SE Face

Page Type
California, United States, North America
Route Type:
Chute climb & rock scramble
Time Required:
Half a day
Class 3

Route Quality: 4 Votes

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Page By:
SE Face
Created On: Oct 29, 2001
Last Edited On: Aug 5, 2003


The first objective on this route is to gain an obvious bench that extends from Horse Creek Pass laterally across the bottom 1/3 of Whorl's SE face.

If approaching via Horse Creek Pass (see description on Whorl Mountain main page), you will see Whorl Mountain as soon as you crest the pass. Descend slightly to the south, and then continue straight ahead along the obvious bench running alongside and below the ridge of Whorl Mountain.

If approaching from Tuolumne Meadows up the Spiller Creek drainage, head up to Horse Creek Pass at the end of the valley. About a mile before the pass, start heading up to your left, ascending the sandy ledges on the lower reaches of Whorl's SE face. Once you hit the bench, continue up to the chutes. Spiller Creek is off-trail, but relatively easy cross country travel.

If approaching via Virginia Pass and the Twin Peaks-Virginia-Stanton ridge, make a long diagonal traverse from the ridge towards Horse Creek Pass, where you will contour around and join the wide bench mentioned above.

Route Description

This route initially ascends any one of three chutes on the SE Face of Whorl that rise up between the middle and south summits (the middle summit is the high point). Secor's book recommends taking the chute furthest to the left (south) almost to the top of the summit ridge, then traversing across the middle chute and into the right hand chute, where a chockstone is encountered. If you follow this route carefully, the difficulty can be kept to class 2 or easy class 3. If you take either the middle chute or the chute furthest right, the difficulty increases (class 3/4). Because the mountain is so steep, many people have reported difficulty in finding the "proper" chute to begin the ascent.

My recommendation is as follows: Continue along the obvious bench from Horse Creek pass until you begin to angle upwards and to climber's right. Above you to the right you will see a very steeply angled face with a distinctive orange colored rock, with several orange-ish pinnalces next to it. Continue S/SE past this orange area and soon you will see three semi-obvious chutes leading up to the summit ridge (see photo). These chutes are visible after you begin to contour SE around the bottom of the middle summit, after Horse Creek Pass disappears from view behind the east face of Whorl. Following the recommended route, aim for the left most chute, which is bounded on its righthand side by a granite dome with one lone dead bush growing out of its top, and on the lefthand side by a large boulder. It is pretty deceiving from below, and most people get impatient and head up too early. So, once you think you have traversed far enough to get into the chute, go a little bit farther :-) Perhaps the easiest landmark when looking up the face is a very distinctive rock finger that points to the left. This rock is on the subridge that separates the middle chute from the far right chute. You want to be on the LEFT side of this rock in the far left chute for the initial pitch.

Once you have found it, follow the far left chute (chute #1) up to about 150 feet below the large headwall at the top, then traverse right through an obvious crack into the middle chute (chute #2). Once you cross into chute #2, you will have a view up the chute to the finger-shaped rock described above (which is near the top of chute #2). Ascend chute #2 to a point about 50 feet above this rock. Do NOT take the obvious looking crack that leads over into the right hand chute (chute #3) that lies below the finger shaped rock. This crack is tempting to follow, but it presents some problems. In 2001, I succumbed to the temptation and followed this crack into chute #3 (I did so based on a number of reports on the web that this was essentially the preferred route into chute #3 and thus the summit). As I came through the crack, I got a view of the famous chockstone. However, in between me and the chockstone was the crux of the climb -- a nasty exposed friction traverse that is not for the faint of heart. In 2001, I stopped here and turned around.

In 2002, Snwburd day-hiked Whorl and supplied the following helpful beta: "There are several places one can cross between chutes #2 & #3. The one described here is probably the hardest which is why it is described as the crux. This photo shows it to be about 80 feet below the chockstone. An easier route can be reached from this same point by climbing up 50ft along the ridge between the two chutes instead of trying to do the friction traverse. The climb above leads to a narrow walkway between large slabs (the no-fat-guy walk) which opens to an easy sandy ledge that walks you to the base of the chockstone in chute #3. This photo, taken from the base of the chockstone, shows the easy sandy slab and the harder, scary traverse. There is a second easy traverse into chute #3 that lies about 120ft below the chockstone. The problem with this route is that you have to climb a 15ft, class 4 open book out of chute #2 to reach it."

In 2003, I came back to Whorl and followed Snwburd's advice. The sandy ledge is located about 50 feet above the finger-shaped rock. There are some easy class 3 moves near the top of Chute #2 to get to the spot where you can traverse over, but the traverse point is not difficult to find if you look for it.

Late in the season, assuming the snow and ice have cleared, you should be able to crawl underneath the right side of the chockstone and then climb up the backside. If the chockstone "cave" is choked with snow and ice, you are looking at an exposed Class 4+ climb around it.

Snwburd adds: "There are several tunnelling routes through the back of the chockstone when it is free of ice. The largest will accomodate a climber with a daypack, while the smaller ones can barely squeeze a thin body through. If the chockstone is chocked with ice or snow, the class 4 climb around the left side is exposed and scary. An easier alternative is to follow a variation described in Secor which climbs chute #2 to its top (class 3). From here, there is an easy class 4 move onto a block above which leads to an interesting but easy traverse north to the top of chute #3."

Once past the chockstone, climb up and to the right, where you will crest the ridge separating the middle and south summits. From here, you will find the most remarkable feature of this mountain -- a system of sandy ledges that leads directly to the summit area. Without these ledges, the summit would not be attainable by mere mortals. The ledges provide a class 1 "sidewalk" that contours along the west face below the ridgetop, then cleaves back through to the frontside, where you will find 100 feet of easy class 2 scrambling up to the summit.

Convoluted routefinding is required here, but this route is a gem for hikers looking to push themselves on a more complicated, yet still relatively benign climb.

Essential Gear

a rope would be handy if you are unsure about the snow conditions at the chockstone.

Miscellaneous Info

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