Back in November 2001, I attempted Mt Whitney via the Mountaineer's Route (MR) solo but failed (read about my Nov. 2001 trip here). Now, about three weeks ago, my partner and I decided to give it a go for a winter attempt on Whitney if conditions remained favorable. We chose the first weekend of February 2002 for the ascent.
- Thursday, Jan. 31st: I left work (Camarillo, CA) at 3:30pm and started driving. I stopped at the Arby's in Mojave and got my usual beef 'n cheddar sandwich. I also went by the Stater Bros supermarket there to buy a few last minute food items. I was back on the road a bit after 5:30pm. By 7:30pm, I was pulling in into Lone Pine. My partner, Mike, had already arrived about two hours earlier and got the permit and motel for the night. We stayed at the "Trails Motel," which is right across the street from the Mount Whitney ranger station. I thought this motel was pretty decent. We spent the next couple of hours sorting through our gear and combining it as group gear. Went to bed by 11:00pm.
- Friday, Feb. 1st: We woke up at 5:00am and headed to P.J.'s for breakfast. I had two french toasts, fried egg, bacon, and hot chocolate. After breakfast, we walked back to the Trails Motel, cleared our room, and put our gear in our cars. The plan was that we will take Mike's car as far as it could go and I would leave my car by the Portal road closure sign. This way if there was a large snow storm at least we had my car lower down. The Portal closure sign (on 2/1/02) was at about 6600'. I parked my car there to the right of the road (as you head west) and transferred my pack/gear to Mike's car. We drove around the closure sign. The road was clear of snow 'til about 7200'. We were able to drive up to 8000'. This is as far as we'd go in Mike's car. We actually parked next to the "Meysan Lakes Trailhead Parking" sign there by the road. We started walking by 7:30am on the Portal Road. Half hour later we reached the Mount Whitney trailhead start sign at ~ 8365'. We took some timer pictures there with Mike's camera. After the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek turn off, we had to break trail. We broke trail without snowshoes 'til the Ebersbacher ledges (lone Foxtail pine) area. This was also the point where my partner turned back. Here is his account:
Just returned from a winter attempt up the MR route. I turned back just below lower boyscout lake. The rivits on one of my snowshoes broke making it nearly impossible to use. Breaking trail and navegating knee deep snow with broken gear really took a toll on me. I also broke one of my ski poles making progress very awkward. I became very exhausted. There was 2 feet of light new snow in the North Fork gully and I am sure it was deeper up the route. The failure of my equipment really bummed me out and discouraged me from continuing on, so I decided the best thing for me was to turn back. I really don't think I would had a realistic shot at the summit with broken gear. My partner, Miguel Forjan, continued on with a group that was behind us guided by Kurt Wedberg. Hopefully they will summit tomorrow. They will have to break trail all the way, taking 4 days on their summit attempt. The weather was perfect....very cold....clear....no wind. I was able to drive my Toyota Corolla to 8,000 ft, parking near the family campground just below the portal. I believe a 4WD could probably make it all the way to the portal. I look forward to Miguel's trip report.
A few minutes later, a group led by Kurt Wedberg (of Sierra Mountaineering International [SMI]), was next to us by the Ebersbacher ledges. After talking to my partner, I decided to go on. However, I first asked Kurt if he'd allowed me to tag along. I told him that I was self-efficient and that I'd need to rope up with them (if needed). He said, "Do you have something you can ascend a fixed line on?" I said, "I have some accessory cord for a prusik." Without any further hesitation, he said, "Come on." I said, "Thank you very much." So, with that, I said goodbye to Mike and that I'd call him next day from Iceberg lake with my cell phone (I brought my cell phone and a whistle as my emergency communication devices). Next, I put my snowshoes on. By 3:00pm or so, we arrived at Lower Boy Scout lake and began setting up camp. My partner took his snow shovel with him. So, I had to wait 'til Kurt finished setting up his tent platform and then he'd let me borrow his shovel. After hiking with snowshoes on the North Fork steep terrain with nearly a 50 pound pack, it was very tiring for me to create the tent platform, anchor my 2-person tent, and prepare for the night. Later, I realized that my partner had taken the pump that I needed for the WhisperLite International white gas stove, too. So, once again, I had to ask Kurt if I could use one of theirs. It turned out eventually that I gave him by fuel so that I could hot water from them (so much for my self-efficiency). We ate dinner and went to sleep. It was quite cold overnight at Lower Boy Scout Friday night. By the way, Kurt's group had 2 clients from the DC/Virginia area, Kurt's girlfriend, Chris (the other SMI guide besides Kurt) and Kurt: 5 total, 6 including myself.
- Saturday, Feb. 2nd: Woke up around 6:30am. The goal today was to get to Iceberg Lake and set up camp there. Had breakfast and soon thereafter I followed Chris, who went ahead and broke trail with snowshoes. The pace he set was just about right. We were not in a hurry. The snow conditions were about the same as lower down: 2 to 3 feet of snow to break through. On the way to Iceberg, we took two decent breaks. What took the most time was the wall just before the Iceberg plateau. It was quite steep for snowshoeing, so Kurt took off his snowshoes and tried it. He said it'd be better to ascend without the snowshoes now. So, Chris and him started breaking this last section of trail, which took quite a bit of time with packs over 50 pounds. Got to Iceberg at 3:00pm or so. Again, I had to wait for Kurt and her girlfriend to finish their tent platform so I could use their shovel. Every evening while waiting for hot water my feet would get cold. My feet would also get cold after getting up in the morning. I did not have plastic double boots. I wore my leather La Sportiva Makalu boots, which I do not recommend for winter mountaineering. I was only warm with them when I was actually climbing. The sock combination I used with my Makalus was a Wigman polypropylene liner sock and a heavier synthetic Thorlo Mt Climbing sock. The Makalus provide some insulation, however, it is not enough for subzero temperatures. I had to put them inside my sleeping bag (covered in a trash bag) so that they wouldn't freeze. They did anyway. They never thawed while I was up there in the Iceberg Lake area. The lesson: I need to buy a pair of plastic double boots for winter mountaineering.
- Sunday, Feb. 3rd: Summit Day. It was a relief to climb with a lighter pack now. We got up at 5:00am, ate breakfast, and geared up for our summit bid. The day was excellent: sunny, clear, no wind by Iceberg Lake. We had two rope teams of 3 each. Kurt and his two clients were in one rope team, and Chris, Kurt's girlfriend and I were in the other rope team. The snow in the main MR gully was knee deep. Kurt evaluated the gully's condition for avalanche and concluded avalanche danger was pretty much nil for that day. Kurt and Chris lead each rope team breaking trail up the main MR gully. A few hundred feet below the notch there wasn't much snow, mostly rock. So, we coiled in into shorter rope spans to travel across the rock/scree. After some time, we eventually reached the notch at ~ 14000 ft. Here, we took a nice rest, although it got somewhat breezy. Since it was getting windier at the notch and it was shaded (meaning colder), Chris went ahead and started setting up the fixed lines to ascend the smaller, left gully up to the summit. Chris and Kurt helped their clients with the use of their mechanical ascenders (I believe they had Petzl ascenders), while I used a prusik with my accessory cord. I also had a smaller accessory cord girth-hitched to my harness with locking carabiner running behind the prusik as a backup. This way when I reached the anchor I would clipped the smaller backup accessory cord and then removed the prusik. Then, I would put the prusik on again past the anchor for the next pitch. It took us 3 pitches to reach the summit plateau.....and at 1:20pm (Pacific time) I made the summit of Mount Whitney. We took pictures, had a quick bite to eat, and started to descend at 2:00pm. Kurt's girlfriend and I rap down, while Kurt's 2 clients were not comfortable rap'ing so they were lowered down from the top during each of the 3 pitches back to the notch. We roped up again in the same 2 rope teams we came up for our downclimb back to our high camp at Iceberg Lake. Back in camp, we had dinner and went to bed early to rest our bones.
- Monday, Feb. 4th: Today would be just to hike out. I got up at sunrise (6:45am) and quickly headed outside. I had to take a dump. I went behind a boulder and released myself there in the snow. Then, since I had brought the poop bags that the Mt Whitney ranger station provides (called when 'Nature Calls---Human Waste disposal bags'), I picked up my feces with the black/white bag and put it inside the larger orange bag. Apparently while I was defecating, my right foot became colder. I went back to my tent to start breaking up camp. I felt that my toes on my right foot were very cold and numb, but I ignored and kept breaking up camp 'til I couldn't standed it anymore. I took my right boot off, socks off, and with my bare foot exposed I started rubbing my toes, specially my large big toe. I felt that circulation had diminished to my right toe, so in an attempt to warm it up faster I put my right toe inside my mouth....I know it sounds nasty after 4 days without a bath, but I spitted afterwards. Then, a few minutes later, I began to feel that my right toe was getting warmer and that circulation was flowing. After this ordeal, I resumed with my tasks of breaking camp and packing out. While I was dealing with my toe, Kurt and group started to hike out at 8:30am. I left Iceberg at 9:10am and caught up with them just before Lower Boy Scout lake. Then, I just followed them to the Portal because they're my ride back down to my car. We were back at the mt Whitney trailhead sign by 12:15pm. Kurt's dad came up with his 4WD pick-up truck and a cooler of beer and soft drinks to celebrate. I asked Kurt if there was a space in the back of the truck for my pack and me and he said, "Hop on." Otherwise, I would had to walk down 3 to 4 miles back to the closure sign parking area where my car was. At the closure sign parking area, I thanked everyone and said goodbye. I changed to street clothes I had kept on my duffel bag and drove back to Lone Pine for a burger. I stopped at the Texaco gas station in Olancha to call my partner Mike and fill up on gas. After a 3-hour drive, I was back home in LA just before 7:00pm. This concludes my Mount Whitney winter trip.
Mt.Whitney Mountaineer's Route Feb. 2002 Photos
Go here for trip pictures.