The East Face of Crooks Peak is a seldom-climbed route put up by Fred Becky and Rick Reese in 1963. The original route involved a bit of aid, but the route goes free at a moderate 5.9, and that only for a few short stretches. The East Face is a great adventure climb with a mercifully short approach. It offers a little bit of everything: jam cracks, face climbing, corners, roofs, interesting route finding, and the occasional loose rock. Because the difficulty is not sustained, this route is a great candidate for simulclimbing, which, given its 1,400 foot length, comes in handy if you had plans to return to camp before dark.
From Whitney Portal start up the main Mt. Whitney trail until you reach the turn off for the North Fork. Follow the climbers trail past Lower and Upper Boy Scout Lakes. Just before the trail turns right (north) for the final class 2 chute to Iceberg Lake, head left across the moraines towards the base of Crooks Peak. The moraine is unstable in places. Caution is advised.
Approximate route line.
The climb begins in the gulley between Crooks Peak and Third Needle. Ascend snow and loose rock until reaching a chimney on the right. Ascend the chimney (often rather wet inside), and emerge into a short stretch of loose class 3 junk (loose chockstone at the exit). Ascend the steep wall on the north side of the gully wherever it seems most feasible. The crack system immediately in front of you as you emerge from the chimney goes at around 5.8. Once the wall is surmounted you are now on the south side of the east face. Ascend for several pitches, choosing whatever line most appeals to you. Some lines protect better than others. The rock in this section is generally sound, though the leader must be cautious about loose rock. There are some good-sized chunks just waiting for a careless touch, or a poorly running rope to send them hurtling down.
As one approaches a tower at about 2/3 height you will encounter a 5-6 foot roof in an alcove
. This is a great place to set up a belay, as it affords protection from rockfall that the leader will almost inevitably knock down. Ascend the roof on either side (both about 5.8 in difficulty) and continue a short ways up to another smaller roof capped by a narrow triangular block. There is a short left-facing corner above the roof. Head into the corner and up another 20 feet or so to easier ground. The easier ground is covered in rocks of all sizes just waiting for their chance to join their brethren in the moraine far below. A kind leader will stay as far right as possible to minimize contact with this mess.
Continue up towards an obvious right-facing corner just left of the edge of the buttress. A fixed bong at the base of the corner provides confirmation that you are on route. Climb the corner for about 100 feet to a large ledge (sustained 5.8-5.9). From here the first ascent route begins a long traverse left
beneath the final headwall towards the Crooks-Third Needle notch. Porcella and Burns' Climbing California's Fourteeners
amusingly characterizes the traverse as "Class 4-5". It is two full rope lengths of interesting route finding. Though never very hard, it is easy to find oneself far away from the last piece and all of a sudden have to do a few delicate moves. Following protection opportunities is probably the safest strategy, though it ups the technical difficulty a bit. In general, try to head straight across. Once the corner is turned into the Crooks/Third Needle gully look for the most expeditious way of getting to third class ground. This might involve some downclimbing. Once back in the gully scramble the last bit to the notch. The main Mount Whitney Trail is about 100 feet below you.
It is also possible to continue upward for another 2-3 pitches or so, via any of several possible lines, all more difficult than anything you've encountered so far. Porcella and Burns did a variation they call The Illywacker
, which goes at 5.10b and takes a line just left of a very obvious overhanging offwidth high on the headwall.
Descend via the Mountaineer's Route (assuming you're headed back to the North Fork). Do not under any circumstances attempt to descend the Crooks-Third Needle gully.
Helmet. The route can be done with a 50m rope, a handful of nuts, and cams to 3". Doubling up on cams in the 0.5-2" range can't hurt. Did I say bring a helmet? Bring a helmet. Double ropes aren't a bad idea either. Neither is a good sharp knife.