Welcome to my Wilderness Journal

You may enjoy my September 2012 blog: Sharing Experiences of Great Mystery, which describes the purpose of this wilderness log, photo-art gallery, and poetry corner. In Peace, Bob

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mount Whitney: The Wedding on the Mount

Judy, Les & minister at Wedding Ledge posing for photo shoot © Bob Hare 2012

Sunday, September 2, 1984, Whitney Summit, Sequoia National Park, 1:34 pm 

Life is indeed miraculous. Here I sit at 14,495 feet above the sea looking down thousands of feet to glacial tarns with icebergs floating in them and I’m sipping champagne in my green plastic cup! We just finished celebrating the wedding of Les and Judy.  A descending hiker I met near Guitar Lake told be about the wedding and I met the entourage—witnesses, bride, groom, and Methodist preacher after I had passed Trail Crest at 13,600 feet.

Looking SW from Whitney Summit to Mt Hitchcock & Lakes © Bob Hare 2012

Whitney Summit from approach trail © Bob Hare
I look up the range ninety air miles to Mounts Ritter and Banner, the Palisades and Mt. Sill, and reflect on all the magnificent peaks, passes, and lakes I’ve backpacked among during the last three weeks and the wonderful people I’ve met. Ending up at my long-anticipated goal to find myself invited to a wedding on Whitney is an amazingly synchronous event! Particularly considering that on my fifth day out on this leg of my hike and after much rain, cold, and loneliness I thought about dropping down one of the side passes to civilization. As I celebrate this couple’s marriage I will also be celebrating the successful conclusion of my John Muir Trail adventure.

Bob about to crash the Wedding. Trail Crest Junction with Summit in view © Bob Hare 2012
I can’t yet put my finger on it but I’ve worked through some personal conflicts during these three weeks of isolation, adventure, reflection, dreams, tears, joy, and hard work. For me this marriage symbolizes a union of opposites and contradictions I’m working out within myself.

After taking the north-trending spur trail from Trail Crest I first overtook the minister, then I passed the bride and her party, and finally I caught up with the groom and his party. Somehow the parents of the couple were nowhere to be seen! 

Stone Hut on Whitney Summit showing Bride's Path to Wedding Site © Bob Hare 2012

Upon arriving at Whitney Summit Les and Judy entered the stone hut built in 1909 by the Smithsonian Institution to protect climbers from lightning. They emerged in full wedding regalia. 

The Newlyweds pose for photographer in plane flyby © Bob Hare 2012

The groom and minister took their places right at the peak’s dramatic eastern edge and the honored guests (invited and drop-ins alike) lined the rocky aisle holding paper flowers. Judy nimbly negotiated the boulders in her bridal gown and high-heeled shoes as the minister played “Here Comes the Bride” on a harmonica with the guests humming along. The wedding couple and the minister were so close to the precipice that one of the women in the party clearly voiced her concern that they make it to their wedding night. The minister opened with a greeting to this unique congregation and read from The Prophet about marriage. Judy and Les exchanged vows and kissed to a round of applause and the first round of champagne was poured into all sorts of backpacking cups for a toast.

At exactly 1:00 pm, the groom uncorked a second champagne bottle and the cork shot up like a rocket and seemed to never come down. I loudly proclaimed it “the highest cork in the world!” A second round of bubbly was distributed as a small plane flown by a friend of the couple appeared at eye level struggling to gain and maintain this altitude. The plane circled dangerously close to get aerial photos of the cheering wedding party toasting the couple and the plane. The photographer on board was from the Los Angeles Times which was doing a story on this highest wedding in the lower 48 states.

The Bride tosses her bouquet blessing to brides to be © Bob Hare 2012

Judy tossed the bouquet which was caught by an athletic blonde in her forties. Then the groom turned up his bride’s gown and removed the garter and fired it like a large rubber band into the air. 

The Groom removes the Bride's garter at 14,497' © Bob Hare 2012
Probably due to my three week workout at 10-14,000 feet elevations, my jump was a little higher than the other half dozen hands reaching for the prize. The wedding certificate was signed, presented, and photographed and the wedded couple retreated to the hut to change back into hiking garb for the descent.

Bob with garter-prize adorning champagne-filled camp cup © Bob Hare 2012

The last of the 150 or so visitors to the summit departed at 5:30 pm and I was left alone on the summit. I went out to the ledge to enjoy the view of the 10,000 foot drop to the Owens Valley and to have my meager supper (what was left from two weeks of food I started with). I finished the last of fourteen carrots, my sesame sticks, the last cube of Velveeta, and most of the peanut butter. I saved the rest of the “squeeze-cheese” tube and the dried apples a fellow gave me this afternoon for breakfast and for trail snacks on my descent to civilization tomorrow.

Bob wearing garter on arm with Whitney Shadow © Bob Hare 2012

After dinner I sat on the ledge watching the huge pyramidal shadow of Whitney rising toward the eastern horizon-- looking as if it stretched all the way to Kansas. It was eerily silent, the wind had stopped, and the air had mysteriously warmed. I felt deeply alone after the departure of the celebratory wedding party. Suddenly I wondered whether I had hallucinated the entire event after my long solitary adventure. But I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out the frilly baby blue garter and said to myself, “I didn’t leave with this when I started my backpack trip!”

© Bob Hare 2012

Then I heard voices below my ledge and I yelled out a “Hello down there!.” A voice responded, “Are you on the summit?” I said I was. An hour later two men topped out with one of them shivering badly with hypothermia from holding onto cold rocks after the sun had moved behind the east face they were climbing. I offered him my gloves and jacket and gave them my tent and poncho to sleep on in the hut. I got two candles from another climbing party for them to use.

Monday morning, Labor Day, September 3, 1984, Whitney Summit

Whitney Summit Hut Sunset © Bob Hare

As it turned out none of us on the summit slept much last night. The two climbers who made it to the top (who were not the ones I had hailed) sat on the rock bench talking and trying to stay warm. I found my bag a bit chilly without my jacket to wear inside especially with the cold wind which started up during the night. The climbers were not acclimated and one walked around the summit wretching on and off for thirty minutes.

Bivouac Climbers appear on summit © Bob Hare 2012

Last night’s wind has stopped and the air has warmed. With the morning sunrise six more East Face climbers appeared over the edge (including the two I had hailed yesterday evening). They were three male climbers with three women who had never climbed before, all of whom huddled in an icy cave 75’ below the summit after giving up at 10:30 pm any hope of making the summit that night. Right now they are having their pictures taken.

So all is well on Whitney this Labor Day morning. The incense at my little altar is burning low next to the peace flag with the sprig of sage and I am perched on a ledge overlooking sapphire-colored Iceberg Lake.

I am packed and ready to go down as soon as I finish these notes. The drab and somewhat disheveled grey-crowned rosy finches are on a rock slab next to me. Iceberg Lake is glistening in the sunlight far below. Mounts Sill, Ritter, and Banner stand clearly on the northern horizon. Salt flats lie to the southeast and the horizon is generally hazy this morning. I paid my respects yesterday to the setting sun and to this morning's sunrise from the highest point in the contiguous United States. My peace flag has made it with me to the top and I’ll carry it with me on my travels over the next year. 

Trail to Whitney Portal passes Consultation Lake © Bob Hare

Now for my eleven-mile 6,137 foot drop to Whitney Portal where I’ll hopefully find a lift to Highway 395 and then a ride north to Bishop and then the final hitch-hike west into the mountains to South Lake/Bishop Pass Trailhead where I left Betsy, my 1974 blue Dodge Dart Swinger. Then I’m headed to Edwards AFB to spend the night at the salt flat landing strip awaiting the maiden landing of Space Shuttle Discovery on September 5.

May all Beings be well, happy, and free. Peace to you, Bob

 Note: Unless attributed to other sources all text, poems, photographs and artwork in this blog and other blogs entitled "Wilderness Adventures with Bob Hare" are copyrighted © 2012 by Bob Hare. The phrase "Wilderness Adventures with Bob Hare" is a trademark of Bob Hare.