By Jessica King
As many as 300 people a day attempt to scale the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states. The craziest of them all set out to complete it roundtrip in under a day.
Most don’t make it, but among those who have is Ramona High senior Justin Sojourner.
The 17-year-old wound down his recent summer break from school by climbing Mt. Whitney, which tops out at 14,508 feet in the Sierra Nevadas.
Sojourner set out to tackle the tall peak along with seven adults, including his uncle, Steve Martz, a RHS alum who coordinated the climb four months in advance.
Sojourner was one of only three people from his group to make it to the top.
“It was the best most awful experience of my life,” said Sojourner. “I have never experienced anything like it in my life.”
The journey commenced at 10 a.m. on Aug. 30, with the group arriving in Lone Pine and hiking at the 10,000-foot Horseshoe Lake to get acclimated to the altitude. By 7 p.m., the hikers were in bed so they could awake at midnight Aug. 31. By 1:45 a.m., they started their assent up the mountain.
It took nearly 10 hours to reach the top, and during the long haul the group encountered two hours worth of surprise sleet snow along with 25 mile per hour winds at 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
“He clearly didn’t know what he was getting himself into, as most 17-year-olds wouldn’t,” said group member Carey Gansert. “But he was amazing and actually led our group of three to the top of the summit. The other five team members fell behind, some got sick and injured and actually didn’t complete the summit.”
Gansert, 46, also went to Ramona High, and her parents Joan and Hal Gansert still live in Ramona, while she
resides in nearby Rancho Bernardo. She climbed Mt. Whitney once before last month’s trip and described the trek as difficult and relentless.
She and fellow RHS alum Dan Walsh were the two who made it to the top with Sojourner.
“Justin had moved ahead of the two of us and was warming up in the hut at the summit when we arrived,” she said. “We finally reached the summit at 11:30 a.m.”
“At the top, it was just amazing,” said Sojourner. “The views—you could just see like everywhere. It was such an amazing place. I definitely recommend it to others. Even if you don’t make it to the top, there’s so much to see along the way. I know I’ve never seen anything like the things I saw (from Mt. Whitney).”
Though he made it, the journey up Mt. Whitney was not without its ill effects on the teenager, who drew on his past training as a wrestler at Ramona High to get through both physical and emotional pains.
He ran short of water, was hungry and pushed through altitude headaches.
“You just got to keep pushing,” said Sojourner. “Definitely with wrestling being pretty much a single-man type of sport, it helped me know that there wasn’t anyone else who was going to do it for me. I had to be the one to keep moving myself.”
Would he do it again?
“Yes, definitely, but I would do it in two days next time, not one.”