This email was from Scott and Ben, the two admittedly out-of-shape fraternity brothers who had made it their goal to ascend Mt. Whitney earlier this year. They had done it. They had actually climbed the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States.
The journey was the result of literally minutes of mental preparation. Dozens of fast-food meals consumed. And thousands of words written on their consistently hilarious blog, “Started from the Bottom.”
And now, four months after our original post—and four months after I began to be genuinely worried about their safety—I give you the final tale of UNC's Bad Boyz of hiking. Italics are mine.
Two days before the scheduled climb, Ben and Scott nearly had to call the whole trip off.
BEN: We booked our permits and flights months ago, but Scott called two days before the trip to make sure the permit was in the night box, so we could pick it up before the climb. The woman thought we were going up on Saturday instead of Friday. So we go through our email, and sure enough we had booked a permit for the wrong day.
We're freaking out. It's two days before we're supposed to be in California. Chaos.
So the thing is, if people don’t book their permits, they might put some openings online. We're at our internships, on our work computers, constantly refreshing the page. Then Scott calls me and he's incoherent:
“LET'S FUCKING GO. LET'S DO THIS.”
I took this mean he had booked the permits successfully. So we got out of that corner we had completely put ourselves in.
They fly into California from New York and North Carolina, meeting at the airport. The drive to the mountain would take several hours, so they needed a rental—but both are under 25. Luckily, the boys were in a cunning mood.
BEN: We booked with a rental car place that would rent to people under 25. We knew it was going to be a little sketchy, but we had to do it. So we go there on Thursday morning. And it was absolute chaos.
We had booked it under my name and with Scott’s credit card. This was an obvious no-go. My mom always told me to bring a card when I travel, because it’s easier for charges and shit…. It was declined. My card was expired.
We asked our rental car guy if we could use a parent’s card. We couldn't—they needed the actual card. Reservations also had to be done over the phone.
Literally three feet in front of him, we make a reservation under Scott’s name. We're looking HIM IN THE EYE while making the reservation over the phone. [There was another problem.] Scott has an insurance plan, but he doesn’t have car insurance.
SCOTT: I dunno, it's a New York thing. They tell us we need to confirm your insurance provider. Which I don’t have.
BEN: So Scott calls his mom. He tells her to pretend to be his agent. The contact literally says “Mom.” We tell the rental car guy that this is our “agent” and he asks Scott's mom if he’s fully insursed. She says yes, then we’re good to go.
We hop on the road “fully insured.”
That night, we stop at a restaurant. Scott has a buffalo burger. I had an ostrich burger. Ostriches are my Achilles heel, but I looked him in the eye and said, “Fuck you, you don’t run my life anymore.” So I pounded down a ostrich burger.
The two arrived at a friend's house, then passed out early at 9 p.m. Because the climb would take anywhere from 14 to 18 hours, a 1:15 a.m. wakeup call awaited the duo.
BEN: You'd think the adrenaline would push you through, but it didn’t. I thought we’d sleep through [the alarm].
SCOTT: It was three degrees outside.
They survive a windy, narrow 13-mile road trip to base camp. They arrive, hiking gear in tow, at 2:15 a.m.
BEN: [From the beginning,] I felt good about the pace. We did four miles in about two-and-a-half hours or so…. It's not too bad going halfway up, which is where people camp out if they’re doing an overnight. We got there in good time.
[At the camp spot,] we met some poeple who were already coming back down. They said the next two miles were tough, but then it’s cake. So we stopped and ate our shitty sandwiches. We also had some Keebler fudge cookies which really saved us.
Then we started on the switchbacks. Which are two miles of just pure hell. This is when our spirits were broken. We started breaking more frequently.
That was a shitty time of my life. We had been chatting a lot, but at that point, we weren’t talking to each other much…. It took us an hour or so to get through those 2 miles.
The summit was within reach. But an until-now unmentioned phobia threatened to derail the whole journey.
BEN: Scott and I are pretty fucking scared of heights. At that point it was high as shit. We were at 13,000 feet, and the summit is at 14,500. It got very cold and windy at that point…. because the sun is on the other side.
The trail there is only four feet wide, and it's rocky. You really have to dig in there and make sure you’re not falling down. There’s a couple thousand foot drop-offs on a few stretches, spots where there was no rail on either side. So we were taking that really slow, bending our knees, getting our balance. That last two and a half, three miles dragged on. But we knew we were going to get there, so that pushed us through.
We summitted at 10:57 a.m. And we got up there and put on an absolute clinic for the next hour.
Ben and Scott spent an extremely long time celebrating their climb. They took pictures with a UNC flag and a WWE belt, and they drank beer poured into cups from the Chapel Hill bar He's Not.
SCOTT: There's a book that you sign, we're in there. There's also a lightning protection hut called the Smithsonian Wall. We signed multiple bricks really big. We'll live forever in there.
BEN: The beer we brought… was very warm, very bad.
There's 3G up there, which is really weird, but we called our parents. It was my grandparents’ 50th anniversary so I left them a voicemail. Then we took it all in—the weather was really nice, not too cold. And after that we made the walk down.
The duo's lack of training in both physical activity and nutrition made the descent torture.
BEN: It was shitty, a lot less gratifying. It took us six hours. That really sucks. You're exhausted, which was really an issue on the way up—our legs were now starting to fall off. Our lungs were hurting.
We got to the bottom at 6:15. We put on “BBC” from Jay-Z's new album, got a little dance going. We danced sitting down. Didn’t have the lower body strength at that point.
The two are now in the midst of planning their next adventure. They admit they've set the bar a little high, but they feel they can clear it. Without any prep, of course.
BEN: I think life comes down to doing what the fuck you want. That's how this started, that’s what carried us through the whole time. If you’re weighed down by responsibility, you can't do this.
I don’t live with responsibility. And you shouldn't be shackled by the constraints of others. i think that’s what we’ve taught a lot of people. Do what you want to do. Always be the man.
— Kendall Marshall (@KButter5) July 15, 2013