May 7-10, 2004Mike and I flew into Las Vegas and drove across Death Valley to our destination at Whitney Portal. We are both from the Midwest, so we wanted to allow plenty of time to acclimatize. We camped the first night at the trailhead.
THE ROUTE: The Mountaineer's Route
CONDITIONS: Temperatures were quite warm the week prior to our trip (80's - 90's in Lone Pine). And it had not snowed for several weeks. The avalanche danger was considered low by the CSAC. We had clear skies and temps in the 70's during our trip.
GEAR: Essential gear that we brought were snowshoes, crampons, ice ax and helmet, plus the usual overnight supplies for snow camping. We did not bring rope or harness.
DAY 1: We began our hike to Iceberg Lake at 8:45am, after breaking camp and last minute preparations. The trail for the first hour/hour and a half is well maintained and easy to hike. We eventually encountered thick brush before the Ebersbacher Ledges which slowed our progress. All branches seemed to oppose us! There are cups, bottles and straps hanging from limbs, stolen from unsuspecting hikers.
We were saved from the evil Willows by the Ebersbacher Ledges and ascended out of bushwhacking hell. However, somehow we managed to get off trail slightly and we found ourselves crossing a very narrow 10" ledge with a 40ft drop. I didn't remember reading about that one! But we pressed on anyway. After the ledges we found ourselves back on trail again and it was a pleasant hike to Lower Boy Scout Lake.
Ground snow was prevalent after LBS Lake. So we put on our snowshoes and followed the tracks to Iceberg Lake. It took us about 8 hours to reach camp.
DAY 2: We spent the second day acclimatizing. We took some short day hikes and just hung out at Iceberg Lake.
DAY 3: We started out for the summit at 9am, with crampons and ice ax. We were the first party of the day to climb the MR. The snow on the northern couloir was perfect for climbing. There are 2 chutes on the lower part of the route. We ascended the left-hand side of the right-hand chute.
When we reached the notch, we discovered the snow was pretty hard on the north side of the summit. We opted to stay on the class 3 rock instead. We packed away our crampons and ice ax and climbed the very first chute leading up to the summit. We started up the left-hand side and then quickly traversed to the right of the snow chute via a ledge. The route felt very exposed. However, it was pretty easy to climb and we made good time. It took us about 4 hours total to reach the summit. The weather was excellent, so we stayed up there for a couple of hours and talked to several other groups. I felt absolutely great! The extra day to acclimatize really helped.
A pair of climbers came up behind us who had rope with them and were kind enough to belay us as we down-climbed the same way we had come. The 4 of us used a sitting glissade to descend the lower couloir, with axes in hand to control the slide. (I won't do that again, as I burned a hole through my expensive Goretex paints!)
DAY 4: We broke camp by 8am and headed back. The hardest part was the initial drop from Iceberg Lake. The snow had frozen overnight and the route is quite steep initially. We put on our crampons and made it safely. We did not wear our snowshoes going back, because of the early day travel though we probably should have. We were post-holing regularly by 9am.
We followed the correct set of Ebersbacher Ledges on the return trip and that's when we discovered that we were off course during the ascent. The ledges are like a highway when dry and really quite easy to cross provided that you are on the correct set of ledges.