(This TR can also be found on my webpage, with the added advantage of numerous photos)
October 26, 2002 - The Approach
Sven Feldmann and I left Whitney Portal at 9:30 am an reached Trail Camp at 1:30 PM, in time for a late lunch. In the afternoon I hiked up to the base of the East Buttress of Mount Muir to check it out, and we spent a leasurly afternoon in camp, witnessing the changing weather and the afternoon colors. People kept walking into camp throughout the afternoon. There were maybe 8 tents at Trail Camp that night. A lot of people were also coming down from Whitney. As far as we could tell only a couple made it to the summit that day. Most were not prepared for the weather. Some were wearing jeans and sneakers, and could not get past the ice on the 99 switchbacks.
October 27, 2002 - Hike up Mount Whitney via the main trail
It snowed part of the night, and we woke up with a couple of inches of snow on our tent. We left camp at 8 am and made our way up the 99 switchbacks in damp and cloudy weather. The fresh snow gave us good traction and we did not need crampons. We reached the summit of Mount Whitney at 11:30 am and stayed over an hour, having lunch and taking pictures. Shortly after we reached the summit the sun broke through the clouds and lifted them away. Surrounding peaks - Mount Russell, Mount Langley, the Kaweahs, the Great Western Divide, the Kings-Kern Divde - progressively emerged, and the cloudy weather gave way to a perfect day. By the time we were leaving the summit, only scattered clouds remained, mostly to the North. We made our way down the trail towards Crooks Peak.
Crooks Peak via the Whitney Trail
Crooks Peak (14,180 ft*) is a 10-minute class 1-2 scramble from the Whitney Trail. Not a very exciting climb, but the summit block is narrow and exposed, and the view of surrounding peaks (including Whitney) is spectacular. As far as we could tell there is no summit register on Crooks Peak. Go here for a story of where the name of Crooks Peak comes from. It was previously known as Day Needle, and was renamed in 1990.
Mount Muir via the Whitney Trail
Around 2:30, we hiked down the trail in search of the correct talus chute up Mount Muir. The tricky part is that it is hard to tell which pinnacle is the summit of Muir from the trail. We went too far and scrambled up the wrong chute. We found ourselves on a small pinnacle on the Whitney Ridge, in full view of the true summit of Mount Muir. Since much of the traverse from our small pinnacle to Mount Muir seemed exposed and difficult, we hiked back to the trail. By then Sven had had enough climbing for the day and decided to hike back to camp and pack it up. I was not so easily discouraged, however. I made my way back up the Whitney trail and located the correct chute. At 3:30 I started up the chute, then to the right to the base of the summit of Mount Muir, and proceeded to solo up the class 3/4 rock up to the summit. There was one useful cairn on the way. Above the talus in the chute the route has some sustained class 3 climbing, and class 4 if you get off route (which I managed to avoid). The class 3 is pretty exposed and sustained, especially in the late season when all the handholds were snow and ice covered. The summit block was covered with a thin coat of snow, which made it tricky. The point is that the standard descriptions of the way up Mount Muir is fine for the middle of summer, but probably understates the difficulty of the climb in semi-winter conditions. Or maybe it's just that I was alone. At 4 PM I was on the small summit of Muir, signed the summit register (there is a brand new notebook, and the last entry was from October 20), and at 4:30 I was hiking down the Whitney Trail towards trail crest, the switchbacks and camp...
October 27 and 28, 2002 - The Return
The snow on the switchbacks had partially thawed and refrozen in the afternoon shade, so crampons came in handy for the descent. As I reached camp around 5:30 I noticed Sven had packed up the tent and the gear. We were ready to go. After a granola bar we proceeded down the trail in the dusk. We took out our headlamps at Trailside Meadows, and reached Whitney Portal at 10 pm. A quick dinner, and bed. The next day was a beautiful day, and we SUVed our way through the Alabama Hills before indulging in a big breakfast in Lone Pine.
(*Crooks Peak does not appear on most lists of California Fourteeners. However, the US Geological Survey does list it as a summit that is separate from Mount Whitney. Crooks Peak is located 0.25 miles south of the summit of Whitney - according to USGS rules this is sufficient for it to be considered a separate peak (by the same rule Starlight Peak is not listed by the USGS as a peak separate from North Palisade). According to the USGS, Crooks Peak (also known as Day Needle) was named by an Act of Congress in 1990 in honor of Hulda Crooks (1896-1997), who climbed the summit at the age of 91. The summit is a 10 minute class 1 jolt from the Whitney Trail and can be seen from the trail. The summit is a narrow pile of boulders, and affords a superb view of Mount Whitney and surrounding peaks. There are nice technical climbing routes on Crooks Peak from the East side.)