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Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

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Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

Postby Hobbes » Mon Jun 01, 2015 5:01 am

Schmalz & I just got back from a trip up Whitney via the Mountaineers route. The successful group ascent in challenging alpine conditions was made possible by the leadership & professionalism of Ryan Huetter @ SMC http://ryanhuetter.blogspot.com/, who afterwards described the day as "Mountaineers+". Brian has a couple hundred photos to sort through, but here are a few of the snow 'gully' (that starts by Iceberg lake) which leads to the 'notch' and 'final 400':

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Last edited by Hobbes on Mon Jun 01, 2015 9:06 am, edited 2 times in total.



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Re: Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

Postby ExploreABitMore » Mon Jun 01, 2015 8:41 am

Nice photos, thanks for sharing. How was the snow going up N Fork, pretty much dry for most of it?
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Re: Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

Postby Hobbes » Mon Jun 01, 2015 8:50 am

Schmalz shot of the final 400 (the 'notch' is under the abutment below the two climbers):

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Remember climbing monkey bars as a kid? Now, imagine kick stepping as hard as you can to wedge the front edge of your crampons into the 60 degree snow slope on each step, while simultaneously burying your ice axe as hard you can to provide leverage to pull your body upward to gain a few feet on each "rung".

Looking up, you can see the summit plateau; looking back, the Nordic ski ramp that would (and has) launch you into oblivion. All you have is your own physical ability, the climber above (Brian) & below (Alex) working together as a team, offering encouragement, managing slack, combined with your mutual trust in the guide & belay system he set as you travel up the pitch.

And climbing down is harder as the careful, slow step-by-step process is reversed.
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Re: Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

Postby Hobbes » Mon Jun 01, 2015 10:22 am

ExploreABitMore wrote:Nice photos, thanks for sharing. How was the snow going up N Fork, pretty much dry for most of it?


Dry all the way until Iceberg. The creek crossings were flowing pretty good.

You can see Iceberg & Wales still frozen, but Arctic icing out.
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Re: Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

Postby seanr » Mon Jun 01, 2015 11:08 am

Congrats! If I summit Whitney again someday it will probably be to go with my kids or to experience the MR. Who knows; maybe both. It sounds like you guys had fun!
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Re: Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

Postby Bluewater » Mon Jun 01, 2015 11:49 am

Looks like you got some crystal clear weather and challenging snow conditions. That is a serious adventure, congratulations! Looking forward to more photos.
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Re: Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

Postby Hobbes » Mon Jun 01, 2015 2:22 pm

For the 1,500' ascent up the gully from Iceberg to the notch, we had divided & short roped into two teams of 3 & 4 members + guide. After everyone had assembled at the notch, Ryan roped up and went around the blind corner to set a belay for the first pitch of the final 400.

Because of the snow coverage, there was no way we could even inch towards the drop-off to peek around in order get an idea of what to expect. You can see the different route options from this image - the bottom horizontal line leads to the so-called class 3 'easy' walk-up when completely dry. We took chute #1, but because we were 3-5' higher standing on snow, it was a seamless move around the corner.

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So, if you can imagine a scene where SWAT members are huddled behind a corner before launching a blind assault, Brian, Alex and myself were standing there waiting for the 'on belay' command. Once we started, turned the corner and looked up to see where we were going, Brian instinctively let out "whoa, this is the real deal!"

Air all the way down; vertical slope above. No rocks, no handholds, only deep snow to kick-step and axe anchor as if your life depended on it. Ryan was sitting above around 150', anchored to the first pitch, calmly talking us up while providing a light, constant tension as he took in the line. Two more pitches where it seemed like time had slowed down & stopped, and our only reality was climbing this slope forever, and we were finally standing on the summit plateau.
Last edited by Hobbes on Mon Jun 01, 2015 9:15 pm, edited 6 times in total.
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Re: Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

Postby Hobbes » Mon Jun 01, 2015 2:39 pm

seanr wrote:Congrats! If I summit Whitney again someday it will probably be to go with my kids or to experience the MR. Who knows; maybe both. It sounds like you guys had fun!


This was my fifth time: first time as a day hike long ago, then a series of hikes coming from Army/Langley, Cottonwood (with my then 14 yo son), and Kearsarge. All that is left now is the 5.7 east Buttress ... right.

In many ways, taking my kid was more stressful than doing the MR, just because I was the one in charge and responsible for everything. Having someone as experienced as Ryan providing guidance had a very calming effect; all each of us had to do was just "do it". Everyone had trained pretty extensively, however everyone was maxed out just dealing with the physical requirements.

There weren't any mental reserves left to deal with thinking through what we were actually doing. That's where the trust aspect comes in - it's not just competence & experience, but an overall level of professionalism that inspired the confidence to follow the lead.
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Re: Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

Postby schmalz » Thu Jun 04, 2015 2:35 pm

Special thanks to Hobbes for convincing me to join this trip. Conditions were once in a lifetime. I'll be posting the full experience on CaliTrails in a week or two. Cheers.

bri1.jpg


bri2.jpg
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Re: Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

Postby Hobbes » Thu Jun 04, 2015 3:24 pm

Up @ 3:55am, departing before 5am between upper Boy Scout lake and Iceberg:

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We didn't get back until 6pm - a 13 hr day, which is actually a bit longer than the guide service likes. 12 hrs is usually the outside limit, and typically results from someone suffering from AMS or a minor injury. In our case, everyone was fine and the conditions were absolutely perfect, so it was really just a function of 'that's how long it took'. That is, multiple pitches had to be set, and steep sections climbed/down-climbed - there weren't any delays or problems per se, it was just time consuming. And since the weather was perfect and the day long, we could take our time eating lunch back on the notch, leaving plenty of time to return to our base camp to begin dinner.

Let me re-iterate that everyone was worked. One guy has run marathons, another hiked Kilimanjaro and had done some 5.7 (guided) climbs. An entertainment guy had been running, biking & swimming for months, with a personal trainer once, sometimes twice a week. And these were the guys pulling up the rear. I was usually in front chatting merrily away, while Brian hung in the very back so as to be able to take photos and not hold up the group.

As per my usual, I was so wiped out I forgot some toilette stuff in the bear box, and had to have someone from the hostel mail it back to me. LOL
Last edited by Hobbes on Thu Jun 04, 2015 4:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

Postby Hobbes » Thu Jun 04, 2015 3:49 pm

By the way, as we were painstakingly making our way back down the final 400 to the notch (where we'd have lunch), this kid and his father came charging right up the middle. Ice axes flying & crampons churning in perfect synchronicity, all the while moving in tandem very fast - absolute naturals. (They had all the necessary safety equipment, but didn't use rope or belay for that particular section.)

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Later, when we were re-assembling at Iceberg, putting away our crampons, ice axes, etc, they came glissading down the gully and stopped by us to do the same thing. I had originally thought the boy might be 12-13, but when I heard him unselfconsciously & joyfully screaming 'wheee' the whole way down like he was on a slide @ a local neighborhood park or Disneyland, I knew he was even younger. (I should mention the kid had perfect form using the ice axe handle like a rear tiller, while holding the head with both hands in such a way as to be able to immediately rotate into a self-arrest if necessary.)

As our group was leaving, I said something to him like "you're going to be a famous mountaineer someday", to which he replied that he already was and then told me his name:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyler_Armstrong

I've seen a couple of young sports prodigies (surfers) over the years who went on to become champions, and it's eery how preternatural they are in their native habitat. This 11 yo kid wasn't being pushed - I told his dad he must be very proud of him, and he chuckled and said he can barely keep up with him.
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Re: Whitney Mountaineers Route 5/30

Postby seanr » Fri Jun 05, 2015 10:23 pm

Wow! It is fun to push hard like you guys did. I also enjoy running into interesting people in the mountains. Those age records are impressive, but at the same time seem very beatable; not that I will try to steer any of my kids to setting any records like that. The description of him enjoying the glissade like an amusement park ride reminds me of a couple of my experiences on Shasta Memorial Day weekend.

On my way up Avalanche Gulch I was entertained by many people who had gotten alpine starts glissading down. One such fellow was squealing with glee as he came to a temporary stop near me. He said he'd never done it before. I nicely suggested he might want to take his crampons off to avoid a nasty tumble or leg injury. Another guy did tumble head over heels in a rough patch. Several were afraid to risk much speed at all and stopped frequently. Better safe than sorry. A few zipped by and some others snowboarded or did a ski tour. Anyway, I went down a different way (west face) and did enjoy it as much as a roller coaster in my own quiet way. Losing 4,000 feet of altitude via a glissade sure takes the edge off a 7,500 foot descent!
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