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New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

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New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

Postby lahai1dj » Mon Mar 12, 2012 8:30 pm

Hello,

This summer I am planning to hike to the Whaleback in southern Kings Canyon and scramble to the top. I have zero experience with rock climbing and I'd like to determine if this is an outrageous goal and should start with something more suitable for a beginner or if the climbing necessary for Whaleback isn't too technical and will be a manageable challenge.

Also, I'm leaning towards starting from Marvin Pass trailhead. If there is a benefit from starting at Road's End please let me know.
David

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Re: New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

Postby maverick » Mon Mar 12, 2012 9:54 pm

Here are two informative posts: http://www.summitpost.org/whaleback/563478
http://cascadeclimbers.com/forum/ubbthr ... ce_via_Clo
The second link shows pictures and some of the exposure that one encounters.
I have been up top once, and if you are not at home with class 2 routes, and at least
dabbled in class 3, as this route is, it can turn bad, especially if you are not good at
route finding, and end up on the cliffs.
Have you done any peak climbing? Have any cross country experience?
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Re: New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Mar 13, 2012 9:11 am

Maverick is totally correct. There is a big difference between "rock" climbing in a gym, outdoor sport climbing, traditional rock climbing, alpine rock climbing, mountaineering, expedition mountaineering, and "hiking". A gym climber can climb very hard stuff because he concentrates on technique, but he knows squat about exposure (feels very different without the rope), route finding, dealing with weather, down-climbing (because they rapell off stuff), and risk assessment. For each other type of climbing (sort of in the order I listed) specific rock climbing skills become less critical and the associated skills more important. The way you approach each is very different. Comfort with exposure and route finding are absolutely critical for a peak like Whaleback. You also need enough experience to know what you can safely down-climb. A lot of rescues are due to people climbing up (it is easier) and then not being able to climb down. What happens if it rains. Can you climb as well on wet rock?

Bottom line, I would not call Whaleback a beginner's climb of its rating. For a beginner climb (rock scramble) you want something short, with a very obvious route, an easier "walk-off" descent, and fairly close to the trailhead or your camp. A long approach only complicates things.
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Re: New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

Postby KathyW » Thu Mar 15, 2012 7:45 am

Here's a good report on Whaleback:

http://www.climber.org/reports/1999/555.html

Whaleback has been on my list for a while. Maybe this summer I'll actually give it a try.

It looks to be just a scramble to me, but there is some Class 4. If you haven't done much scrambling in the mountains, start with Class 2 and easy Class 3 climbs before getting yourself onto Class 4. Also, careful route planning and finding is important because you can easily find yourself on more technical terrain than you were planning on climbing.
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Re: New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Mar 15, 2012 10:50 am

Beginners should also be aware that climber.org trips are done by SPS. The trips have skills requirements for leaders and participants. These folks are REALLY GOOD at alpine scrambling. They are very experienced and although THEY may not indicate any difficulty in a trip report, beginners will find the climbs much more difficult. On most SPS trips the leader is familiar with the route, many having been on the climb previously with another leader who learned from a previous, etc. There is a LOT of passed down knowledge in SPS. If you are serious about doing this kind of climbing, why not join the SPS section of the Sierra Club? You will get good training and opportunities for great trips with experienced climbers.
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Re: New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

Postby lahai1dj » Thu Mar 15, 2012 10:18 pm

Maverick, Wandering Daisy and Kathy,

Thanks for your input as it is invaluable. I can see that before attempting Whaleback I definitely should get some experience earlier in the season with easier climbs. Do you have any suggestions for good climbs that are mostly class 2 and 3?
David

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Re: New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Mar 16, 2012 9:36 am

Cathedral Peak, Yosemite (Tuolumne) is a good one. The approach is short, the class 4+ section is very short at top, the route is obvious, and there usually are others climbing it who could assist you if you got into trouble. Even if you could not make the summit block (it is a bit technical), you would get some scrambling in.

To get accostomed to slabs, while at Tuolumne you could go up and down the descent route on Stately Pleasure Dome. I have been with hot shot sport climbers who have freaked out on this class 2 route. Easy but very exposed.

NW slope on Agassiz, Cl 2 - introduce you to the typical complexities of the peaks in the Palisade area. Peter Croft calls this the "best walk-up peak in the Sierra".

South Ridge Mt Fisk. It is in Darwin Basin. The peak is a nice easy climb on an obvious ridge, class 2-3. Not a lot of exposure. The purpose of this trip would be to get experience in long approaches. Plus it is drop-dead gorgeous. Go in over Lamark Col. It will give you a little snow to deal with.

There are tons of good choices. A guidebook would help.
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Re: New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

Postby maverick » Fri Mar 16, 2012 9:51 am

Pick up Secor's book: http://www.amazon.com/High-Sierra-Peaks ... 0898869714
In it you'll find a load of class 2 and 3 routes all over the Sierra. Pick an area that will be
the easiest to access. See if you can also find a write up about the route, and the climb
online.
Would highly recommend that you get an experienced person to go with you the first few
times so you'll learn how to find the correct route, and how to negotiate difficult terrain.
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Re: New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

Postby balzaccom » Sat Mar 17, 2012 10:00 am

"Cathedral Peak, Yosemite (Tuolumne) is a good one. The approach is short, the class 4+ section is very short at top, the route is obvious, and there usually are others climbing it who could assist you if you got into trouble. Even if you could not make the summit block (it is a bit technical), you would get some scrambling in."

Hmmm. I don't think that I would recommend this climb as a first effort. Admittedly, I did this nearly forty years ago, but from my memories, this is a bit more serious than a "first attempt."

The summit block has huge exposure, and while the route is obvious, and WD is correct there are often other people on the climb, it would be a HUGE mistake to expect them to help you get out of trouble.

We roped up to do this climb after we were about 3/4 of the way to the top, and dropped a water bottle that fell a good 500 feet down the hill. As we watched it rattled, bang, and thump down the granite, we agreed to a safety rope.
Last edited by balzaccom on Sat Mar 17, 2012 12:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Mar 17, 2012 12:40 pm

On second thought, you are probably right about Cathedral Peak. Getting off that summit block would be hard for a beginner. I was not implying that you "expect" other climbers to help, just that if you were to get into a fix, other climbers could help. Honestly it is difficult for a climber to recommend beginner climbs, because we do not remember what it was like to be a beginner!
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Re: New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

Postby giantbrookie » Sun Mar 18, 2012 2:04 pm

I certainly agree with Mav, Kathy, and WD regarding the important complexities and safety considerations for Sierran mountaineering and scrambling.

As for climbs to get one accustomed to steep class 2 route finding/class 3 scrambling and exposure, here are a few enjoyable ones I can think of.

1. Mt Conness, particularly if going from Saddlebag lake over the top of 11239. If done correctly, using the S. side of the E. ridge this is pretty much all class 2, with the famed and somewhat exposed "engineered" final knife edge moves. This involves fairly open (good line-of-sight) route finding to pick some nice benches on the S. side of the E. ridge, then surmount the top to to join the crest (rated 3rd class in some books, but really just steep 2nd). The summit moves at the head of the S. ridge are fairly obvious owing to the engineering of the trail and the fact that there is really no other way to do it without it becoming truly technical. It is here that many beginners find out what their tolerance (or lack of tolerance) to exposure is all about. I have seen some folks turn around at the base of the knife edge section. All in all, I think this is a really fun easy mountaineering route on a really attractive mountain. The other positive here, is that there are no real "preliminaries" one is nearly scrambling right out of the car up the side of 11239 above Saddlebag (easier and more fun to do this than sidehill around it to save elevation loss, in my opinion).

2. Tower Peak. This is a truly beautiful mountain that can be seen from everywhere and has a nice rugged appearance. The only drawback here is that is a fairly long hike to the start of the standard route from the pass to the north of the peak (from Tower Lake). From a distance, the route looks very steep and worse than class 3, but when you get into the gully you find that the ledges are really wide and that this is really a very steep class 2 climb rather than class 3.

3. I agree with WD's pick of Agassiz. It's a beautiful peak with an exceptional view. It is class 2, but you have some choices in terms of doing some low 3rd on spurs to avoid loose rocks on the ascent versus choosing to stay in the looser class 2 chutes to aid your descent. This is good practice for beginning route finding strategy.
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Re: New to rock climbing and taking on the Whaleback, Kings Cany

Postby lahai1dj » Tue Mar 20, 2012 12:03 pm

Thanks WD and Giant Brookie,

Judging from this new information I'm going to plan on doing an early season climb of Mount Agassiz. I found a few trip reports from June but I didn't find any indication of special equipment necessary to deal with snow at that time.

Any idea what the earliest month for a climb would be? Thanks!
David

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