This is a technical rock climb up the side of the tallest mountain in the lower 48.
Jonny called me up in the summer of 2008 and asked if I wanted to go to Mt. Whitney with him and his brother. They had an extra permit, so I jumped at the chance. We drove across the godforsaken Nevada desert and then the even more godforsaken Death Valley National Park on our way to the mountain. In Death Valley we visited Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. We’d be standing on the summit of Mt. Whitney, the tallest point in the contiguous United States, 2 days later.
We camped that night in a campground between Lone Pine and Mt. Whitney. The next day was a prep day, which we spent hiking around Whitney Portal and doing some rock climbing at the Alabama Hills (though we didn’t climb much because it was 100+ degrees). The plan for the next day was to get up super early, hike up to the east side of Mt. Whitney, and climb the Mountaineers Route, a 3rd class scramble up a gully on the east face. Jonny really wanted to do the famous East Face route (5.7, 1,000′; it is one of the well-known 50 Classic Climbs of North America) but since this would be my first time higher than 11,000 feet, I didn’t feel comfortable doing a rock climb. I just wanted to get to the top of the thing and didn’t care how I did it. But Jonny talked me into it, so we racked up, packed our bags, and went to sleep early.
We woke up at 2 or 3 the next morning. I think it took us 5 or 6 hours to reach Iceberg Lake and the base of the East Face route. Jonny and I headed up the rock while Jonny’s brother and his brother’s friend (Mike) continued up the gully. As always, I don’t remember much about the route. I led all of the pitches because Jonny didn’t (and still doesn’t) trad climb.There were 6 or 7 roped pitches with some scrambling thrown in at the middle and at the top. The Fresh Air Traverse (pitch 1) was supposed to be super exposed and scary but wasn’t bad at all. Overall, we were climbing slowly and got lost a few times, but managed to make it to the top. Jonny’s brother and Mike were waiting for us on top.
I felt great. No headaches, shortness of breath, or other altitude-related problems. The view from the top was amazing and we sat and rested on top for a while before starting down.
We descended down the Whitney Trail, an 11-mile slog that seemed to never end. We finally made it back to the trailhead after 19 hours on the move. Overall it was 17 miles round trip with some 6000 vertical feet of elevation gain and 6 or 7 pitches of up to 5.7 climbing.
I thought that while the overall experience was awesome, the actual climbing on the route wasn’t all that great. I’d love to go back and do the East Buttress route, which is longer and has more sustained technical rock climbing.
[As always, click on a photo for the larger version]
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