We'll start with the story's end: Jack Ryan Greener, 26, did manage to summit Mt. Whitney in August. But the amazing part is everything that happened in the lead-up to that moment. In a piece for the Los Angeles Times, Mary Forgione writes that Greener, an avowed surfer, broke his neck in a 2018 jujitsu class then narrowly survived a 3-inch-long blood clot that subsequently developed and nearly killed him. His C3 and C4 vertebrae were broken in what was termed an incomplete spinal cord injury. That meant it was possible for him to regain mobility; when and how much was impossible to say. But Greener, who initially could wiggle just his big toe, was determined not just to walk again, but to reach the top of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous US.
He assembled a group to do it with him, lost out in the lottery that would have given him access to a direct 22-mile roundtrip, and set off Aug. 3 on the much harder option he could secure permits for: a 5-day, 37-mile trip involving 8,600 feet of altitude gain. To say the trek that Forgione describes sounds like agony would be putting it lightly: Greener has reduced strength in his arms and legs, as well as less balance. The first day was "all deep sand," Greener explained, "a nightmare" that forced him to drag his right foot to the point where he was unable to use it. He found himself "trapped in a hell of his own making," Forgione writes. On the day the group was to summit, they had three miles to climb on a narrow, slippery trail so treacherous Greener turned and asked, "Am I going to die?" He didn't, and upon making it to the top cried for a full 10 minutes. (The full story is worth a read.)