The Whaleback is an easily recognizable mountain located slightly west of the Great Western Divide, about two miles north of Triple Divide Peak in Sequoia National Park. Its steep walls cut Cloud Canyon in half and although it is not as tall as its neighbors to the east, this impressive swath of granite is extremely striking, especially when viewed from the north at Big Wet Meadows. This peak is very infrequently climbed, with an average of only 1-3 summit parties per year which is a shame because the routes to its summit are exciting and far from trivial with steep drops, breathtaking views and fun climbing being the norm. The main reason for the infrequent visits to its summit is most likely due to its extreme remoteness from any trailhead. The three fastest ways to approach the Whaleback are from the Marvin Pass Trailhead, the Avalanche Pass Trailhead and from the High Sierra Trail via either Copper Mine Pass or Lion Lake Pass. All three routes require between 20 and 25 miles of hiking and a lot of elevation gain and loss. From its summit it has a commanding view of the Great Western Divide as well as an endless view to the north into Kings Canyon and beyond. The best time to climb the Whaleback is from mid-June until mid-October weather dependant. Up to date weather forecasts can be found here
There are three main trailheads which can be used to get to the base of the Whaleback.
From Marvin Pass Trailhead head up to the pass and then over the Kanawyer Gap to Sugarloaf Valley and then Roaring River Ranger Station. From there head up Cloud Canyon until in Whaleback becomes an obvious sight.
From Roads End head up the Bubbs Creek trail until the Avalanche Pass trail cuts off and heads south. Follow the trail over the pass and into Moraine Meadow and then Roaring River Ranger Station. From the station head up Cloud Canyon until the Whaleback comes into view at Big Wet Meadow.
From Crescent Meadow head along the High Sierra Trail until just before the Bearpaw Ranger Station. About a hundred yards before the station you take a junction towards Tamarack Lake and Elizabeth Pass. After a couple miles you have to decide which route you will take into Cloud Canyon. If you wish to go over Elizabeth Pass and Copper Mine Pass head up the trail to Elizabeth Pass before going cross country north to Copper Mine Pass and the dropping into Cloud Canyon. If you wish to go over Lion Lake Pass head towards Tamarack Lake and then head cross country to Lion Lake and then north to Lion Lake Pass before dropping into Cloud Canyon.
There are three routes that many parties utilize to climb the Whaleback. The first involves going up the North Fork of Cloud Canyon and ascending the Whalebacks East Face. For this route follow the trail from Big Wet Meadows towards Colby Lake. Before heading up the last ridge leading to Colby Lake go up the obvious North Fork of Cloud Canyon.
The terrain is relatively level for about half a mile. Before the terrain starts to ascend more steeply start heading up the east face of the Whaleback. From here there are many way to attain the summit but it is probably easiest to ascend a series of diagonal ramps which zig zag up and around steep sections and cliff bands. About 300 feet below the summit one should start traversing right, or north, to avoid the steepest section leading to the summit ridge. From here go up to the summit ridge and traverse the ridge towards the summit. If the climbing ever gets harder than 3rd class on the ridge it would be advisable to descend the way you came and traverse farther north before re-attaining summit ridge and finishing the climb. Although section of the climb may be airy, the climbing itself should be no harder than class 3 and is on relatively stable terrain. Once you get to the summit enjoy the view!
The second route up the Whaleback starts from the Western Fork of Cloud Canyon and heads up the West face. For this route it one wants head far up the Canyon until a large patch of trees is seen high up on the face. Once this is found head towards the trees and up to the ridge. Then drop about 300 feet down the east face and traverse in the same manner you would if you were climbing the east face. This route also goes as 3rd class.
The third route involves climbing directly up the West Face through a large blowhole described here
by Steve Eckert but be advised that this route involves tricky route finding and is surrounded by harder climbing.
There is an entrance fee to Sequoia National Park of $20 per private vehicle for 7 days or $5 per person walking in or on bus for 7 days. Back country camping requires a $15 wilderness permit. To get a permit just go to the Lodgepole Ranger Station or Roads End Permits staion depending on where you start or reserve a permit online
There are several campgrounds in the park. The Lodgepole campground is a reservation only campground and tends to fill up in the summer. To make reservation camm 1 877 444 6777 or go to their website
There are several campgrounds in Cedar Grove and they are all first come first serve and tend to only fill on busy holiday weekends.
For up to date conditions call the Lodgepole Wilderness desk at 556 565 4408.