Just in time to wrap up an eventful summer and continue celebrating her 10th birthday, Bird Rock Elementary School fifth-grader Jenna Jaffe successfully scaled Mount Whitney in late August.
Mount Whitney, located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, is the highest summit in the continental United States. But it was no match for Jenna and her family, mother Linda, father Mike and sister Brin, 12, a student at Muirlands Middle School. It took the family, plus friends Leah Nelson and John Betlejewski, a few days to scale the mountain.
Coming from a family of climbers, Jenna’s parents have trekked mount Whitney before, but have never seen children complete the challenge. “We were told by a ranger that is a very special feat for someone so young,” said Linda Jaffe.
The Jaffe family prepared for the climb with two other backpacking trips, one in the Sierras and one in Big Sur, and some practice hikes on Cowles mountain with backpacks.
For the Mount Whitney climb, the Jaffes spent thursday night (Aug. 27) camping in Lone pine, and starting climbing early Friday morning. They got to the base that night and then climbed to the summit and back to base Saturday — and to zero elevation on Sunday.
Jenna said while she was a little scared and, at times, not excited about the climb, “After I completed it, it was great to say to say I did it.”
She added, “When I looked up at the summit when we were at the base camp, I was pretty scared we had to do it. It was super high up and probably 3,000 steps to get up there. At first I didn’t want to do it, but when I got to the halfway point ... I just kept going for it.” The trip from base camp to the summit was five miles up (then five miles back).
When they finally made it to the top, she said, “I just collapsed on a rock.”
Her favorite part of the trip as a new 10-year-old, was spotting animals, which included marmots, pikas and tiny birds. A few mountain creatures got close enough to climb on their support poles or crawl around the family. “A bird landed right on my lap one time,” Jenna said.
Another memorable moment came when the family reached the top and took in the expansive scene. “The view was so beautiful and there were all these lakes you could see from the top — one lake is called Guitar Lake because it looks exactly like a guitar from above,” she said.
But there were down sides. Jenna said while they were climbing, she missed the family cat Payton and of course, “the precious Internet.”
plus, at one point, she found herself not feeling well due to altitude sickness; which can occur at great heights and cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, shortness of breath and dizziness.
Dad Mike Jaffe said the secret is being proactive to avoid altitude sickness, and to address symptoms right away when they come up. “Go slowly, keep hydrated, eat a lot of carbohydrates — sometime people get nauseous, but you have to keep eating — keep warm and keep dry,” he said. In heeding her dad’s advice, she was able to recover and keep going.
For Jenna, the food was both a great part and a terrible part. before the climb, she ate a pancake that was so big, she had to circle her stretched arms to demonstrate. However, the freeze-dried food they took with them was “nasty” Jenna said, and the oatmeal her father made wasn’t very good. When they returned, she said she couldn’t wait for a decent meal.
But for completing the trip, her parents both said they are extremely proud. “To be honest, I didn’t think she could do it ...” Mike said. “Wait, you didn’t?!” Jenna interrupted.
He laughed, “But mom had the confidence and we are so proud of her. It reminded me to not underestimate what our kids can do.”
He also said having his children complete the trek teaches them to be goal-oriented. “they also have to realize the process might not always be fun, but they will be so proud of themselves when they finish,” he said. “It’s hard for kids to understand the goal, especially if they aren’t having fun in the moment, so it teaches them to have goals.”
It worked. Jenna said, “Now I feel like I can climb any mountain!”