Life’s Compensations (v. II)

S M Chen
3 min readAug 17, 2020

One of the things I had wanted to do for a long time is climb Mt. Whitney. I’d driven through the town of Lone Pine many times, and always looked in hopes of glimpsing the 14,494-foot peak.

One summer the dream finally became reality. Family members gathered one evening in Mammoth Lakes and mapped plans.

Early the next morning we drove to Mt. Whitney Portal, 8371 feet altitude. The summit was 10.7 miles away. We planned to make the round trip by dark. None of the 7 of us was a seasoned hiker.

Outer garments were quickly shed within the first mile as the sun rose and ascension of the switchback trail brought forth copious sweat. We made periodic stops to admire the receding haze-covered valley, take photos and quaff water from canteens.

Sometime within the first 2 miles I noticed an ache in my right knee. Soon the aching increased and the knee began to swell. I had had knee effusions in the past, usually after jogging, which I attributed to traumatic synovitis. I hadn’t anticipated trouble hiking and therefore didn’t bring a knee support.

I found a stick near the path, but it wasn’t nearly straight or sturdy enough. I hobbled along, determined to keep up but drifting ever farther behind.

About 5 miles into the ascent it became apparent that not only was I not going to make it to the top, but I was impeding the others from a pace requisite to make the round trip in one day.

Sadly, somewhat short of the halfway point, I turned back.

Now I heightened senses. The chattering of blue jays and ground squirrels punctuated the gentle sound of a distant waterfall. Here a fallen tree, reminder of mortality. There a granite boulder, immovable object unchallenged by irresistible force.

Continuing on the downward trail, I descended into a campsite. By trail’s edge stood a snow-haired lady in bright red shirt conversing with a hiker.

Smiling behind glasses, she stepped forth and said, “Hello. I’m Hulda Crooks.” I stopped and took the pamphlet, “A Prescription for Health.” It detailed elements of healthful living, including exercise and good nutrition.

I was less impressed with the tract than by her. She looked considerably younger than…