Two weeks before the trip, I began monitoring the ten-day weather forecast obsessively. I, for one, wanted to know exactly how cold it was going to be, whether it was going to snow, and if snow had fallen, how much of the trail it covered, and what the trail conditions actually looked like. I quickly learned that due to some early season storms, snow and ice were present on the upper reaches of the trail, although they were not there in large quantities. I also knew that these basic winter conditions would have a large impact on the group. I debated my options. In the end, I dropped my laissez-faire attitude of the preceding weeks, because while ignorance was fine for sitting around the bar, it was a life or death issue for the mountain.
I kept this second status e-mail short and sweet. After all, I wanted to make sure it was actually read by the Dirty Dozen. On the off chance that a paragraph was still too much to read, I sent a link containing pictures of the trail taken several days before. In the e-mail, I strongly suggested that everyone come prepared with crampons and or ice axes. In stark contrast to the first e-mail, I received quite a few responses to this second informational message. Some of the messages were humorous: “Time to go battle Yetis”. And some of the messages were practical: “Where can we rent crampons?” By far, however, the bulk of the responses were one thing and one thing only: cancellations. In the end, it turned out that my hypothesis about providing information wasn’t all bad; it just merely was flawed. It turned out that I merely had to provide the right information to motivate people.
Up to the point of the second, or as I later called it “the shake down” e-mail, the group was the Pizza Port Dirty Dozen, so named for all twelve people headed to the mountain. After the e-mail, the group was the Dirty Half-Dozen. It was still five people more than I originally thought would go, but it was half of our reservation quota. Once people learned there was snow and ice on the trail, they dropped out of the expedition faster than free beer disappeared on a Thursday night. Some people, like the Pink Princess had no excuse other than deciding that they didn’t really want to go after all. Other people had bizarre reasons. One said that he didn’t have the insurance – whether that meant life or medical insurance, I never was quite clear. Another former “gung-ho” climber suddenly contracted temporary amnesia, claiming not to remember paying me for the permit, receiving any prior Mt. Whitney e-mails, participating in any Mt. Whitney climbing conversations, or even knowing who I or anyone else in the group were.
I didn’t care. For all intents and purposes, I didn’t care one bit. I didn’t need excuses, and I didn’t want excuses. If people dropped out, that was their business, and that was one less person I had to worry about on the mountain, and that was all that mattered to me. The last week before the hike, after all the cancellations had occurred, I spent a fair amount of time coordinating the last minute details with the remaining members of the Dirty Half Dozen. By the time the trip rolled around, I had a good feeling about the group. It was smaller than we had planned, but the people that had stayed were the ones that were most motivated and prepared. I still had concerns, but for the first time in several months, I actually was somewhat confidant that the first Pizza Port mountaineering expedition, the Dirty Half Dozen, might actually make it to the summit of the mountain.