Perfect Things: Civil Disobedience
Mount Whitney was closed during the government shutdown, but that didn't stop our editor from summiting.
The sign hung off the locked gate of the permit office in Lone Pine, California.
It was 11:50 A.M. on October 1, 2013, just hours into the government shutdown that closed all 84 million acres in the national-park system. This included Mount Whitney, the 14,494-foot peak in Sequoia National Park that I was scheduled to hike as a 30th-birthday celebration. Summiting the mountain had been on my bucket list since I was old enough to know that the Sierra peak and I shared the same name. So back in July, I’d bought a permit and embarked on a high-altitude training program.
But now, looking at that sign, the Beltway bickering 2,600 miles away seemed to cast a shadow larger than the mountain’s. The oldest of four and habitually responsible, I’m not much of a rebel. But in that moment I knew that if I didn’t at least attempt the hike, I would regret it for a very long time. (It helped that I was unaware of the consequences of hiking without a permit—up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.)
So at 4:15 the next morning I turned on my headlamp, shouldered my pack, and put one foot in front of the other. During the next nine hours and 22 miles, I hiked alone but saw dozens of others who, like me, had decided to just go. We chatted and smiled at each other conspiratorially. It’s not bad adventuring in a mostly empty park. At 9:30 A.M., I stood on the summit, the tallest person for thousands of miles in every direction. I snapped some photos, signed the register, then headed back down through the park and the John Muir Wilderness.
It was criminal, sure, but I’d left no trace. I like to think Muir would approve.