Extreme Road Test - 2003 Hummer H2: Leg 1, Days 11-14
Los Angeles, California to Lone Pine (Mt. Whitney)
The H2 rolled into the oh-so-friendly environs of Los Angeles without a problem -- save for a busted-up windshield and an unbelievable build-up of bugs and muck across its front end. Upon close inspection, the crusty layer of deadness across the nose appeared so thick it seemed it could give a Kevlar bulletproof vest a run for its money with regards to its impenetrability. Because the H2 had not been washed (excluding rainstorms) since we first picked it up in Anchorage, we figured it best to have it cleaned... by someone else, that is.
Just down the street from the Motor Trend offices is our car-scrubbing joint of choice, Majestic Car Wash. Upon arriving, the folks waiting for their cars looked with disgust as our thoroughly scroungy H2 rolled to a stop. We were informed that, besides the $11.95 charge for SUVs, we would be charged an extra two bucks because our H2 was, well, a rolling dirt clod. Two bucks? After handing over the paltry "special fee" (one dollar of which came from an instant win prize we pulled from a bag of Doritos) we laughed out loud, as clearly that two bucks was the best value we had seen in the last 5000 some-odd miles. First up was the daunting task of vacuuming up all the crumbs, wrappers, and dirt scattered about the H2's cabin. Then, in broken English, the vacuum guy asked why there were so many mosquitoes smashed against the inside of the windshield and why there were so many dead mosquito carcasses lying atop the dashboard. Unfortunately, there was no simple way to explain this phenomenon to him.
The two guys running the power washers nearly cried when our H2 pulled in for its high-pressure hose-down before rolling through the automated wash. The process took so long there were six cars stacked up waiting to get their turn. After all that, they had to run the H2 through the entire wash process again because too much muddy water kept oozing off the Hummer. Hey, technically that $13.95 charge wound up being only $6.97 per wash after all was said and done. Suckers!
With shiny sheetmetal presenting itself and a full tank of go-juice, it was time to load up for our last aspect of the H2 Leg One journey--the climbing of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous 48 U.S. states. Due to being way behind schedule at work and having a very pregnant wife at home, Online Editor Jeff Bartlett opted out of the Mt. Whitney segment of the trip. In his place went MT friend David Gair who was trying for his 14th (yes, you read that correctly) successful summit of Whitney. David, a mechanical engineer and car guy, also brought along his two engineer buddies, Ken and Steve Daxer to join in the climb. Scheduled departure from the Motor Trend offices was at noon, but the three engineers finally rolled into the parking lot in a tattered, sputtering blue Ford Escort wagon at nearly 4 pm. Too afraid to ask what happened, we quickly crammed all our gear into the H2 and headed out.
Within a scant few miles from the office I knew trouble was in store as I was surrounded by three car-guy-engineers wanting to quiz me on every mechanical aspect of the all-new HUMMER H2. I did my best to answer questions, but things got ugly when the queries turned to items such as, "Yea, but at full suspension extension what's the remaining runout length of the driveshaft yokes?" I hastily looked for the H2's press kit lodged under the driver's seat and fired back with a quick, "What do you think I am, an automotive journalist or something!" As we approached the lovely desert oasis known as Palmdale, a familiar Taco Bell sign appeared, and, almost as if on auto pilot, the H2 diverted to the parking lot. After downing a trayful of mexican food merriment, we were back in the Hummer and logging miles. Soon, the verbose engineers grew groggy due to stuffed stomachs, and, for the moment, I was off the interrogation stand.
Miles down the road the questioning began again, so a quick stop and hike down Fossil Falls was the perfect distraction. The H2 finally rolled into Lone Pine during darkness, followed by a serious pizza ingestion fest at Motor Trend's favorite hangout, the "We Toss 'Em, They're Awesome" Pizza Factory. Loaded up with our last square meal for days, we headed up the mountain for Whitney Portal, the starting point of our hiking adventure.
At 11 pm we finally had all of our backpacks packed and the H2 cleansed of all possible bear bait (in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, bears are known for smashing out car windows in the attempt to get at what amounts to a single pack of peanut butter crackers). I first sensed that I was in trouble when I hoisted my pack to my back; its 60-plus pounds of girth was overly stout for my stick-like body and I was strongly warned to pare it down. Thus, I stripped out what I deemed excessive, but still kept all the Canon camera and video gear along with basic life sustaining goods. The result was a mere 50-pound pack--better, but still WAY too heavy.
We started out on a trail bathed in light from a nearly full moon, but things got ugly as the light went away when we entered a more wooded area. The three E's pulled out high-tech head-mounted headlights to wear but I (who was under the impression that all of our hiking would be during daylight hours) was left bumping through the night. After over two hours of steady ascent we decided to grab a few hours of sleep and hit the trail hard at dawn. Unfortunately, nobody warned me that the Daxer brothers liked to snore, so I basically got no sleep during our quick pitstop.
At 5:30 the next morning we got up and watched the sun rise, then it was time to hit the trail with the goal of summiting Whitney by late afternoon. It soon became obvious that my pack weight, lack of sleep, and out-of-shape body were conspiring to foil my summit attempt. While the three E's were chugging up the side of the mountain like pack mules fueled on nitromethane, I was starting to wheeze and fall back. In an attempt to keep the mood more upbeat, the Daxer Duo regularly impressed me with their amazing prowess of their gastrointestinal music. It was almost like dualing banjos, except that the note was of a more comical tone. Just when I was about ready to keel over, I was informed that we had yet to reach the dreaded "switchbacks" that entailed some 99 wickedly ascending zig-zags that topped out on the 13,600-foot-high Trail Crest.
After hours of slow climbing I finally perched my derriere atop a rock at Trail Crest and promptly slumped into a 30-minute power nap while the three E's ingested turkey jerkey, trail mix, and liquids all while mocking my gelatin-like status. I awoke to a, "C,mon, let's go," and before I knew it, we were off again. As bad as I thought the previous sections were, the last push to the top was in thin 14,000-foot air with seriously dangerous drop-offs at nearly every step. Finally, right at sunset we summited the oh-so-evil Mt. Whitney, with just enough time to take a few proof-of-existence photos. Earlier, my plan was to shoot scads of scenic photos and video from the top, but now my lone goal was to go to bed atop the 14,497-foot rock. A quick "I'm alive" call was placed to my own very pregnant wife via our Iridium Satellite phone (which worked flawlessly atop the arid peak) and then I was out, sawing logs.
Ironically, I awoke again at 5:30 the next morning hearing, "You hauled all that camera gear to the top, and you're going to sleep through the sunrise... Aye!" so I thought it best to partake in and document the dastardly event. Afterwards, we packed up, ingested fistfuls of Powerbars, and started hiking down. I quickly learned that sleep, food, and gravity (when descending, as opposed to ascending) do help, and I actually made great time on our 5 1/2-hour power push to the bottom. We were happy to see the H2 un-mauled and, without much chatter, we flopped down onto the plush leather seats and set our sights on the solid food awaiting in Lone Pine. After scarfing down yet another extra-large "Eagle Special" pizza at the Pizza Factory, we gassed up and headed for our last adventure at the Olancha Sand Dunes.
We stepped out onto the dunes with the goal of testing the H2s sand-clawing prowess and to snap a few quick pictures of the Hummer having fun. However, the wind was blowing strong and a good sandblasting was the last thing any of us wanted, so we moved with speed. After some hill-climb testing, Steve Daxer was asked to perform a mild jump off one of the dunes for photo purposes -- a challenge he quickly accepted. As the nearly 6700-pound H2 approached the lip of a sizable dune, I knew something memorable was about to happen. Somehow my "not too much speed" request was overlooked, and consequently, the copper H2 sailed off the dune with unbelievable height. We all waited to see exactly how many pieces would explode off the H2 upon landing, but amazingly, the big rig sucked up the crash-down with amazing ability. Steve asked if he should do another jump (for photo purposes, of course) but I figured it was best that we leave while everything remained attached and still functioning.
We rolled back into Los Angeles tired, but not defeated. We'd racked up a solid 5641.4 miles on the H2's odometer and it showed no signs of weakness thus far. However, that's just Leg One of our two-part journey. Starting August 3 we're off for Leg Two, so be sure to check back to monitor the H2's progress.