I laid in our tent, waiting for the guys to return, the only refuge from the relentless sun. Infrequent bouts of nausea washed over me and my head was still pounding. Thankfully, the excruciating pins and needles that took over my entire body had subsided. I made it to 13,600 feet, just 905 feet shy of the summit, and 100’ short to the top of the 99 switchbacks when I felt sudden AMS (acute mountain sickness) symptoms. As soon as I started dry heaving over the side of the rocky trail I knew my Whitney attempt was over. Tears rolled down my face as the guys tried to assess my condition to see if I could continue or not but I already knew I had to turn back. Although my body was fine, my brain wasn’t, and I knew pushing it any further could have dire consequences.
I kissed Tony, told him to take lots of photos on the summit and let out a few cuss words. I was more than disappointed. I turned to head down the trail slowly to our camp- back to 12,000 feet and a little more oxygen. I couldn’t control my tears at first, but found crying on my way down the exposed switchbacks with burning eyes wasn’t very safe so I pulled myself together. I gave words of encouragement to everyone heading up in between dry heaving every few minutes.
My ego tried to tell me what a failure I was. How could I not make it to the summit? How would I face everyone when I got off the mountain and have to admit I didn’t make it? I was one of the 2/3 of people that attempt the summit and don’t make it. I quickly let those thoughts go. AMS can affect anyone at anytime, including me, who did everything “right” for this trip. I transmuted those negative thoughts and began staying in the moment and being present to the absolutely magical place I was. I took the whole mountain into my soul- the beauty, the energy, the people that have hiked it before me, the sheer power, and was so grateful that I was there, summit or not.
After a few hours at 12,000 feet I started to feel a little bit better and I actually felt hunger. I opened my package of Skittles- a special treat I had envisioned enjoying on the summit. I savored each color and they tasted just as good in my tent with views of that magnificent mountain waiting for the guys to return after their magnificent summit of the highest peak in the continental United States.
Jaime Purinton ❤️