This is a climbing trip report following a successful early spring summit of Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route. I originally posted this on Whitney Zone forums. In 2019 I archived that post to ensure its preservation.
Here’s our Photo Album
6 guys around 30 years old. fairly active, some trail runners. all had some degree of mountaineering / climbing experience before. but none are guides.
plan was to start hiking sat morning. summit sat or sun. exit sunday.
we all live at sea level.
i started diamox 125mg thursday night. continued twice friday and saturday.
i drank ridiculous amounts of water starting wednesday. i shifted my sleeping schedule to waking at 5a PST.
sleeping: direkt2 tent, magma bag, downmat UL7
hiking gear: mountain hardware thruway 50, grivel 60cm axe, REI aluminum adjustable poles, BD contact crampons, lowa mountain expert GTX boots, BD cuilour harness, 1 locking / 2 regular ‘biners.
cookwear: snowpeak litemax stove, 700ml pot / mug, chlorine dioxide purifying drops (didn’t freeze)
‘always on’ clothes: REI expedition leg base layer. uniqlo (seriously) long sleeve base layer top. MH botka pants, patagonia R1 hoodie, patagonia super pluma shell.
warmth: marmot ama dablam down jacket (not durable enough for climbing in but good for belay / rest), MH ghost whisperer hooded down, fleece balaclava
FRIDAY MARCH 22 - day 0
arrived at the lovely new visitor’s center at 4pm. friendly chat with the ranger who reminded us that the road is closed and he can’t officially tell us to drive up it.
we ended up scouting it out around 5. took 20 mins to reach the portal trailhead from the ranger station! we drove a VW 2wd. road could not have been clearer.
dinner at mt whitney cafe (excellent prime rib friday night special) and whitney hostel (great deal on a room full of bunk beds) where we met the rest of our crew - 6 guys total. packed our stuff and lights out at 1030.
SATURDAY MARCH 23 - day 1
this would prove the be the most strenuous outdoor day in recent memory.
alarms go off at 3am. throw on our clothes, microwave some instant coffee. throw our bags in the car. out the door.
arrive at the TH at 4am. 31 degrees. start moving at 430. packs weighed 29-38 lbs depending on the guy. mine had 3L of water but i had probably drank 2L over the prior hour too.
trail started easy, clear of snow until the first creek crossing. rocks were icy and water is moving pretty fast.
first tough spot is right before the e-ledges. 6 of us, all first timers on the MR decide to bushwack along the creek instead of the ledges, even though we knew they were ice-free. one in our party slips on a rock in a creek crossing and lightly sprains his ankle. more on this later. only other person we saw until LBSL was returning to the TH solo, climbing down the frozen waterfall. insane. i’m not sure which creek we were on but parts were covered in thick snow, though other spots were bare and you could see the creek below. only felt safe on it during pre-dawn while everything was frozen. bushwacking ended soon after, guided by posthole footsteps and bent branches (which when pulled helped the climb up a lot).
straight shot up to LBSL arriving before 7. headlamps had been off for a while. straightforward hike to UBSL. dumped all our non-essential summit gear on a dry patch of gravel-ish rocks in between some large boulders around 815. rested and headed for iceberg lake at 845. put on crampons. swapped poles for ice axes.
it’s getting harder here with the 11000+ elevation. got to the Y where we could take the lower trail straight along the valley or the upper trail along the rock face. we took the upper trail which led us to some difficult class 3/4 mixed climbing. fun stuff but not very safe. got to iceberg lake around 1120. G, who sprained his ankle decided to hang there in the sun while we attempted the summit. nicest guy in the world. told him we’d be back by 2. if not by 3, he should be worried…
started the chute before noon. 12000 ft is much harder than the beginning of the TH! it looks steep and long in the photos but my god those do not do it justice. this gully is intense!!! and cold in the shade! no ice parts luckily - all packed snow that was easy to self-arrest and self-belay on. i got into a slow rhythm using either the french or american technique to keep my calves happy. but it was really the lung capacity that limited me. slow and steady made it to the notch around 1. About halfway up the packed snow ended and turned into mixed snow/scree, then just scree. This was really dicey as the scree is obviously loose, crampons are not great on loose rock, and your buddies are 50 to 100 feet below you dodging falling rock.
we debated mixed climbing vs the traverse. some groups on the way down had said the traverse was easy and safe, but dead mans lake scared us off. guided groups were rappelling down so we waited for them to clear while snacking in the sunny notch. got all the feeling back in my fingers and toes from the frigid gully and set our eyes on the summit.
30 mins up the summit on fun, class 3 mixed climbing. we debated belaying each other and had worn our harnesses, belay devices and carried rope from UBSL. but we all solo’d, keeping a close eye on one another. The first half above the notch is rock, but it quickly turns to a very steep snow pack that you need to climb on all fours, preferably with an ice axe to self arrest. None of us brought an ice axe to the summit, but half way up the snow pack, and certainly on the way down, we wish we had. Nonetheless, slowly and carefully we made our way to the summit before 2p. not a cloud in the sky. quick photo and snack break, then back down.
composed ourselves at the notch and plunge stepped our way back to iceberg lake. i’m sure we could have glisadded but i didn’t have enough experience to feel safe and didn’t want to stop to take my crampons off! walking down was sufficient though my quads where waning. back at iceberg just before 4pm.
the sun was just going over the summit and we were going in and out of shade on the walk back to UBSL. we took the lower route this time and it had a nice trail that was well broken in. breathing was much, much easier, but every muscle in my body was begging me to let it rest. shoulders, neck, abs, quads, glutes, triceps.
back at our camp before 530p. setup tents and sleeping situation before relaxing and eating. temp dropped quickly and winds picked up big once the sun was no longer visible. however we still had light for a good hour after that.
acquiring water was difficult. UBSL 100+ meters away had melted enough by evening to fill up some nalgenes. melting snow also worked but isn’t very fuel efficient.
we debated 3 vs. 4 season tents and ended up going with 4. i’m sure my REI half dome 2 tent would have been fine out there. but i played it safe and light and brought a mountain hardware direkt2 which i shared. we’re both 5’9”. i wouldn’t recommend it for larger people. i had a 7 degree bag and a downmat UL2. warm and toasty all night. temps were probably in the teens and some strong gusts of wind came through.
either way, it felt amazing to lay down and reflect on our accomplishment!
SUNDAY MARCH 24 - day 2
i got up the earliest to catch the sunrise around 6a. slept surprisingly well at elevation, likely due to hydration and diamox.
we took our sweet time getting packed up and left at 9a back to the TH. it was getting hot. we were down to t-shirts. passed a few other groups at LBSL. our group split up and some went down the e-ledges. i bushwacked down to where the e-ledges begin and it felt like summer hiking since the creeks had no ice and it was just a game of hopping on rocks. though i usually do that in trail runners, not insulated mountaineering boots! but such a beautiful day to hike out. the smell of spring was in the air and it was probably in the 60’s if not 70 degrees at the TH.
arrived back at the cars at 1230. organized and on the road by 1. lone pine subway stop (2 salads for me). hit 395 south at 2pm for the 7 hour drive back to the bay area, with an in n out protein style stop in los banos. got back at 915pm.
quads are still sore and metabolism still must be high as we’re craving food at all times of the day!