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Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

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Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby RyderS » Sat Dec 22, 2012 1:33 pm

A friend and I are planning ahead and considering doing road trip out to climb the East Buttress in mid-late March (i.e. around spring break time). I wanted to see what kind of conditions to expect to be on the route-proper during that time of year, typically... or whether it's really worth doing at all during that time of year since the MR is right next door. Definitely have leeway for suffering some cold on-route, but I thought 8ish pitches of hands in snow/ice filled cracks might dampen the fun. I know it's a bit early, but the two of us want to have plenty of time to train, practice self-rescue stuff, etc.

I have been on Mt. Whitney before, the MR back in January 2011, when the whole place was blanketed under a pretty big amount of snow (a lot higher than average, I think?). I have read some SP pages that snow and ice can linger for a while on parts of the route (north-facing aspects), complicating the good times. I have climbed in cold/very conditions in places like the Cannon Cliff and Seneca Rocks and got away with rock shoes, but I wonder what the altitude factor on Whitney might kick in for cold management. Should I be expecting to climb in boots (i.e. my 'old-school' double plastic Koflachs) rather than rock shoes (assuming that I'd be wearing 'spacious' trad shoes that can accommodate warm socks)? I'll still hedge my bets by training in boots, anyways.

Thanks for the info. May Santa bring y'all shiny new gear...
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Re: Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby Sierra Ledge Rat » Sat Dec 22, 2012 1:48 pm

In late March you can expect full winter conditions, just like your January 2011 trip. There is a variation in the actual conditions and snowpack from year to year... But generally I would consider late March = full winter conditions.
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Re: Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby Likoang » Sat Dec 22, 2012 4:31 pm

In March in the morning the sun rising in the east will light up the face of Mt. Whitney, and at sunset time Mt. Whitney could be just a silhouette, as the sun could be behind it. But before the sun goes behind it, there might be some nice side-lit shots.In early March, the average afternoon high is 63 F, with the average nighttime low 33 F. Of course it could be hotter or colder. The record high for early March is a warm 83 F and the record low is a bone-chilling 18 F. So overall, pretty cool to cold is what you can expect. In dry air such as that found in Lone Pine, the temperature varies widely from night to day. It may be comfortable at 3 pm but may drop quickly once the sun goes down. So dress in layers
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Re: Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby Diggler » Mon Dec 24, 2012 11:57 pm

I would suggest bringing the rope, tech gear, boots, crampons, & ice axe. If conditions aren't suitable for the Sunshine Peewee route (east buttress), you can always give the mountaineer's route a go. I climbed the whole route (including leading the crux) in May a number of years ago in La Sportiva Nepals- I'd recommend doing it with boots, if you're comfortable with it- it will likely be cold. Also bear in mind that the route is fairly sustained mid 5th, & the crux is somewhat poorly protected (bring nuts, small cams, & maybe a Screamer or 2); you could maybe switch into rock shoes for this (rest of the route's other cruxes are well protected). Also, don't underestimate the descent (i.e. the mountaineer's route), esp. if you haven't been on it before- it is non-trivial (esp. in the ice/snow), requires care & time while downclimbing, & glissading should NOT be attempted- a number of people have had fatal accidents. Know the turnoff that gets you down to Iceberg Lake, too. Make sure your food is safe while you're going up the mountain- I'd thought my food would be safe hanging it from one of the small, last trees found right below Upper Boyscout, as everything was snow-covered- I returned to find the majority of it ravaged by a hungry rodent. :( Good luck, be safe, & have fun!
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Re: Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby asmrz » Tue Dec 25, 2012 5:17 pm

It can be quite cold on Whitney in March. My partner had frostnipped his toes on the East Face in early March in 1983. We brought good leather boots (Super Guides by Calibier), from experience, plastics don't climb well above 5.6/5.7.. The EB is harder than EF, so be prepared for a cold, serious climb. As Diggler stated, the descent via MR can be pretty serious too, if you top out late. Crampons are absolutely essential going down, ice axe too. There is sun on the route most of the morning and mid day, which helps. A good plan with early start and speed will help. And the old saying that if you bring bivi gear, you will bivi, applies here. BTW, rock shoes will not do on EB, the route is not steep enough to slough all the snow off. Expect full alpine winter conditions. Good glove system and extra pair, full rock gear, maybe couple of thin, short pins as well. The climb might take 8-10 hours from the base to the summit. Depending on snow conditions, you might have to carry your load for some distance before you get to the Portal, I would take four days at the minimum. All in all, this is a good quality test piece for budding alpinists. Good Luck, let us know how it went.
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Re: Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby jesu, joy of man's desiring » Tue Dec 25, 2012 6:15 pm

ryderS...definitely re-read ASMRZ post here, several times ^^^^^^^^^^^^^ specially that part about "serious climb"
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Re: Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby RyderS » Thu Dec 27, 2012 7:43 am

Wow, great response here. Thanks for all the input.

Okay, here's the low down:
- We know we will bivi. We are planning on spending a minimum of 3 days on-route, most likely 4 days, and 5 days max (we can be late for classes on the return trip).
- Our rough itinerary looks like this: Day 1.) arrive at Witney Portal and camp for the night (Day 2.) hike to Upper Boyscout Lake and camp there (Day 3.) hike to Iceberg Lake and camp there (Day 4.) Climb the EB, descend by MR. If we have the energy, we will try to push back to the Portal, if not, rest back at high camp; (Day 5.) Return to Whitney Portal.
- In terms of rock difficulty, I think it is within my ability. I have lead upwards of 5.10b while living in China. I did some sustained 30-35m pitches of .9+ and .10a. on gear.
- Definitely bringing as full a rock rack as weight will allow. The only things I would need to add would be a handful of pins and a screamer or 2.
- On route, my second would be muling the pack to carry over. Gear would definitely include crampons and ice axes for the descent. I'd probably have him haul enough to stay safe if we were forced to bivy in the summit shelter should we top out too late. I'll probably sling some emergency webbing across myself, too, in the case of needing to rappel sections of the MR, should it prove to icy at that time of year.
- For the MR descent, I have heard it can get pretty dangerously iced over, so I would not dream of underestimating it. I think I saw the page by 'Vitaly M.' that said his team bypassed the icy sections by 4th class terrain to the climber's right while descending.

So I suppose there are 2 follow-up questions:
- If the route is not steep enough to slough off the snow, will I need to think about having my own axe with me? Haven't seen info or trip reports that have suggested a need for a tool (or 2) on the ascent)
- Any better ideas for keeping food safe from curious critters?

Again, thanks for all the honest advice. Keep it coming if you have more. I definitely plan on keeping up my hard training regiment.

Glad to know SP has many folk willing to check each other before big adventures.

Peace.
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Re: Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby asmrz » Thu Dec 27, 2012 3:34 pm

Ok RyderS, a few comments:

By bivi, I was talking about being benighted on the route itself, not on the approach. It is assumed that yours will be a multi-day trip, but, it should be a single day climb. Bivi on the summit of a Sierra fourteener in mid March is really asking for trouble (without sleeping bags).

If your second carries much more than 15 lbs. in his pack, he will have a very difficult time climbing, so the idea of bringing enough warm gear to bivi on the route or on the top is not realistic.

You do not need but one or two thin-short pins and that is in case you need to rap. One or two thin and short knifeblades would do. If you do bring pin/s, one of your ice tools needs to be a hammer (sorry, that's obvious).

I would not carry an axe while leading. The second person can always provide you with an axe if the terrain above you looks like it might require it. Climbing in good leather boots is the way.

There are two ways to protect the food. One is to carry a small bear canister (heavy), the other is to burry the food bag in a snow pit. Just make sure that you can get to it after the snow settles and freezes.

Cheers and good climbing, Alois.
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Re: Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby Princess Buttercup » Fri Dec 28, 2012 4:54 pm

Depending on conditions of the road, you may or may not be able to drive to the Portal, or the lower campground, or much past the road closed sign at the bottom. Would add ~3-4 miles and 2K of hiking up the Portal as well. Might add some significant time to your trip.
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Re: Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby RyderS » Fri Dec 28, 2012 5:21 pm

amsrz: I know the summit shelter is an awful place to be. It was just a thought, and I definitely know it would be a last resort type of option. I have done 9 technical pitches of sandbagged 5.8 (so more like 5.9?) in about 7 hours which was a huge improvement over my time when I first climbed the route. I know the big variable is how much the altitude will slow me down.

MooseTracks: Yeah, I remember having to do a little over 2500 ft. vertical gain and 3-ish miles last time I was there just to get to the WP. Last trip, my friend's car lacked 4x4, so it might've been a bit longer (didn't make it to the "Road Closed" sign). I'll have a 4x4 this time, though.

Like I said before, if conditions look to sketch or over our heads, the two of us have no issue with switching to the MR. I've made the long trip out to Whitney before and it would be a huge bummer if I missed the summit because of easily avoidable issues.

Now the one of the last big pieces is having enough money to get out there, ha...
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Re: Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby Diggler » Sun Dec 30, 2012 8:19 pm

I'd personally suggest avoiding using pitons during your climb, if you can. While Whitney is not Joshua Tree or Tuolumne Meadows, the E buttress is a well-traveled, POPULAR, & GOOD climb. While pins offer a greater margin of safety than cams in snowy/iced-up cracks, the less in-situ gear on a classic like that (alpine or not), the better. Careless or less-than-ideal placement(s) or removal could easily damage the rock, & then everyone else would have to deal with it during the 'standard' summer season...
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Re: Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby jesu, joy of man's desiring » Tue Jan 01, 2013 6:42 am

pitons are recommened for emergencies only, like in case the shit hits the fan, like in case somebody gets injured and a hasty retreat is in order, fast....then you wont be worrying about scarring a few thin cracks

this after all could be a tough winter climb, right? like with 6 inches of snow covering steep rock, right? like with crampons and ice tools on gnarly mixed ground !!!

scary!!!
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Re: Mt. Whitney EB in Late-ish March

Postby RyderS » Wed Jan 02, 2013 1:34 am

Copy that. I already have an extra set of BD nuts and some tubular webbing. Boom. Money saved.
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