Mt. Whitney in Sight, with the Help of John Wayne
by Tracy Fawns
As the runners approach Lone Pine at mile 122, the view to Mt. Whitney is on the horizon and the temperatures begin to cool. Just outside of Lone Pine are the Alabama Hills. They remind you of the Khyber Pass in India. And Texas and Arizona and Utah and Nevada. Even Old Mexico and Peru and Argentina. That’s because they’ve played all those parts and more during their 80-year Hollywood career. Hopalong Cassidy rode these hills. And Tom Mix and John Wayne and Cary Grant and Errol Flynn. And it’s not just the old westerns. Why, Brad Pitt came here to film Kalifornia, Kevin Bacon for Tremors, Mel Gibson for Maverick, Demi Moore for G.I. Jane, and William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Why would all these stars leave Hollywood and travel all the way to Lone Pine? Because of the enchanting Alabama Hills. These mysterious granite boulders are framed by the magnificent vista of Mt. Whitney. Geologists tell us that the granite was shaped by chemical weathering over the millennia. It used to be a lot wetter back then and water percolated down cracks and separated the bedrock into blocks, perfect for move ambushes and gunfights.
The remains are still present of the suspension bridge from Gunga Din. In this 1939 classic, Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Firbanks, Jr. gave rousing performances as three British military men who caroused, fought, and loved their way through 19th-century India.
Remnants also remain from the famous Rawhide burial site where, in 1951, Tyrone Power and Susan Haywood buried Edgar Buchanan in an action-packed Western where villains take over a stagecoach depot and hold everyone hostage.
So, as the runners began the steep trek to the Whitney Portal, perhaps they will hear the voice of John Wayne urging them on.