Due to the constraints of Summitpost and the large number of pictures of Mt. Whitney, none of our pictures are included.
The Mt. Whitney climb started as a small seed implanted by my mountain climbing partner Andrea. She mentioned it as an alternative to a North Palisade trip in 2004. Once implanted it grew into a plan. As a new California Mountaineer's Club (CMC) member, I decided to "host" a trip to Mt. Whitney. I managed to get reservations for 6 about 4 months prior to the climb date (June 10 - 12, 2005). I had 4 other CMC members respond. Andrea, and Rob from the South Bay/Peninsula area of San Francisco, Gail from Santa Rosa, and Araz from Carlsbad. The plan was to attempt the East Face Route (5.6 / 5.7) with Gail and Araz while Andrea and Rob climbed the Mountaineer's Route.
Andrea and Rob met up with Gail and I in Mammoth for dinner (great Pizza at Perry's) then proceeded to Whitney to meet Araz at the campground. Part of the drive we drove through some thundershowers despite no rain being in the forecast. After introductions at the campground, gear sorting, and story telling, it was time for bed. We split the gear into team gear (cooking, bear cans, etc) and rock gear (for Araz, Gail, and I) then divided it up between us.
We managed to hit the trail at approximately 7:30 am at approximately 8,300 feet. The Whitney Trail is your typical trail, which proceeds up the hill until crossing the North Fork of the Lone Pine Creek. From here the climbers "trail" proceeds up the north side of the canyon. The trail starts out like a typical trail until the first stream crossing. Here you must duck below 2" diameter branches while stepping on rocks to avoid the stream. In June the stream was flowing nicely.
Once across the stream the trail gets steeper and starts containing more rock in the trail. During June there were also small snowfields. Eventually the trail crosses the stream again. In June it pretty much meant walking in the stream to cross it. You finish “crossing” the stream at the base of a 15-foot waterfall. From here the trail follows directly along the base of a steep rock wall for a short distance before ending at the base of the famous Ebersbacher Ledges. From here a steep 3rd class scramble leads up to the base of a pine tree. Carefully we walked across the Ledges (a fall would mean serious injury) until it was time to climb up a short wall with horizontal ledges on it, and then traversed back across the ledges until we reached some trees. I found the ledges quite simple to follow and although care was required, felt quite safe on them.
From here the trail resumed upward along the base of a rock wall located on the north side of the canyon. The trail was much steeper and several times the trail became a creek. Eventually the trail flattened out and we had reached Lower Boy Scout Lake (LBSL)
LBSL was very picturesque with rock faces all around us with snow covering much of the area. After a well-deserved rest, we crossed the mouth of lake and started up the snowfields towards Upper Boy Scout Lake (UBSL). Even though it was around noon the snowfields were just firm enough so that we didn't need crampons and also didn't post-hole (breaking through the snow crust to your knee/thigh/hips). We continued up the snowfields until we finally reached UBSL (approximately 11,300 feet) at around 2 pm. UBSL had several dry campsites and we set up camp with a great view back down the canyon to Lone Pine.
We spent some time discussing plans and eventually came up with a plan for Araz and I to get up at 4am to head up to Iceberg Lake and the East Face of Mt. Whitney. Andrea and Rob were going to get up around 6am and head up to the Mountaineers route. Gail just wasn't feeling up to the climb, which was a shame since she carried an additional 12 pounds of gear (rope and personal gear) for the rock climb.
After it got dark (8:30?) the temperature quickly started dropping (ended up getting down to just above freezing) so we all headed off to sleep. Araz and I shared a tent and I don't know which one of us got more sleep since we both tossed and turned like dryers all night long. 4am came and I had gotten very little sleep, had a headache, and my stomach was on the verge of being upset. I took some IB and some Tums, and then Araz and I decided to sleep in for another hour and then try again. After lying back down I quickly fell asleep to be waken by Araz at about 5:30am.
We got back up and joined Andrea and Rob for breakfast. I still wasn't feeling great, but felt much better than earlier. We decided to hike up to the East Face together. Unfortunately my upset stomach returned after breakfast and I ended up "feeding the fish" so to speak before heading up the mountain. We started up the trail at about 6:30 am and I started feeling better and better as we went along. The snow was very firm and crampons were required to climb the slopes above UBSL. We continued up to Iceberg Lake (12,600 feet) and arrived at approximately 8:30am. From here we had a great view of the East Face route and the Mountaineers route. Despite my recent reports from people who had been in the area recently, we found small snowfields on "The Washboard" and at the base of "The Alcove". This would mean some parts of the rock climb would involve climbing on snow that probably wasn't very well attached to the rock face several hundreds of feet above the ground. We felt that the climb probably wasn't "in shape" for our level of commitment (another party also felt the same way an hour later) and we decided to join Andrea and Rob on the mountaineers route. We cached our climbing gear (we also each had about 10 pounds of rock climbing gear that we carried for nothing) near Iceberg Lake and started up the steep snow couloir.
The snow couloir was in direct sunlight and was much softer than the snow leading up to the climb. We found it a lot more work to climb up the couloir because of the softness of the snow. We continued up several hundred feet until the snow ended at some talus slopes. We took off our crampons and continued up the rock and talus until reaching "The Notch" at just a little over 14,000. We took another well-deserved break. Feeling success not very far away, we once again started up.
From here we had two choices. A steep rock and snow filled gully or a traverse to the north across a steep and VERY exposed snowfield. A slip here if not immediately arrested would result in a very long fall and serious injury (others have died here). Rob wanted to climb the steep snow (and possibly) ice/rock chute directly up. I was also tempted to climb the steep snow, but I had brought along my new ultra-light crampons, which might not be up to the task if it involved any ice. Andrea also didn't want to do the chute and would feel more comfortable on the traverse with me, so the decision was made. Well all put our crampons back on and Rob headed up the chute while Araz, Andrea, and I started across the traverse.
I found the traverse very straightforward and simple. The footsteps that we followed were very nicely made (nice horizontal footprints despite the slope angle) and the snow still quite frozen with our crampons biting nicely into the snow. After crossing the snowfield we reached the summit plateau. After a short walk on snow that our route lead to rocks and the regular summit trail. We headed on up to the summit individually. I reached the summit shortly after Rob did, then a short while later Andrea reached the summit, then Araz.
I made a joke to Araz that "I've seen better looking dead people" and Araz then told me that he had been feeling terrible and had thrown up several times including just a few moments prior to me seeing him. We then discovered that Araz had not been able to keep anything down and had not been drinking much water.
After enjoying some great views and taking the usual summit pictures, we started back down the same way. Worrying about Araz's health, we constantly reminded him to drink water. Araz was stubborn about not being able to keep anything down, but fearing that he might succumb to altitude sickness we constantly kept on him until he finally started drinking. Araz still refused to eat anything since he said he couldn't keep anything down. We felt the best thing we could do would be to start down and get Araz to a lower elevation.
We kept very closely together on the down climb so we could keep a closer eye on Araz. We quickly reached the snow portion of the couloir and found the snow was now quite soft and crampons were no longer needed. The consistency of the snow was such that it made for a very easy plunge-stepping descent until we reached a low enough elevation that a fun glissade was possible back down to where we left our rock gear.
Araz was really looking a lot worst for wear and was starting to show a lack of balance. Once again we ganged up on him and started telling him to eat with Rob giving him some chocolate and refusing to let Araz do anything with it but eat it. Rob and Andrea split up most of Araz's rock gear (about 14 pounds) so Araz would have a lighter pack. After a rest we once again started down. After about an hour Araz started getting back to his old self and seemed stronger. We eventually reached camp at 6pm and collapsed.
With darkness and it's "cool weather" quickly approaching we made dinner and devoured dinner. Andrea immediately excused herself and headed off to bed. I stayed up with Rob and Araz and talked about layering systems and fuel for the body during climbs until about 9pm. We decided that we would get up when the sun came up (about 6am) since that is when it warmed up. Our goal was to get to the cars by noon.
Sunrise came and we quickly started breaking camp and making breakfast. We managed to hit the trail a little after 7:45. We had to descend the snowfields that lead down to LBSL. Based on the condition of the snow yesterday we decided to wear our crampons for descent. After about 10 minutes of walking on the snowfields we realized that we didn’t need the crampons since the snow had already softened up. We continued across the snowfields until we finally reached LBSL.
Gail was feeling the effects of a heavy pack (10 plus pounds of rock climbing gear wasn’t helping) and was finding the descent steep and more difficult than going up. The wet rock from the spring runoff wasn’t helping anything since parts of the trail are down a creek bed. Once again we grouped up and split up some of Gail’s weight.
We found Ebersbacher Ledges more difficult going down. Because of countless climbers going the wrong way on the ledges there were trails that led everywhere. Many of these were in the wrong direction. While the ledges were very obvious going up the hill, they were not obvious going down the hill. Eventually we were able to make our way down the ledges (note: ignore the small cairns and only follow the HUGE ones).
We finally got another well-deserved rest. After the second stream crossing (first one going up), we broke up individually and each hiked down at their own speed. We all reached the cars before noon. We decided skip lunch and headed to Whoa Nellie Café for dinner.