Hiking Mt. Whitney to honor the dead helps to say goodbye

The sun began to rise, coating the Sierra Nevada with a fiery red that I had only seen in postcards until then. I leaned dumbly against the granite face of Mount Whitney, gazing at the view right after finishing a series of 99 grueling turns.

During that two-mile stretch, I was very playful. Maybe I feel lightheaded from the same height as my hiking partner, but I like to think of it as euphoria. I was so focused on what I was doing when I first peaked at the Lower 48, I didn’t allow myself much time to think or feel.

The significance that my first summit took place when my brother finished the last really hit me at the time. I started to feel. In a profound way.

On June 30, 2012, my brother, Michael Ybarra, died in a climbing accident on the northern edge of Yosemite National Park. Mike is a Wall Street Journal extreme sports reporter and previously worked for the Los Angeles Times. Mike started climbing in his 30s. He threw himself into his new-found passion with the dedication and discipline that is typical of Mike.

My wish is to climb Mount Whitney on his 55th birthday, September 28, 2021, lived in the fog in my mind for a while. I don’t know how to complete this task. I’ve never done a major escalation, certainly not anything that requires the kind of stamina that Mt. Whitney demanded. But I was determined.

Michael Ybarra's Tibetan Prayer flags surround a photo of him climbing.

Michael Ybarra’s Tibetan Prayer flags surround a photo of him climbing.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Our parents divorced when we were young, so my siblings and I formed a deep bond. A few years older, Mike is an inspiration to me – talented and daring. His sudden death left me without the anchor that once supported me. I cope by immersing myself in the outdoors, which Mike loves. It made me feel closer to him and brought solace. As well as climbing Mount Whitney, despite the challenges.

The last 1.9 miles is hellish terrain. I was so tired that I kept twisting my ankles on uneven rocks. There was no wind and no sun, the trail was very narrow. Along this particularly dangerous section, I wonder if anyone has ever slipped and fallen to their death. One to two people die on Mount Whitney on average per yearafter all.

I know my brother has also faced fear during his climbing career. From “Climbing alone, risking it all,” a Wall Street Journal article he wrote about freelancing solo because he couldn’t find a mate: “I started climbing down, clutching the crack. as if it was the only thing standing between me and eternity – which it was. My eyes searched the empty rock for the smallest carpet I could put my foot on. I am acutely aware that each move could be my last.”

Gathering my fledgling climbing skills, I climbed to the top. It took 11 hours and months of training to reach 14,505 feet.

Before hiking, I expected that once at the summit, thoughts of Mike and his time here would permeate my mind. But the hike was so strenuous that, if anything, it taught me what it means to live in the moment. Once at the top, I didn’t reflect on Mike’s absence but on how relieved I was that I finally made it.

A woman puts her hand on her chest outdoors

Suzanne Ybarra at the UCLA Botanical Garden Mildred E. Mathias.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

I also understand the sense of success Mike feels when climbing the mountain. The peak is smaller than I imagined, almost like a small island perched on top of a valley dotted with lakes and mountains covered in beige and gray. The clouds look as if they were painted with wide white brush strokes marking the soft blue sky. I have seen the American West, in all its grandeur and grandeur.

In the conference register at the top, hidden in a metal box leaning against a stone hut built more than 110 years ago by astronomers, I wrote, “In memory of Michael Ybarra, September 28, 1966 to June 30, 2012”. After finishing my inscription, I photographed it from multiple angles, trying to get the clearest picture. I wanted to give it to my 88-year-old father, who came with me to Lone Pine, the town closest to the trailhead for Mount Whitney.

Sheet of paper with handwritten entries

The Mount Whitney Summit Register shows Suzanne Ybarra’s memo to her brother.

(From Mari Uchiyama)

Feeling apologetic for taking so long, I apologize to the team behind. I explained that I went hiking in memory of my dead brother and that it was his birthday. One woman in the group, whose face was obscured by sunglasses and winter wear, said she understood because she went up Mount Whitney in memory of her father, who passed away in January. She said that her brothers had also previously passed away. “I am very happy to be here,” she said. I felt an instant connection to this faceless woman. Her entry also marks her loss: “Delilah Patterson, Apple Valley, CA. Did this for you, dad RIP. Armando Garza 2/15/49-1/16/21. “

Delilah is hiking with her friend, Paula. Surprisingly, she got her day permit to climb Mount Whitney last fall, as did my hiking partner Mari Uchiyama, who is married to Mike’s best friend and friend, Eric Gafner. Both trips were canceled due to fires in the area.

Paula said: “We cried a few times today – it was emotional. It felt so coincidental that we were all there that day.

A man and a woman stood on top of a mountain, his arm around her shoulder.

Michael Ybarra and Marissa Christman atop Mount Whitney in late June 2012 on his last peak before his death climbing in Yosemite National Park.

(From Marissa Christman)

Mike and his friend, Marissa Christman, spent what would be his last week alive rock climbing in the Eastern Sierra. They climbed the eastern face of Mount Whitney just days before his death.

“We actually went there to climb a route [nearby] Mount Russell. Whitney was a quick decision before we left the same day,” Marissa told me in an email.

A sturdy looking black glove

Gloves that Mike Ybarra uses for his hiking adventure in snowy conditions.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Blue helmet with ventilation holes.

Blue helmet with ventilation holes.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

I realized my dream of climbing Mount Whitney could come true when another of Mike’s climbing partners, Misha Logvinov, told me that there are many routes up, including one that doesn’t require a claim. climbing skills. Then the pieces started falling into place.

One day, Mari messaged me on Instagram about her wanting to climb Mount Whitney. I couldn’t believe my luck. Even better, my brother’s first Whitney attempt was with Eric in January 2006, so it looks like I’ll be teaming up with his wife. Eric and Mike were held accountable for part of their unsuccessful ascent.

“The trail was buried so we figured out the route when we used the map. Mike fell through the snow once and got caught in a tree. You can see the ground about 15 feet below,” Eric texted me. “We knew we were the only fools in the mountains because the ski runs and the ski runs both stopped after the first half mile. We have never done it [to the summit]but there was an explosion. “

Mari and I began our hike up Mount Whitney with a glimpse of a shooting star. Then, as I went up, I understood little by little, what Mike had seen and felt on the mountain. I experienced a part of his life that I never had before, seeing what he saw, walking where he walked.

I felt happy at the summit, which I didn’t expect. On my brother’s birthday, I’m usually sad, wishing I could see him again to say goodbye. At the top of Mount Whitney, perhaps I must finally say goodbye.

Information about the Mt. Whitney

Trail length: 22 miles

Trail elevation: 8,330 feet

Peak altitude: 14,505 feet

Elevation: Approximately 6,175 feet

Hiking Permit Per Day: Approximately 195 from May 1 to November 1

https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2022-06-30/hiking-mt-whitney-to-honor-my-brother-who-died-climbing Hiking Mt. Whitney to honor the dead helps to say goodbye

Russell Falcon

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