One Step At A Time

Meet Connie: minimalist, health and outdoor enthusiast based out of Los Angeles, CA, but originally from Chino, CA. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with her to learn more about her recent experience summiting Mt. Whitney.

Name: Connie

Pronouns: she/her

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Favorite quote: “One day or day one. You decide.”

When did you start hiking? While in college, I started to do casual hikes of no more than 5 miles. Nothing too extreme though. It wasn’t until 2016, that I started to get more into the outdoors.

How did you get into it? I stumbled upon Girls Who Hike LA (GWHLA) through social media. I joined the Facebook group around the summer of ’16 and was inspired by what I came across. They were planning a September hike to Mount Baldy, a mountain close to my hometown. I committed to train and summit this mountain for my birthday! Long story short, after Mount Baldy I was hooked. (Thanks to GWHLA for putting together this hike and guiding us along the mountain.)

hiking mt baldy.jpg

You refer to yourself as an outdoor enthusiast. Have you always been an enthusiast? What interests you most about the outdoors? I use the term “outdoors enthusiast” in a very general sense. I spend a lot of time indoors due to work, and I know this is the same for many of us. I like to spend time outdoors, every chance I get, whether it be a long run outside, a pickup soccer game or a long day hike, anything to breathe fresh air and get my dose of Vitamin D.

Knowing these places have been here all my life and I am just now discovering them keeps me wondering what else is out there.

What I like most about hiking and being outdoors are the peaceful and challenging moments, which result in a growing experience for me. Within the past two years, I have discovered local mountains and started taking camping and hiking trips a few times a month. Knowing these places have been here all my life and I am just now discovering them keeps me wondering what else is out there.

When did you decide that you wanted to hike Mt. Whitney? Has this always been a goal of yours? A year ago, Mt. Whitney seemed like a long shot for me, but after experiencing longer and harder hikes, I began to realize that I was capable of completing a hike of this magnitude. I used to overlook “hard” and “extraneous” labeled hikes, but next thing I knew, those hikes didn’t scare me anymore. At the beginning of 2018, I convinced my girlfriend, who is always supportive of my goals and ambitions, to do the hike with me. Together, we decided to sign up for the lottery. Although we didn’t get selected in the lottery, I was able to snag permits on July 28, when there was going to be a full moon.

Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, in other words, this mountain is no joke. How did you prepare for Mt. Whitney? Training for a hike like this doesn’t only happen on weekend hikes. What you do outside the mountains matters too. I browsed around the internet to find blogs that strictly focused on training schedules and workouts to hike Mt. Whitney. Ultimately, I would need to be able to walk 22 miles and climb 6,000 feet of elevation gain. What I took away from the blogs was that I was going to have to hike a lot, and I had to work out hard, so I created my own hiking and workout schedule. I love having something to work towards….an end goal in sight.

hiking cucamonga.jpg

As part of my hiking and workout schedule, we summited mountains from the SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge (not including San Gorgonio or San Bernardino Peak). When we had commitments on the weekends we couldn’t cancel, we did short hikes with low elevation gain. One time during the heat wave in summer, we decided to skip out on heading into the wilderness and instead opted for a hardcore stair master session at the gym. I literally spent over 2 hours straight on the stair master. At that moment, I realized my endurance was higher than it had ever been. I was motivated. While during other workouts, I pushed myself a little more than I thought I could. I believe that by doing so, it helped me realize that my body could do more than I thought it could.

I than used Half Dome as a pre-test to Mt.Whitney, but also gave it the respect it deserved.

Aside from Mt. Whiney, I also had been wanting to take on Half Dome. Unfortunately, the year prior, the fires around Yosemite had polluted the air so we decided to skip out on the trek. This year I had my sights on early summer to lessen the probability of fires affecting our hike. I than used Half Dome as a pre-test to Mt. Whitney, but also gave it the respect it deserved.

Even after all the physical training I had done, I knew altitude was something we were going to have to deal with while on the mountain. I read about Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and other situations that can occur. I wanted to be as knowledgeable and well prepared as I could be, so I bought the book, “One Best Hike: Mount Whitney” by Elizabeth Wenk. I read a lot of blogs and talked to people who had summited Mt. Whitney before. The weekend before, I was at a coffee shop in Santa Monica reading the book when a guy approached me. It turns out he had just summited Mt. Whitney! I asked him a bunch of questions and took in all the information based on his trip report and our conversation. I was able to hear a recent experience on what I could expect hiking Mt. Whitney.

Please describe your experience on Mt. Whitney. What do you remember most? What was it like to Summit? We started our journey at 12:30 am on July 28. We had slept in our car at the trailhead at 6pm the day before and experienced hail, rain and lightning. Luckily by 12:30 am the skies had cleared up and there weren’t any thunderstorms in the forecast for the day. We knew bear sightings were common at the Whitney Portal, so we cautiously got our packs ready and were on our way. There were small groups of people starting around this time as well, so it was exciting knowing not only were we not alone, but we were all on the same journey with the same goal in mind.

Hiking in the dark was a new experience for me, as I looked around at little bobbing headlamps, I felt like we were all ants on the trail together. Other than our headlamps, all we had was the full moon to light our way. We even encountered some scary eyes staring back at us that thankfully turned out to be a deer, not a bear. We reached Trail Camp at dawn and witnessed a beautiful sunrise. We rested and took the opportunity to filter our water before beginning the 99 switchbacks.

Connie Summiting.JPG

When reading about Mt. Whitney, it’s very common to hear how dreadful and never ending the 99 switchbacks are. I threw all those thoughts out the window. I was once again going to focus on just taking one step in front of the other. As we continued to climb, this is where I really started noticing the altitude and shortness of breath. Throughout the hike we tried to munch on snacks as much as possible even with our appetite depreciating because of the altitude. We also took sips of our water as often as we could. However, the views also started to get better and better the higher we climbed, which was motivating and a little scary seeing how much we were climbing and how far we’ve come. Once we got to Trail Crest, I was relieved because I knew we were almost there.

What I remember most about my experience is the last 2 miles to the summit from Trail Crest because it was the hardest mentally and physically.

What I remember most about my experience is the last 2 miles to the summit from Trail Crest because it was the hardest mentally and physically. I dislike hiking on any type of rock as my feet begin to ache soon after. With the altitude and our bodies slowing down immensely, I knew this last part to the summit was going to be the hardest. My girlfriend and I kept giving encouraging messages to each other, which really helped. Hikers descending the mountain also gave us encouraging words and seeing John Muir Trail (JMT) hikers was inspiring. They had all these miles under their belt because they started hiking from Yosemite and they still summited Mount Whitney.

I wanted to turn around a few times, but the thought was never serious. I was just so exhausted from the elevation. It turned out my girlfriend was also having these same thoughts. If one of us would have said it out loud, I think we would have considered it!!  We joke about it now, but we knew we had to be strong and push through the exertion.

Connie and Analyse.JPG

The part before the summit is a straight shot to the Whitney hut--- this was the most emotional part for me. I would take about 10 steps and get deep breathes. Once I finally saw the hut, all the feelings I was refusing to feel through the hike rushed up, and I started to cry. I was proud of myself and proud of my girlfriend. We were at the tallest point in the Lower 48 States!! It was a feeling like nothing else.

Connie at Summit.JPG

At the top, I really felt the altitude and waves of lightheadedness came and went. Fortunately, we didn’t experience any serious symptoms of AMS. We chose not to take any intense prescription medicine and instead relied on chlorophyll pills and Advil pills to get us through our light symptoms (this advice is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment). I was happy though and had a lot of adrenaline while up there. I meditated and thanked the universe for creating mountains like these for humans to walk on and experience views like no other. I was proud of myself for overcoming my doubts and pushing myself to a new extreme. We took a break, ate, signed the register, snapped a few pictures, got ourselves reset and we were off for the second half of the hike, the descent.

Once again when I finally saw the trailhead I got emotional---this brown girl had completed Mount Whitney.

The way down was long and very tiring. On the bright side, we saw parts of the trail we had hiked in the dark so it was nice to see what it looked like in the daylight. However, the part after Outpost camp to the trailhead was never-ending. My fatigue was taking over and I felt like a zombie. I just was taking one step after the other. My feet were hurting and my body was aching. I had given it my all on this hike. Once again when I finally saw the trailhead I got emotional---this brown girl had completed Mount Whitney.

How do you deal with self-doubt on the trails? I read in one of your social media posts, that even with all the training you did leading up to Mt. Whitney, you still doubted yourself at times. Any long hike is also mentally challenging. Thoughts can pop up into your head, “Can I really do this?”, “Am I even a real hiker?”, “What did I get myself into?” are all questions I asked myself. Then I reminded myself that I worked hard to get to this point and I can do this. I was prepared, and I was ready to face any situation if needed.

Connie .jpg

I know you and your girlfriend Analyse have done a lot of adventures and challenges this year together. What has hiking together taught you about yourself, Analyse and your relationship together. I am grateful to have a partner that enjoys being outdoors as much as I do and that we get to share one of a kind experiences with each other. We are both adventurous, but my partner, Analyse, likes to push herself out of her comfort zone more than I do. I am usually the more cautious one, thinking “what if”, but she is there to tell me “what if not”. I get zoned in on the trail sometimes and Analyse reminds me to enjoy the moment and be grateful for the experience of us being surrounded by nature.

Although, we have our ups and downs on the trails, I think being out there for so long forces us to talk things out——our type of therapy. I have discovered that we are a good balance and that no matter what she supports me and will be there for me and vice versa.

In what ways would you say you show up for yourself and what would you say to someone, who is just getting started on their self-care journey? The moment I force myself out of bed when those 4 am or 5 am alarms go off on the day of a hike and I want to hit snooze or just cancel the hike altogether, I am showing up for myself. I know what is to come will be good for me and I will feel accomplished once I am on the mountain. I make an effort to meditate in some capacity on the mountain. Once I finish meditating, I feel at peace and I am happy.

To anyone getting started on their self-care journey, write down your personal goals and place them somewhere where you can see them often.

To anyone getting started on their self-care journey, write down your personal goals and place them somewhere where you can see them often. Figure out what habits you need to develop to get you where you want to be. Remind yourself of the reward when you don’t want to do something and just do it.

What are some outdoor issues that are important to you? Diversifying the outdoors. I was not exposed to any activities related to hiking or camping until I was in college. I’m happy that there are now a lot of great organizations that are reaching out to the younger generation and minorities with the goal of introducing them to the outdoors. I also think it’s a step in the right direction that outdoor companies are starting to slowly feature more people of color. However, I recently became aware of the lack of people of color in outdoor documentaries. For instance, in most cases the leading protagonists are white males. Although the stories are inspiring and their triumphs should not be lessened, I hope to soon see adventure stories featuring people of color on the big screen.

We have been underrepresented but as long as we keep getting ourselves outdoors we are making our presence known.