By Zane Keith
One of my personal highlights from 2016 was a one-day trek up to the summit of Mount Whitney. At the end of June, nine Hughes Marino team members set out on an amazing journey. This team-building trip was a memorable experience for all of us and the details are worth sharing.
Preparation began in August 2015. Following a similar trip to Mount Whitney in July, Tucker Hughes was determined to do it again, this time with a bigger group. I remember being at Petco Park for Hughes Marino Padres Night. I was new to the company and had only met Tucker one other time prior. He walked up to me and said, “You look like you’re in good shape — if I organize a climb up Mt. Whitney next year you’re in, right?” Of course I was in!
Aside from being a regular climber, it’s impossible to adequately prepare for this trip, but we all did our best. Everything started with research via Google. Next, we picked the brains of those who’d done it before. This is where most of your solid intel can be found – direct information on what works and what doesn’t. Most of us started conditioning three to four weeks prior: lots of running on top of our regular workouts, clean-ish eating, and practice runs up local mountains. On the night before departure we gathered our goods- water, protein bars, sunscreen, extra socks and Excedrin. All the essentials. Our final box to check was a solid team dinner together. And then some sleep, even if it was just a couple hours.
Lightning and rain were in the afternoon forecast so our goal was to be on the mountain earlier than originally planned. To beat the weather, our crew was on the trailhead by 1:45 a.m. – everyone in the group was fairly winded by 2:15 a.m. The first few hours were pitch black, we could only see what our headlights illuminated. Though we did our best to keep on the trail, small sidetracks are inevitable. As the sun rose, the beauty of what was around us started to become apparent. We stopped to take a break, knowing a long road remained ahead, but this sunrise was when everyone realized we were embarking on a very moving experience.
The sunrise distracted us for a good 15 minutes, but we all knew what lied ahead. Mount Whitney is famous for its 99 switchbacks, the most brutal portion of the hike. Back and forth you go, for hours. Walk for 15 minutes and rest; walk for 15 and rest; walk for 10 minutes and rest. We were way up in altitude at this point and the lack of oxygen had become a problem. Our guys just kept going. Walking across the last switchback was a big victory, a definite milestone. We took a few minutes to celebrate as a group, but again, there wasn’t much time to waste. We were high in altitude with miles left to the summit. Thankfully, there was a little downhill portion just over the mountain crest, a brief-but-needed rest for our legs. We were off to the backside.
The Home Stretch
There was a theme throughout the journey: just keep going. Our fear of failure killed any desire to quit. Flatlanders like us are used to an unlimited supply of dirty oxygen, and our crew was now at an elevation of 14,000 feet. At this height, the effective oxygen level is about 12% (but at least it’s clean). To say we were struggling at this point was an understatement. Our group was moving at a snail’s pace. The last two miles up top took us almost two hours. Mile 11 was the hardest. Your head hurts, your feet are wet/dirty, you’re thirsty, your legs are trashed, and you’re out of energy. Still, our guys kept going. Everyone could see the summit but all nine of us remained together. We were a team. And as a team, we reached the summit. It was a view I’ll never forget. I remember big smiles, high fives and a sigh of relief from all of us. We were all so tired it took a rally cry to snap the group photo. Then we rested, ate, and did our best to not fall asleep. Still ahead: 11 miles back down the mountain. The descent also included lightning, thunder and a little rain. We drank water from streams as the trail never seemed to end. By 3:15 p.m. we caught sight of our driver. It took us 13.5 hours to hike 22 miles, spanning 12,000 feet of elevation change. At this point our bodies were in shambles and our brains out of touch, but this misery was overcome by a tremendous sense of self-satisfaction.
Mount Whitney’s trail isn’t really treacherous, overly technical or scary, but it is grueling to complete in a single day. Our guys just kept going, and we were proud to have succeeded as a team. Each of us played a part pushing the group forward, whether it was setting the pace, knowing when to stop and rest, or sharing a bite of a candy bar. As a group we were strong. Nine like-minded people of different ages, backgrounds, skill sets, and fitness levels displayed extreme mental toughness that day. The will to succeed and deny failure outweighed the desire to quit. Is it ironic we all somehow found our way to Hughes Marino? Probably not. Behind the company’s beautiful offices and comfy t-shirts is a team of fighters – and among other things, we’re champions of the underdog. Our people are different at the root. At Hughes Marino, we fight for family and we fight for what’s important. Successful business is a byproduct of who we are and the way we live our lives inside and outside the office. No matter the challenge or setback we just keep going.