First Annual (?) Class of ‘63

Mt. Whitney in a Day Hike

August 3, 2002





The whole thing started with a casual conversation that took place between Richard Liebig and several of us at last summer’s 1960-1966 Summer Reunion Party. It just kind of grew from there. Climbing Mt. Whitney in a day is routine stuff for Richard. He makes the climb two to three times a year.  Two summers ago on one of his hikes to the summit, Richard was bothered by a bad stomach ache. Returning home, he went to the doctor and discovered he had stomach cancer. After going through chemotherapy and recovering his strength, Richard was back on the Whitney Trail last summer. David Akins accompanied him on one of the hikes. Due to severe leg cramps that struck Dave somewhere on the infamous switchback’s (There are 97 of them.), he was not able to reach the summit. But Dave was bound and determined to make it to the top this year.


Well, getting back to the story, someone suggested that it might be a great Class of ’63 activity. Obviously, that is not really too practical. As difficult as this climb is, it has become so popular the last several years that you must enter a lottery and select alternate dates just to get the opportunity to extend yourself to the point of exhaustion. Our Sherpa guide, Richard, agreed to enter the lottery for the maximum allowable group size of fifteen. In March, he was informed that our big day was August 3rd.


For those of you that may not be familiar with what climbing Mt. Whitney in a day involves, let me fill you in. As you remember from geography class, Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the contiguous forty-eight states at 14, 498 feet. Climbing it in one day consists of starting at the Whitney Portal trailhead, which is at 8,360 feet and following the trail to its end at the summit, 10.7 miles later. Once you reach the top, catching your breath for a short time, you start back down to finish your day, actually night, back at the Whitney Portal anywhere from twelve to eighteen hours later.  You did the math right. It’s almost a 22 mile round trip with an elevation change of over 6100 feet. Not for light of heart or those of us who are out of shape, like me.


The map and the table below show some additional details.










Originally, there were fifteen of us who were ready to give it the old high school try. Over the months, our ranks thinned a bit as schedule conflicts etc took their toll and the participants changed somewhat. We all in our own way began to train for the assault. For myself, I had no illusions about making it to the top. It’s a good thing too; because I didn’t. But it did get me into the gym, which helped me shed a few (very few and not enough) pounds. I also began to participate in Sierra Club leader conditioning hikes – too little, too late as it turns out. Others prepared in their own way, including making day hikes up mountain peaks in the Southern California area and bicycle riding in the heat of Phoenix AZ.


Those of us who set out on the trail August 3rd are listed below. All of us graduated from Leuzinger. Only Alan, Michael, and John were not from our class.


David Akins **

Alan Best **

Richard Faith (Time & Knees)

Judy Best Hawley (Time)

Tom Hawley (Knee)

Richard Liebig (Looking out for the rest of us)

Gail Fisher Liebig (Never Her Intention)

Michael Liebig **

Donna McLaughlin Endress (Time)

Gary Miller **

Don Stouder (Not in Shape, Period)

John Swoboda (Acute Mountain Sickness)

Ben Warner (Recent Knee Surgery)


                                  ** Reached the summit


As you see, most of us did not make it to the top for a variety of reasons. My reason – I was just not in good enough shape. Most of us got to the Trail Camp or base of the switchbacks. We all went as far as we wanted to, as far as we planned to, as far as we could, or as far as time allowed. Richard Liebig did not necessarily intend to reach the top on this trip. As our leader, his goal was to help each of us go as far as we could, ensure that all of us had a safe hike, and to be the last in our group back at the trailhead at the end of the day. Gail never intended to take the complete trip either. She hiked up to Lone Pine Lake with her 80 year old father (a veteran Mt. Whitney day hiker) later in the morning and then provided bus service back to the hotel in Lone Pine as we staggered off the mountain throughout that evening. Ben never intended to go much further than Lone Pine Lake, because of recent knee surgery. When he first told me his plan to stop there and do some fishing while we continued up the mountain, I was not sure he meant it, until he showed up at the trailhead Saturday morning carrying a forty pound pack filled with fishing gear.


We started our climb from the trailhead Saturday morning at 5:45 am, each of us going at our own pace. The two Richard’s were the last back to the trailhead at 11:15 pm that night.  Richard Faith’s knees had given out and the descent was painfully slow, especially after it turned dark.


The next morning most of us met for breakfast. John, Michael, and Gary were not able to join us having departed for Los Angeles earlier. We don’t really look that bad considering what we had endured the day before. Were we ready to give it another try next year? Most of us were not quite ready to go that far, but we all definitely were up for another hike together. It would be even more fun with a larger group. How about joining us?



Richard Faith, Richard Liebig, Tom Hawley, Don Stouder, Ben Warner, Donna McLauglin Endress, Judy Best Hawley, Alan Best, and Dave Akins



Facing the camera, Gail Fisher Liebig, Richard, and Tom


To see additional photos from the trip, click here. To see an enlarged version of the photo, click on its thumbnail image.


Don Stouder 8-15-02


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