Sunday, April 3, 2016

Mt Whitney, Mountaineers Route (14,505', class 3)

I had been thinking of doing a winter ascent of Mt. Whitney for a while, but a series of storms in January, and other priorities but it on the shelf. So instead of a winter ascent, a spring ascent of the mountaineers route was put into action, Michael was stoked, and suggested that one of his friends, Troy might also be interested. Michael is a strong climber who is pumped about venturing into the mountains, and Troy is an experienced ultrarunner/alpinist/mountain enthusiast.  Then of course me, the approaching middle aged professor who thinks he can still climb, a perfect team!

I picked up the boys, and we headed over to Lone Pine. A boring ~5ish hour drive across sage brush desert. Some people made wise use of the time in the vehicle.

Michael enjoying the ride to Lone Pine.
We camped at Whitney Portal (7850'), and had a relaxed morning start around 8 am. No need for alpine starts here. There was no snow at the portal, a sign that spring is full on in the mountains. We weighed our packs, mine came in at 36 lbs. Yikes! I don't think I have carried a pack that heavy in years, I guess all those layers add up, or I just brought too much stuff!

Gearing up at the Portal. Photo credit Troy K.

Start of the trail.

The trail starts out on the infamous Whitney swtichbacks, but then quickly diverged onto the North Fork of Lone Pine creek. The trail is shorter, but steeper then the regular Whitney trail. Thank goodness, I hate those endless swtichbacks. I much prefer just walking straight up a steep slope.  It was not long before we were into the snow line.

Approach trail. Photo credit Troy K.
Troy making it look easy, on the approach.
The approach to our planned camp at iceberg lake, is only 3.4 miles, but gains about 4300'. Honestly the hike in was not nearly as bad as I was expecting. The snow was well consolidated, so we didn't need snow shoes, and there were plenty of tracks to follow. We passed a bunch of people camped at lower boy scout lake, and continued on our way. The sun was blazing, and it was very hot out, not winter conditions!

View from lower boyscout lake

Once we passed upper boy scout lake, we passed a group of guided climbers, and then headed a short steep icy hill. The first time we had to bust out our ice axes and put the crampons on.

Short steep section on the approach. Photo credit: Troy K.

Above upper boyscout lake
We reached our base camp at iceberg lake which sits at 12,700' around noon. We set up camp, had some food and debated the merits of continuing on to the summit.  It was around 2:30 by the time camp was set, water boiled, food ate and the decision had to be made. A few other climbers were coming off the route, having failed to summit. We decided to wait or the next day, but in retrospect it would have been a piece of cake to have summited that day.
Troy provides scale, next to Mt Whitney. Our route takes the snow gully to the right.

Basecamp at Iceberg Lake (12,700')
We lounged around camp, basking in the warm sun, resting for the next day's climb. Almost felt like a day at the beach, except for all the snow, and the thin air giving me an altitude headache. We all took a nap in our tents.

Relaxing in my tent. What a view....

Michael demonstrates how to evade a sunburn
Soon the sun dipped behind the mountain, and the temperatures plummeted. It was well before freezing in no time. Where did those beach temps go?

Troy and Michael trying to stay warm
We were off to bed not long after sunset. Into our warm fuzzy sleeping bags. None of us slept very well. Apparently sleeping at an altitude of almost 13,000' is tough. I did some research and restless sleep is the norm at high altitude. A good experience to know what to expect for future high altitude climbs.

Cozy? Photo credit: Troy K.
We woke up around 7am, and had another lazy morning. A seemingly endless train of climbers marched passed our camp onto the climb, as we made our breakfast. I guess most people camp at lower elevation, but I am glad we stayed where we did. The climb starts with about 1600' of ~35 degree snow slopes, up a wide gully.

Michael coming up the start the route
We flew up the gully, and passed a few of the climbers who started before us. Soon we were onto some rock bands, and then crested onto a "notch".

Troy and Michael right before the notch
Above the notch there is about 400' of 3rd class climbing. Oh so fun. We headed up some easy rock, then onto a steep snow slope. This was the highlight of the climb, I just wished it was 2000' long instead of a mere 400'. We didn't bother roping up for this part, the climbing was easy and fun.

Troy climbing some of the 3rd class rock bands

Michael negotiates the crux
Looking down the final steep snow slope
After that summit time! Whoop! Only took is ~1.5-2 hrs to summit the mountain! Great to stand on top of the tallest peak in the lower 48 once again.

The boys relaxing on the summit

Summit views

Team summit shot! 

We were back to our base camp in about an hour, and then it was 3 hours hike back to the car. Overall an awesome trip.

I am super impressed with Michael and Troy as alpine climbing partners. They both have easy going personalities, drive to get to the summit, skill to get us there, fitness to push on, and most importantly super positive attitudes. I think there will be more peaks in our futures.

A few notes:

-This could have easily been done as a day trip. With the consolidated snow, and lighter packs, I think a one day ascent of the route would be something worth doing.

-The climb was way easier than I was expecting, the technical parts were short and easy, and although the mountain was tiring, I would not say I was pushed to my limit.

-Nutrition at altitude remains a struggle for me. The dehydrated Mountainhouse I brought was nauseating. I totally lose my appetite above 10,000'. I think maybe heartier soups, granola, and other liquid food to supplement my snacks might be the way to go. Snickers are like magic, I eat one of those and I am recharged for about 2 hours

-I need to drink more water!

-Equipment was overkill, I had too many layers. Next time, I'll trim it down somewhat.

1 comment:

  1. I am reminded of a graph in your office relating the quality of the experience to the quantity of stuff ...
    Also, perhaps those folks who camped at Boy Scout Lake knew what they were doing in they avoided sleeping at high elevation.