly befriended Connell through a mutual love of rock-climbing. The three of us have climbed all over the southwest including, Red Rocks, Joshua tree and Tahquitz and decided it would be a worthy venture to expand our climbing experience with an attempt of Mount Whitney.
Mount Whitney is a deceiving mountain in that from the south it is a sheer granite facade, to be climbed by only the most ambitious of alpinists. However from the north, a meandering trail can be spotted winding up the very gradual slope to the summit where you can find Grandpa and his troop of boy scouts peering out across the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Rosie, Connell and four other friends from our local climbing gym and I did not however meander up this scout trail, but instead challenged the Mountaineers Route, which links three lakes then cuts just to the right of the menacing face of Whitney, and works up a glacier to a saddle, known as the notch. From there it is fourth class (hands required) climbing until the top.
With two midterms looming Monday; at 6 am on Saturday we pealed ourselves out of warm sleeping bags and loaded with ice axes, crampons, tent, clothes, and a large assortment of other amenities strapped to our overflowing climbing packs, we left our laptops and text books to challenge the altitude. Going from Sea-level to 14,500 ft in a weekend proved to have been as audacious as Mark Ceder, OA’s program manager, had promised, and by noon, three out of our group of seven had the rhythm of their heart pounding in their ears, a classic symptom of Acute Mountain Sickness. We were forced to descend, and spent the rest of Saturday acclimating at lower altitude. At dusk we ascended to base camp at 12,000 ft just shy of the mountaineers route, already having left one behind due to the altitude sickness.
Sunday morning began in the dark, where we spent an hour cramming snow into our little stove and patiently waiting for it to melt, staying hydrated being a vital to an attempt at summiting. Following Cairns by the light of headlamps we arrived at Glacier Lake, the last of the frozen lakes that marked the beginning of snow travel. We strapped on crampons, and wielding our ice axes, ascended the glacier that crept up the 1500-foot couloir, a narrow gully that provides passage in mountainous terrain. With determined, slow, methodical movement we crawled up the steep slope, fully committed to each step, until we reached the notch. At this point two group member were kneeled over, head in palms, irritable and demoralized by the altitude. Just 900 vertical feet from the summit we could almost taste it. With additional hydration, some food and technical breathing we stabilized our hypoxia, the headaches subsided, and we climbed to the top. Summiting yielded a 360 degree panorama of the serrated peaks of the Sierra Nevada and basin ranges. The summit was short-lived and we descended that afternoon, arriving back at school at 2:00 am, just 10 hours before my Manufacturing Processes Midterm.
That weekend climb filled my thoughts the following week back on campus. Classes, although the focus of college, does not have to dictate how students spend all their time. With young bodies and ambitious hearts, USD students can seize endless opportunities if they are searched for and pursued; and when that graduation hat is thrown, hopefully more then just work towards a resume and memorable parties will fill the memoir of a San Diego student’s college days. We can all find our own tribe of friends, set big goals and pursue activities that nourish our soul.
- Sean Schrag-Toso '14
Sean is entering his senior year at USD. He is a Resident Assistant, member of the Alcala Club, president of the USD Climbing Team and Lead Guide for Outdoor Adventures. When not climbing, Sean enjoys surfing, riding his bike around town, long walks on the beach and pondering the great questions of of humanity.