Chad Persing doesn’t just move mountains. He climbs them. And one of the tallest peaks in America is no exception.
On July 25, he loaded a 51-pound backpack behind him and headed into a challenge much bigger than his usual trails of North Georgia, which grew to be some 2,000 miles away.
After approximately 15 hours and 11 miles of hiking, Persing stood next to his brother atop Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States, at 14,505 feet above sea level.
But making it to the top wasn’t easy. A longtime fitness junkie, Persing underwent a lot of training that helped him endure the wilderness and extra weight on his back.
From training at Townie CrossFit in Thomasville to hiking mountain bike trails in Tallahassee with a 50-pound pack on, Persing began his journey feeling 95% prepared.
“I would walk mountain bike trails for several hours… with my 50-pound pack on, thinking that my pack was going to be somewhere around 35 pounds,” he said.
“We had to have a bear canister to keep all of our food in because of the bears out there, and that added a lot of extra weight that I wasn’t expecting.”
With years of weightlifting, playing sports, working as a firefighter, and, more recently, CrossFit training three times a week behind him, Persing understands the importance of being active and physically fit when facing a trial as big as Mount Whitney.
In fact, it’s key.
“Most of the time when you hear about someone failing or having to turn around and turn back, it’s because they weren’t physically fit enough for it or the altitude got to them,” he said.
“You got to have some leg strength — leg conditioning, taking steps, going up stairs for hours and hours and hours.
“Being in as good of shape as I was, it really (helped) me be successful in my summit of Mount Whitney, for sure.”
Not only do hikers have to be physically prepared, but they must mentally prepare as well. Persing spent time researching Mount Whitney before the big trip.
Having never been in the Western mountains, he turned to YouTube videos and Facebook forums to learn what to expect.
“It was sketchy because it was a real heavy snowfall this year out there, and I was concerned with the snow and the ice and not really having any experience with hiking in snow and ice,” he said.
“But we lucked out, and they were, for the most part, very manageable.”
Of course, there are some things that just can’t be prepared for.
While gyms and social media are readily available nearly everywhere, high altitudes are not, especially not in South Georgia and North Florida.
For Persing’s brother, Warren, that was a big obstacle to overcome.
“That was one of the reasons it took us so long on the summit day,” he said.
“We had to stop quite often for him to work on his altitude sickness and… fight off the demons he was facing there.”
Although things got a bit rocky for Persing and his brother — heavy packs hoisted on their backs, unfamiliar weather ahead, and altitude that would change their wellness along with it — they pushed through and made it to the top.
For Persing, standing up there was an amazing experience.
But with desert mountains to the east and ice caps to the west, the best part of the hike was reaching trail crest and seeing two different environments on opposite sides.
One of the many views of the west, to which, according to Persing, “pictures don’t even do justice.”
Although Persing declined an offer from a friend, Jeremy Rogers, who convinced him to hike Mount Whitney, to branch out and hike Pico de Orizaba in Mexico, he does hope to someday travel back west to the Sierra Mountains and hike the John Muir Trail.
But for now, Persing’s goals remain in North Georgia, where he plans on taking two-day or three-day trips with his brother and family to hike.
Right now, he’s considering slowly completing all 78.6 miles of the Appalachian Trail, even if it takes 15 years, and beginning Springer Mountain.
While hiking a mountain — not to mention one of the tallest mountains in the country — is no easy feat, it can be done. Each mountain comes with its own challenges that hikers must face.
Chad Persing is no exception.
But it’s all worth it in the end because from the top anything feels possible.
Written by: Leah Morton | Photography by: Eric Vinson