In the beginning...
Hi everyone. It's Anders again. You may remember me from such trip reports as "Battle with Gannett Peak", and "The Great Soda Snafu of '06." I'm back to tell you of my adventure with climbing Mount Whitney with my good buddy Jason. Now, Whitney is a natural destination for many as it's the highest point in the lower 48 states. As such, you need a permit to climb it in the summer months as everyone and their dog clog the Muir trail. This led my friend and I to attempt to climb it during the winter months where we wouldn't have to sign up for a lottery. This also meant we could hit the Mountaineer's Route.
Anyway, as we live in Utah it was going to be quite the drive. We decided to leave at around 3 PM on a Friday so we could begin climbing the mountain by about midnight, get to the top during the day on Saturday, and make it back to the car. So we loaded our food supplies, crampons, ice axes, and winter clothing and we were off!
Just for safe measure I decided to say that I was going to hang out with Whitney over the weekend on my Facebook page. Well, my roommate informed me that many girls were asking him just who this Whitney character was...he just gave them a smile and said he didn't know.
For those of you who have traveled the lonesome road of highway 6 through Nevada you know that it's probably the loneliest road in the US. I recommend filling your gas tank in Ely or Tonopah if you're heading to or from Utah. There is nothing out there but rugged landscape and bunnies. I don't know if it's the sexiness magnetism of my car or it's just terribly lonely and it makes the bunnies suicidal but several bunnies jumped out in front of my car on highway 6 to their impending doom. Let me tell ya, in 46 battles with bunnies so far it's car 46 - bunnies 0.
Lone Pine - Whitney Portal
We made a stop in Tonopah (Queen of the Silver Camps) at a Subway. This is important as I only ate 6 inches of the foot long I bought. I find a dose of green peppers helpful whilst I climb. Anyway, we made it to Lone Pine at about midnight and hit the visitor's center to get some self-issued permits. I also slammed a 5 hour energy. They make me feel a little weird but they keep me awake. They're also a lot easier to down than monsters or rock stars. Just between you and me I never feel like a rock star when I drink those things.
We drove up the portal road hoping that it wasn't closed, and guess what? We were grateful that it was indeed open, so we drove all the way to the parking lot. We didn't see many cars there, but half of the lot was still covered in a hard packed snow. This excited me immensely as snow always does. I spend countless hours rolling around in it during my winter free time. Anyway, it was probably the best thing ever.
It wasn't too cold for me so I began the adventure in my snow pants and just a long sleeve Under Armor turtle neck. I didn't even put on my mittens until way later, but more on that to come. For now it suffices me to say that we began our ascent at about 12:30 AM.
The Mountaineer's Route
The Muir trail and the Mountaineer's route share the same trail up several switchbacks until you get to a place where a large stream crosses the trail. The bifurcation is just before the stream, and the route is steeper and more rugged than the Muir trail. You can't miss it.
The snow stayed hard packed and we didn't have to break any trail on the way up. This was very nice as we felt very strong and sped our way up the mountain. Jason kept trying to challenge the bears to a death match, but I think they just thought he was joking...well...maybe he was. I wouldn't want to fight a bear to the death. Maybe a koala bear...but I digress.
Lower Boyscout Lake
We made it to Lower Boyscout lake in something like an hour plus. It was still very dark, and there was no wind. The only thing I could hear was the crunch of my steps in the firm snow. I got a little away from Jason as we crested the hill to get to Lower Boyscout Lake and it kind of freaked me out a little being all alone in the dead of night. Once at Lower Boyscout Lake we put on our crampons as we took a break to eat some food. This is where I pulled my mashed half-eaten subway club out of my bag and devoured it. It tasted so good despite the mashing.
Upper Boyscout Lake
Making our way around the snow covered lake the next obstacle before us was the climb to Upper Boyscout Lake. I was feeling very strong; like there was nothing to stand before us and this mountain. I credit this to my P90X conditioning. I think even Tony Horton would have been proud with my punctuated breathing and ceaseless drive.
The terrain becomes less steep as you near the upper lake. In fact it makes a great place to camp if you're going to spend multiple nights on the mountain. We took a break near the boulder field for a few minutes and then we were once again biting our crampons in the snow up the mountain. There were a few tents strewn about but Jason didn't even care and began whistling the Kill Bill whistle song. I like to think that even Whitney knew what was coming for her in the night.
The trail steepens a bit up from Upper Boyscout Lake. There's a basin of sorts once you crest the incline but the trail winds its way along the rim and steadily goes up. There's another steep area right below Iceberg Lake and it took us a while to get up. The wind began to pick up here and I was getting very cold so I decided that it was time to put on my soft-shell and my hard-shell over it. I didn't have a balaclava like Jason so I needed the hood on my hard-shell to cut the wind out of my face and head. Once we began moving again I warmed up significantly and was toasty in no time.
By the time we reached the relatively flat area of Iceberg Lake the sky was becoming lighter and lighter. I think I made a snowball at this point and named it Johnny. I told Jason about my masterpiece of a snowball but again he didn't even care. It's like all he wanted was to be up on the summit. I threw Johnny at Jason but he just kept whistling. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done saying goodbye to Johnny, but we had a mountain to climb! In retrospect I don't think I even made a snowball.
From the base of the couloir, Whitney looms high above; a great spire thrust into the sky. The vertical east face is very beautiful and just begs to be climbed. Maybe if we ever get a summer permit we'll come back and climb it with a rock climbing rack.
We were making our way up the couloir when the sun came up. Until this point we had been making some good time, but now with light on the horizon I knew our cameras would come out and slow us down a little. The couloir marks the steepest part of the climb, and it can take a while to get up. Just keep plugging, take some vitamin I if you get a headache, keep hydrated, and chew on some jerky or some cheese. I prefer pepper jack!
Jason and I took turns with my camera as we passed each other several times. With us taking pictures and throwing snowballs at imaginary mountain goblins it took us a couple hours to reach the top of the Couloir. Jason reached it first and took a self-portrait. It’s probably the best picture ever.
I finally reached the top of the couloir. It was a little windy but with the sun having risen the temperatures had as well. I shed my hood and let the wind cool me down. I was still feeling strong, but you can really tell how thin the air gets above 14,000 feet.
Once at the top of the Couloir the trail wraps a little behind an outcropping of the mountain and then proceeds up an even steeper portion of rock and snow called the Notch. It is the last obstacle on the route. Some people prefer to use a rope on this portion, but the conditions were such that we didn't feel we needed one.
Jason climbed up some of the rocks and waited for me to pass him up. He then took some shots of me going up the notch. I still felt pretty good going up, and could feel that great feeling on the verge of bursting through my psyche when you get close to a summit.
We reached the summit at about 9 AM. We were the first to summit that day. It was so good to be standing on the top of Mount Whitney. I waited for Jason to make his way up the Notch and he took some pictures. I ate some food and was sleepy...not tired, I just needed a nap. So we found suitable rocks for bed and took a 30 min. power nap.
We sat around the top laughing and taking shots for about an hour. Another climber got to the top and left before we started to make our way down. The landscape on top was just really beautiful and I didn't mind staying up there so long as it was a perfect day and we'd spent so long getting to our goal and destination.
Our Ice Axes were even happy to be on the summit and allowed us to take a shot of them while they posed in front of the plaque on top of Whitney. They're usually very stubborn and belligerent.
What?! Our Climb is Only Half Over?
By the time we decided to leave there were a lot of people coming up the Notch; so many, in fact that I took off my crampons and started to scale the rocks to the side. I feel very comfortable on rock and made my way slowly down. Once I made it to the top of the Couloir it was just a little matter of getting on my butt and sliding down the several hundreds of feet to Iceberg Lake. I think we made it down to the lake at about noon.
The rest of the day we spent laughing and slowly going down. We ate some snacks and never really stopped going. It still took us a while to get down. The snow wasn't as good as it was during the night and had turned to a slush that made us fall through several times. We didn't get back to the car until about 4:30 PM. Nevertheless it was a great day. We had summited Mount Whitney and we were now on our way to Carl's Jr for some much needed food.
Mount Whitney is one of my favorite climbs and I recommend it to anyone who is fit, and has the gumption to travel on snow and highway 6. There were no bunnies on the trail, and that was fine with me. It was a great privilege to have experienced this mountain without any mishaps or safety issues. I hope to do this climb again soon.