March 16, 2008Skiing the Mountaineer’s Route on Whitney has been a long-time objective, and something I wanted to do soon. I did a warm-up route, skiing the East Couloir on Matterhorn Peak, and all went well. I asked one of my tele friends if he was interested in Whitney, and initially he was despite the fact that I'm an AT skier. But as the date got closer, he was non-commital, so I decided to go up on my own.
The road was marked as closed way down low, but I drove through the closure until I reached the point where the road was snow-covered, and parked here next to a few other folks. This point turned out to be about a half-hour skin from the trailhead, so not too bad.
The pre-dawn view of Whitney from the ‘parking area’
The ‘new’ Whitney trailhead
Skinning past Whitney Portal on the way to the original trailhead
In the summer, Whitney is a pretty easy hike/scramble/climb, so I expected the route up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek to be straightforward, perhaps easier than the summer, with all of the brush under the snow. I took the original trail up, descended down to the NFLPC, and started up. In the summer, it is best to stay on the north side of the creek, but today it looked better on the south. There was a skin track, but it was badly abused by the boot-packers, and my skins weren’t holding that well.
I put my ski crampons on, and that helped for a while, but soon the skin track was so beat up that I was working too hard to keep from sliding backwards. So I gave in and put my skis on my pack and boot-packed the rest up to Lower Boy Scout Lake.
Arriving at Lower Boy Scout Lake (LBSL)
There was fresh snow from here on up, so I put my skis back on, and the skinning was much easier. On the slope just above the lake there was 6-10" of fresh, and I was already looking forward to coming down. I passed a couple of hikers who had camped at LBSL, and they said they were heading for the top. I never saw them again.
Looking back down at LBSL
There were quite a few people camped at Upper Boy Scout Lake, and just past there I talked with a couple of hikers coming down from Iceberg Lake. They had spent the night there, and decided not to ascend the MR due to avy concerns.
Just above Upper Boy Scout Lake (UBSL)
Campers at UBSL
I continued around the end of the plateau and contoured up onto the flats near Iceberg, and headed straight for the MR. I skinned as far as I could, and stopped and put my skis back on my pack, and applied my crampons.
Gearing up for the MR
Looking down the MR from the point where I had to switch from skis to crampons
I had actually never ascended the MR before this day. I had descended it 3 times in the past, after ascents of the East Face and the Sunshine-Peewee routes, and found it to be loose and junky. But with a (very) firm snowpack, the cramponing was easy and direct, and the wind had scoured all of the fresh snow out of the chute, making the avy danger negligible.
The view down the MR
Near the top of the MR
I arrived at the Notch and ditched my pack and traded my ski poles for an ice axe.
A brief break in the clouds as I arrived at the Notch
The first section up the north side was a bit dicey for me, I’m not much of a mountaineer. The rocks were rounded, covered with rime, and many of the cracks had ice in them. I almost turned back as it didn’t seem worth the risk. All I could think about were all those folks who tumbled off right here in the winter of 05-06. But they were glissading. I looked around a bit and found a reasonable route, and continued up. The snow was steep but a good consistency for crampons, and my axe sank to the hilt each time, so I felt secure.
I arrived at the top, and I had it all to myself (go figure). The top was cold, really cold, it was windy, maybe 50 knots, and it was snowing, so I didn’t stay long.
My brief stay on the top
I downclimbed to the Notch and put on my skis, looking forward to a quick descent.
Gearing up for the descent of the MR
But the weather, deteriorating throughout the day, had worsened considerably. The wind was howling, it was snowing hard, and visibility at times was nil. So I had to ski by Braille, feeling my way down the very firm and crusty snow. Sometimes I could only link a couple of turns at a time, and occasionally when I stopped I would just fall over due to the lack of a horizon. Sometimes I could barely even see my skis due to the whiteout conditions.
As I descended, conditions improved little by little, and routefinding wasn’t too difficult. The section between UBSL and LBSL was as good as hoped, and these were really the only good turns on the day. Quickly I was back at the trailhead, skiing down the road to my truck.
The Whitney Portal climbs are frosted with rime and snow
It had been a fun day in the mountains.
Back at the truck, frosted myself