In September, my cousin, her boyfriend and I made our second attempt on Mt. Whitney. It was such a fantastic, rewarding experience in 2015 that as soon as we got back to the trail head, we started talking about doing it again the next year.
Unfortunately, the 2016 attempt didn’t go as smoothly.
My cousin had been taking Diamox (an altitude sickness medication) that she didn’t realize had expired, so the altitude hit her fast and hard. But my cousin is also such a badass that she made it all the way to Trail Meadow despite vomiting for miles.
She worried that turning back would make her seem weak. Au contraire, cuz…I would have turned back at the second upchuck!
Why you shouldn’t separate from your party
Many people have asked me why I didn’t just continue on and send her back to the trail head. (Note to self: don’t hike with those people!)
There are several reasons:
- That’s how the vast majority of search and rescue calls start: the group breaks up and later, someone doesn’t return to camp as planned.
- It’s just not a nice thing to do. My cousin was sick, vomiting and weak. You shouldn’t send someone in that condition off by themselves. You have a responsibility to your party to ensure that everyone is safe. No summit is worth ditching people so you can personally make it. Could you even enjoy it if you did that? I wouldn’t.
- It can discourage being honest about your condition if you think your party will leave you when you say you’re not going to be able to go further. If everyone knows that the group is going to stay together no matter what, you feel much more safe in saying that you need a long break or that you can’t continue.
Hiking solo is one thing; it’s all your call whether you keep going, quit, take a long break, whatever.
When you hike in a group, you’re a team and you stick together. You’re all in it, for better or for worse.
Please, never ditch anyone who isn’t feeling well.
It’s mean at best and could be fatal at worst.