Mount Whitney (14,505') Distinctions (lists): US Lower 48 highpoint; California State highpoint; Sequoia National Park highpoint; Contiguous US 5,000' Prominence Peak ("Ultra")... and of course, a California 14er and the highpoint of Inyo and Tulare counties! Team: Doug Hatfield & Susan Paul Trailhead: Whitney Portal to North Fork Cutoff Route: Mountaineers Route Distance: Approx. 12.4 miles RT Elevation Gain: Approx. 6,100' Gear: Ten essentials, plus camping, plus helmet. Highly recommend mountaineering boots to protect your ankles from the talus, keep the scree out of your shoes, and keep the soles of your feet happy.
February 2 2009
After suffering a number of painful losses at the cruel hands of the Whitney lottery, over several years time, Doug and I pulled our heads out and realized we didn't really want to do 98 switchbacks up a nice dirt trail anyway. We were Coloradoans, we were mountaineers; wasn't there a mountaineers route on Whitney? Yup, there was - and apparently it was accessible via permit, as a dayhike or with a wilderness permit, if we wanted to camp.
Dayhiking the route was out of the question (I said we were mountaineers, I didn't say we were good mountaineers) but the camping option looked like a pleasant alternative, and would offer us some quality time relaxing in a gorgeous setting. Doug applied for - and received - a pass for two nights at Upper Boyscout Lake, which would put us about 2.6 miles and 3,200' from Whitney's summit - a pretty typical, if a bit steep, summit day for a 14er. We decided that since this trip would demand some major drive-time, we'd try to hit a few more peaks while we were at it... maybe another California 14er, another state highpoint? So many choices... but we had a half-ass plan, and like Doug always says, "a half-ass plan is better than no plan at all."
August 9 2009
Some theme music for your listening pleasure.
So we left on Sunday and drove to St. George, Utah; what a drive! The Roan Plateau, the San Rafael Swell, the Virgin River Canyon and, in the distance, Moab, Fisher Towers, Arches National Park. Find an excuse to drive that road. Make some stops, climb some things.
August 10 2009
Sleep, and then drive more - through Death Valley, where the temps hit 100 degrees - and finally, Lone Pine. We had called in the day before, to let them know we would be late and ask them to please NOT give away our permit. They were expecting us; Doug presented his wilderness permit confirmation letter and they took care of us. Wonderful people. Eleven groups of hikers stood around anxiously awaiting the drawing for a day permit; a man took names, took charge; the people at Lone Pine's InterAgency Visitors Center are polite and efficient.
There is no cell service in Lone Pine, or anywhere on Whitney. Bi-Rite has a pay phone, it's just across the street from Subway.
Doug carried the tent; I carried the stove, pot, fuel and bear canister. The canisters are not required for North Fork (they are for camping in other areas on Whitney) but rodents can be a problem and there are no trees at Upper Boyscout Lake, for hanging your stuff. The rodents climb rocks. Both Doug and I have had a bear bag destroyed by rodents in the past month. So I carried the bear canister.
We stashed all our other "smelly stuff" - extra food, shampoo, French perfume and designer anti-perspirants - in lockers at the trailhead. We set off.
So here's the route to Upper Boyscout Lake: Lovely, sweeping switchbacks for .8 miles... you're on the Whitney Trail. After that, turn right to get on the North Fork trail, where it gets interesting.
This is not the Mount Whitney Trail.
Head up the steep trail and climb over a bunch of rocks. The water birches are scratchy but make great handholds!
See those granite ledges? You're going up there.
It gets narrow in places.
Lower Boyscout Lake is just past that saddle up there.
Pause to enjoy Lower Boyscout Lake.
Then cross the boulder field.
There are slabs. Walk up them and find the trail. There are cairns everywhere. We met three people here who had just done the East Face. The girl, "Elaine," was glowing. I love women when they're like that: happy, unaffected, so pleased with what they've done, for themselves. She had a big beautiful smile. "Phillip" commented on my hat: "Wow, Chimbo - that's a sweet peak!"
Hike up and over the slabs.
At Upper Boyscout Lake, we unpacked, set up camp, filtered some water, ate some dinner, repacked, and got some sleep.
View from the tent. The route from Upper Boyscout Lake starts right there along the left side of that rocky buttress.
August 11 2009
From the lower side of the lake, go south under a rock buttress then west, up a well-cairned trail. Apparently, this route was just recently groomed and it shows. You would have to be an idiot to get off-route. Or maybe just looking for a shortcut. Stay on the lower trail and pass ALL the walls that have water leaking/seeping/falling out of them before heading up the scree-filled trail to Iceberg Lake.
We chose to ascend an "alternate route" (shortcut!) up some wet slabby ledges, then scaled an 8' vertical wall with a single - but solid - foothold, topped out under a boulder in a crawl space where I was forced to drop my pack in order to squeeze through, and then swing my foot over to a downsloping slab on the other side, layback on a good handhold, and swing myself to safety. Woo-hoo! This saved a lot of time, and avoided the crappy scree trail to Iceberg Lake. Doug threw his pack and poles up to me, repeated my moves - and oh yeah, he even rescued my pack and threw it at, er, to, me. A sketchy spot, but once we topped out we were elated at our position.
Locate the solid rock that sweeps down the east face, about 100 feet or so to the left of the main gully.
From the lake, check out Whitney's east face and the big fat gully running up to a notch. That's the Mountaineers Route. Skip it. You've gotten this far - head for the solid rock! If you go 100' or so to the left of the gully, you'll find a trail dotted with some fantastic class 3 sections, and avoid all that falling rock in the gully.
With some careful route finding you can keep this at Class 2+/3, and avoid the first half of the loose gully.
Looking back at Iceberg Lake.
About halfway up you'll join the main trail - the trough, the bowling alley, the chute - hug the rock on climbers left to avoid being caught up in the falling talus, and when that gets crappy, find some solid rock to traverse over to climbers right and hug the rock on that side up to the notch.
From the notch, looking north at Mount Russell.
Hike over the notch and have a gander at the 400 feet of vertical rock over there on your left. This is the fun stuff - it just looks bad!
The Final 400.
That first step was the crux for me. It was high, and I am short. I didn't know I could swing my foot up to meet my ear. This is quite a talent that might come in handy in other situations.
That first step is a doozy!
Doug took a lot of photos on this trip.
I've never seen so many pictures of this section on Whitney.
I know why, now. No one else is crazy enough to let go of the rock to take pictures.
Oh crap. People.
Summit. Summit summit summit!
We opted to take the easier - but slightly longer - class 2 route down to the notch.
Then we repeated our route down to Iceberg Lake.
Descent from the notch to the solid stuff.
Why is going down always steeper?
We also chose the class 2 route down from Iceberg Lake to Upper Boyscout Lake. It was long, loose, tiring. Hot.
Back at camp, we rolled up the sides of the fly and took a nap. Then we got up and made dinner, and discussed the plan for Mount Russell's East Aręte, which we planned on doing in the morning, before packing out.
A fellow camper approached us, stopped to chat. He had been up here a few days earlier, had portered up 90 pounds of climbing gear for some clients, climbed the Fishhook Aręte on Russell, was back for some more climbs, and would be back again next week for five days. Yes, he'd done the East Aręte - how were we going up? Oh, well - you're going to run into 5.10 cliffs that way, go this way instead. Time? Well, on a good day, I can do it in 4 hours up, 3 down. On a good day. Big grin, not sarcastic, not gloating, just an honest grin. Doug and the guy spoke for awhile about the area, he knew it like the back of his hand. He left, and Doug and I discussed the sanity of a seven hour climb - which would likely equate to a twelve hour climb for us - followed by packing out, and downclimbing slabs and ledges, in the dark, on tired legs, with heavy packs. Here's a better idea: get some sleep, pack out, have a nice lunch in Lone Pine. And apply for another wilderness permit next year, for Mount Russell.
So that's what we did.
August 12 2009
Hikin' down, and out.
And under and through.
Whew! I survived another hike, with Susan.
Back on the trail, we met Nancy and Wally Bloomfield, of the Virginia Bloomfields. Lovely people, and highpointers, too. Nancy had suffered a bit of AMS above 13,000 feet - had even enjoyed some minor hallucinations. Wally had summited.
In Lone Pine, we ate at the Mount Whitney Restaurant. Doug likes to support the local economy of any towns that we visit, and eating at a locally owned restaurant (versus a chain) is a good and easy way to do this. I had a huge, cold, delicious, chef's salad with crispy, spicy boneless hot wings and hard boiled eggs and thick-sliced cucumbers on top! Doug gobbled up his sandwich in two minutes and then started in on my salad. He always likes whatever I order better.
The Bloomfields showed up and ordered beer and food, and we exchanged email addresses, and they offered us a place to stay when we do the peaks around Virginia, and we offered them a place to stay when they do Elbert. I'm going to send them a link to this report - I think they'll like it!
After lots of food, and iced tea, and conversation with the Bloomfields, and two very good looking men at a nearby booth who had been hiking for the last ten days, and writing postcards to every member of my family, and mailing them, and gassing up... we headed to Nevada, for a date with another state highpoint.
Mount Whitney is a beautiful peak, like nothing I've seen before, a great spear of rock pointed at the sky. If you like solid rock, and class 3 stuff, and can manage a bit of suffering with the backpack (which isn't that bad, really, just tiring) and the loose rock in the top half of the gully, then you will really enjoy this route. If you're fast and don't want to spend a couple of nights in that beautiful setting, dayhike it. We saw people up there doing that successfully - and others who never even made it to the notch. If you're a Colorado peak-bagger you will discover that you have a huge advantage over the flatlanders, in regard to acclimatization. There were a number of people struggling with this on the approach to camp.
Doug was kind enough to prepare a detailed itinerary, and he took over 600 pictures along the route, so if you need any additional information - or shots of a specific section - he'd be a good resource for you. I don't like to include too many details about the route in my trip reports - you can find most of it online nowadays with a bit of Googling, anyway. Better yet, pick up a copy of Peter Croft's Climbing Mt. Whitney, or, if you're serious about it, R.J. Secor's The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes and Trails. Read a bit, then get out there and figure it out for yourself. That's the fun part, anyway. We're not playing "Twister" here - this is supposed to be an adventure!
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