| Mountaineers route in a day
What: Mountaineers Route on Mt. Whitney
When: Start time at 0320 hours on 05/21/13
Where: Sierra Nevada (east side from Whitney Portal, 13 miles west of Lone Pine, CA)
Elevation gain: 6000+
Round trip time: 13 hours~
Weather: A persistent wind around 12,500, from the west. 20-30mph gusts. Temp hovering around 40 on the summit.
Why: See photos
Recently (5 months ago), I moved to California. To say it's been a difficult transition would be an under statement. I will always have Colorado in my blood, the culture, the open spaces - the fresh alpine air - Those memories, I'll never leave behind. For the sacrifice of being closer to family for the children and wife, we made the decision to move. Don't get me wrong - living in north county San Diego isn't so bad. There are quite a few places to go run up a hill, just out my back door - plentiful road bicycling and tons of bouldering. The obvious downside for a climber is living at sea level. I wasn't sure how this was to impact me on my attempt climb of Whitney via the Mountaineer's Route. Another down side is that it's a 4.5 hour drive to the Sierra. Yes this can be shortened depending on what and where you climb, but generally one must plan accordingly. So all in all - not a bad gig. Thankfully the misses knew how mountaineering had become such a focused hobby of mine - and encouraged me to keep my mountaineering gear. She also encouraged me to take this trip to Whitney. One of the pro's of being closer to extended family - is not encroaching on valuable time that could otherwise be spent with the family, rather than mountaineering. Another pro is being only 4.5 hours away from Vegas. That means red rock canyon and world class sandstone, more good news for a novice rock climber.
One of the things I did immediately notice about this trip - was the immense fulfillment it brought - compared to some of the other short term trips I have taken in the past. There is something to be said for planning and looking forward to a trip. Especially after having not gotten out in a long while!
So.. Like all good journeys from SoCal begin.. one must start with In'N'Out burger.
With a simple menu and quality control second to none - you're guaranteed a great burger every time. My favorite is the #1, a double double with cheese and onion. This can be supplemented with an old fashioned milkshake or simply a cola on the side. I had a friend I recently took to vegas, who had tried in and out before after climbing around in Red Rocks. He said he thought it was a gut bomb but agreed to go again. The second time he went, he was hooked - making me drive through the drive through window after a meal inside - to get a second burger. I wonder if they'll ever come to Colorado?
After heading north on the 395 for a while, one finally gets a first glimpse of good old Sierra Granite.
The quality of rock can even be seen from a distance.
I arrive at the ranger station parking lot, around 2pm on the 20th.
This is the view from the parking lot. Whitney is on the far right side of the photo, the last peak before it cuts off. Such a long ways away! Lone Pine peak is the seemingly highest elevation peak in the photo, occupying the right foreground. There is a classic 5.7 north ridge route, that climbs from the valley floor near Lone Pine, gaining upwards of 7,000'. Mostly 4th class, spiced with 5th to 5.7 throughout.
After I got in, I hung around at the ranger station for a while - reading books and talking to the locals. This is not a second class ranger station and you can see your permit dollars hard at work. Although I spent $0.00 on a permit.
For day trekkers in the Whitney zone, there is no cost for a permit. The cost incurs only when one plans to camp in the Whitney zone. Since I would be attempting the MR in a day, I obtained a permit free of charge. The ranger said there were still 95 out of 100 day trekking permits available for Tuesday the 21st. I had no problem getting my permit. On the camping side, I believe there were about 50 out of 100 left. One of the ways one can obtain a permit is simply to "show up". If there is anyone who is a "no show", the rangers will re-issue those permits on a first come, first serve basis.
This being early season, I didn't have to worry.
I spent the rest of the evening making an acclimatizing hike up to the Ebersbacher Ledges. These are 3rd class ledges that permit the only useful passage further up the basin, to continue ones climb of the Mountaineers Route. One must follow the trail across the creek twice prior to climbing the ledges. An attempt to start the ledges too soon will result in a dead end at 5th class slabs.
Here is an image showing the lower part of the slabby ledges. This was NOT the correct area to enter the ledges, which I found out shortly thereafter.
After unsuccessfully locating the ledges, I headed back down and got some dinner in town. The rest of the evening was spent gear prepping, taking some photos and car camping. I was a little nervous about locating and traversing the ledges by headlamp, but a quick study of the route reassured me. Here are a few photos from my car camp location.
From here on out, the rest of the photos will be from my iPhone 5, which will also turn into a jet and fly you to a private island.
After my car camp (of only which 2 hours of restless sleep occurred) I woke up at 0230, driving the 20 minutes to the trailhead. I set foot at 0320 hours, with an entry pack weight of 21lbs. My pack consisted of 3.5 liters of water, ample amount of food for the day (too much, but this is something I always bring extra of) - consisting of 3 baby bell cheeses, one pack of twinkies (now dreamies, what the heck?), 7 gu gel/honey stingers, a snickers bar, a twix bar, two apples, some werthers originals and that's about it. Also an 18oz puffy, hat, glove liners and shells, 5oz wind shell, 11oz wind pants, fleece technical hoodie, spot, gps, matches, tp, wag bag, compass, water purification tablets (WHICH I USED!) motrin, first aid junk, headlamp, extra batteries for headlamp and gps/spot, ice axe, crampons, trekking pole (just one), sunglasses, sunscreen, helmet, and probably a few other things including a small bivy. This all weighed in at 21lbs including the pack. Not too bad. Being Solo my desire was sustain life in the event of an unplanned night out.
After splitting off the main trail for the MR route in the morning, I was faced with my earlier mistake of not locating the correct route through the ledges. The research I had done the night before paid off, causing me to realize I had failed to cross the creek prior to entering the ledges. One must cross the creek twice, then is immediately faced with entry of the ledges. This will all make sense when you climb the route. Just make sure to cross the creek once to trekkers left, then once back across from whence you came, further up the valley.
Once past the ledges in the dark, I regained a lot of motivation to complete the route. I had previously heard stories from the ranger the day before, about people getting lost and unable to navigate the ledges, turning around - abandoning the climb.
After the ledges the route continues upward (relentlessly steep the entire way) to lower boyscout lake. A trail skirts around the left of the lake. I missed this and wound up bushwacking for 30 minutes. Realizing my error, I deferred to a snapshot in my phone I had taken of the route description. I corrected my mistake and continued on up the basin. The basin on all sides, surrounded by sheer walls of vertical granite. Continuing up also seems difficult to near impossible, considering some of the slabs it looks like you'll have to navigate. The trail circumvents these.
View of whitney above lower boyscout lake
After lower boyscout lake, the route continues steeply upward to upper boyscout lake then takes a sharp left around an extremely sheer buttress, to the south side of iceberg lake. One must navigate to iceberg lake with care on some class 3 rock - there are really only two ways - both seem improbable, surrounded by steep granite walls. It's difficult to discern the route from this point to iceberg leg. Pick something that looks class 3 and go for it.
Just below iceberg lake, realizing I'm still on route.
Photo showing the col or ridge between Whitney and Russel. Whitney is to the left, but the route does not continue past this tent. It goes left of the buttress before the tent.
Finally, iceberg lake to the right - MR in view. The snow turned out to be perfect neve, although thin at the top.
A zoomed in shot of the MR - thin and scary scree at the top.
At the base of the couloir. It seems to go on forever.
Looking back down from whence I came.
The Couloir is intimidating and disheartening. It snakes slightly to the right the entire way up, obscuring the view of the exit. By this time I was pretty beat, coming from sea level and having gained a ton of vertical, getting little sleep and not taking many breaks. Being solo also plays tricks on the mind from time to time. It would've been nice to have a partner for encouragement. Near the top, it turned into a scree fest. One step up, half a step back. This took a lot of energy and was much less stable than cramponing up the snow.
Finally at the top of the Couloir, the route takes a sharp left turn, while exiting a notch. The route looked a bit menacing. The exposure was intense. A steep snow ramp led up to the base of the "class 3" climb, causing one to hug the granite while traversing to start the climb. I was thankful for my axe and crampons. The climb stays steep and one must pick their way through the steep blocky granite to keep the climb at class 3. I have done longs peak and I compare this to the home stretch - yet blockier and steeper, more sustained - overall at least a grade harder. First introduction to California class 3!
The exit from the notch is visible in this photo, lower left - follow the footprints in the snow down to the granite, then keep going. I had left my crampons on for the entire climb at this point - and was glad I had. The snowfield in this photo was obscured during the "class 3" blocky slab climb.
Just below the summit. I took a summit video but no photo. It didn't cross my mind. I took refuge in the hut for about 15 minutes and enjoyed a nice apple. The hut is built of stone and steel, with a wood floor. It is a refuge on the summit from lightning and inclement weather. It was nice to get out of the wind.
The descent was uneventful, albeit a SLOG. Being solo, I chose to descend the standard route from the summit. I wasn't sure of the condition of the snow in the couloir by this time and didn't want to risk it solo. The descent on the standard route from the summit is 11 miles one way.
A sign letting me know I still had 8.7 miles to go.
Random images from the descent. As you can tell, navigating around this monolith is precarious and time consuming.
Exit pack weight 16lbs.
Believe it or not, there is a Whitney Portal mom and pop shop, right at the trailhead. They serve the world's best burger. Sorry In'n'out, but they've got the location on you!
Bye bye Whitney, it was sure nice meeting you.