Two Mercer University alumni recently climbed to the peak of the highest mountain in the contiguous United States.
Alumni Greg Sutton, who graduated in 1993 from the Stetson-Hatcher School of Business, and Monty Hill, who graduated from the business school in 1987 and School of Law in 1990, took the mountaineer’s route up California’s Mount Whitney.
At its peak, the mountain reaches an elevation of 14,505 feet. The three-day round trip to the top was a challenging and awe-inspiring experience.
“After about a mile, the trail splits, and this thing goes straight up a gorge, and it never stops. It’s relentless and a challenge and all that for the next 6,500 vertical feet,” Sutton said. “You pass three distinct zones climbing in the Sierras. You’re climbing in the tree line, then you’re crossing creeks, and then you literally break out of the tree line. You’re on some ledges. You’re all in right away.”
Climbing is one of Sutton’s hobbies. In the past, he has climbed Mount Rainier in Washington and Grand Teton in Wyoming. He asked his friend, Hill, to join him climbing Mount Whitney.
Although Hill wasn’t a climber, he agreed.
“I run a lot, so I sort of figured I was in decent enough shape to do it, and Greg and I always have a good time together. I knew he’d be a lot of fun,” Hill said.
The men, both Macon residents, trained for four months leading up to the trip, hiking trails across Middle Georgia and metro Atlanta while carrying heavy packs.
In August, they flew to Las Vegas, rented a car and drove across Death Valley. At Mount Whitney, they joined a guide and four other people for the climb. Only half of them, including the Mercer alumni, made it to the top.
On the first day, they set out well before dawn and climbed for five to six hours before stopping to allow their bodies to adjust to the altitude.
“It was more technical than I thought. We had more weight, more scrambling and it was actually pretty warm the first day,” Sutton said. “I ran out of water the first day, and then some members of our team were falling out from altitude.”
They set out early the next morning, reaching the summit after about seven hours and then spent another six hours going back down before pausing for the night and finishing the descent on the third day.
The exhaustion was one of the biggest challenges of the trip, Hill said. Not only was the climb physically tough but sleeping in a tent on rocks left them tired as well.
Overcoming it all, though, was part of what made the climb so fulfilling.
“Hiking is funny. When you’re doing it, you think, ‘God, if I ever just get off this, I’ll never do it again,’” Hill said. “But then the moment you’re down, you really miss it, and we’ve laughed about how much we’ve missed being up there and the fun we’ve had. I would definitely do another one.”