(3/10/05 – 3/14/05)
After quite a bit of internet and bulletin board research, myself and two friends set off Thursday evening to climb Whitney’s Mountaineers Route. I had gone a month earlier with my wife for a couple days of reconnaissance, which proved very helpful.
After driving to Lone Pine after work, we spent Thursday night at Lone Pine Campground. Friday morning we drove up Whitney Portal road, and went a little past the Road Closed sign. At that point we donned our backpacks and started hiking, actually getting a pretty late start in the morning. The road was impassable to cars, being blocked by deep snow and rock and debris slides along the way. After arriving at the Portal Store ant 1330 hours, we took a lunch break, and then continued up the North Fork creek.
We set up camp the first night on the mountain at Lower Boy Scout Lake (about 10,300’). The second day on the mountain we climbed to Iceberg Lake (12,600’). Weather had been beautiful the whole time, clear skies and cool with light breezes. As we made the final approach to Iceberg Lake we found ourselves traversing a steep slope which caused us some difficulties. If we fell at this point, we would find ourselves sliding into a gully for possibly a hundred feet. The slope was clear and so was the gully, so there was nothing to get banged up on; it would just mean a tiring climb back up. We took it very slow, and crested the ridgeline without incident. Once we topped out, we looked back at the solo climber trailing behind us and wondered how he would do. After setting up high camp at Iceberg Lake, we went back to the crest to look for the other climber, however we never saw him from any vantage point we could get to. We would later learn that he did slip, and slide to the bottom of the gully, and deciding he was then too tired to continue, he retreated and hiked back out to his car that night.
Sunday morning we awoke at 0500 for our summit attempt. The climb from Iceberg starts with a steep 1500’ chute, which aside from being strenuous, was not technically challenging. The chute ends at a spectacular notch. Looking out the other side of the notch, to your left you see the final chute ascending to the summit, and to your right you see a rocky thousand foot drop to your death.
We carefully made our way up the chute and the rocks on either side. As we went up, we met two climbers who were descending from the summit, and we talked briefly. After cresting the top of the final chute, it was a short walk to the actual summit, where we took our celebratory photos and relaxed. We were joined shortly by two more climbers, who came and went quickly. We notice clouds coming in from the north, so after our break we started heading back down. Surprisingly, the descent down the summit chute was not as scary as going up. As we were approaching the notch, a solo climber was heading up. After regrouping at the notch, we descended the large chute back down to Iceberg Lake, encased in fog and clouds most of the way. We made ourselves some dinner and retreated to the tent for the evening.
Monday morning we broke camp and started our descent of the mountain. On our way down we found an empty tent which appeared that noone had slept in. We guessed that it might belong to the solo climber we met at the notch the day before, so we called SAR from a cell phone to report a possible climber in trouble. (We would learn later that climber had suffered a fatal fall on his descent of the summit chute). We continued out, making it back to our car about 1700 hours. After enjoying pizza in beautiful Lone Pine, we returned to L.A. Monday evening.
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