The weather was close to perfect, perhaps on the warm side of ideal, but it's hard to complain about sunshine in the Sierras. Even after I broke out of my morning funk, I wasn't in a rush to increase my pace. I set my legs on cruise control and gazed up at the granite walls rising thousands of feet over my head. The chiseled spires and crumbling slopes had an air of familiarity, much more recent than I knew them to be. I was surprised by how much I remembered from my first visit here, and it was interesting to revisit the memories through the vibrant filter of a decade of experiences.
My dad waited for me for a bit, and the three of us walked to the top together. We shared hugs of congratulations, pictures of the geographic marker — with a reading of 14,496 feet — and more granola bars. "It's the top of the country," my dad said. "Well, except for Alaska." I grinned with a sense of accomplishment. It was a struggle to get there, which I realized made it all the more rewarding. I'd never been so high, or felt so strong.
Standing at the the highest elevation of my life yet for a second time, I suddenly wished that I hadn't climbed this mountain alone. It would have been better to share this moment again with my father, or with Beat, who I guiltily remembered was still busy doing actual work on the other side of the world. As much as I enjoy and need my solo outings to re-energize, my best memories remain with the people I love. Just then, a coughing fit erupted, and for a moment panicked that I might see blood on the rocks. I didn't feel all that bad, but I also know that I've spent a lot of energy over the past decade conditioning my mind to ignore my body's warning signs, and I don't have any real experience with pulmonary edema to know when it actually hits. But no, my cough was clear. I was fine. I was as high as I'd ever been.
22-mile hike took me 9.5 hours, a pace that, sadly, would amount to a big DNF at UTMB. Not that I viewed these much higher elevations as a realistic gauge of my fitness, but the experience was eye-opening about difficulty of the goals I've set. Sometimes I think I'm so much stronger than I was a decade ago, and sometimes I wonder if that's really the case. But then I remember that I'm exactly as strong as I need to be, when I still have the opportunity to visit places like Mount Whitney.