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Mountaineer's Route Spring 2013

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Mountaineer's Route Spring 2013

Postby toejam » Sat May 04, 2013 8:36 am

A guy I work with has a reputation as a serious climber (he's spent a night hanging from the face of Half Dome). A few weeks ago he was invited to climb Whitney's Mountaineer's Route with some youngsters. He invited me mostly to keep him company on the ride I think. I've been hoping to climb with this guy and there's been a description of the Mountaineer's Route hanging on the wall of my cube for 4 years, so I jumped at the chance.

Found out that the dreaded Whitney lottery doesn't apply during April. You can go by the ranger station after hours and write your own permit. Summer began in April this year, so we picked up wag bags at the ranger station, drove to Whitney Portal and got a luxury camp next to the hiker parking. The younsters (late 20s) showed up after dark. There may have been some noise late, but this old guy was in bed.

I read a report by some punks who day-hiked up the Mountaineer's Route from Whitney Portal and back in 10 hours a few weeks ago. So I thought our itinerary of hiking 4.2 miles to Iceberg Lake to camp would be a piece of cake. My second mistake was packing 50# of winter camping and climbing gear.

One of the young'uns lead us up a little-used trail out the back of the picnic area that bypasses the long switchback on the main trail and meets it at Lone Pine Creek, the start of the Mountaineer's Route. The Whitney Portal Store was open for the first time this season as we passed.

We were soon scrambling up the Ebersbacher Ledges, trying to maintain balance with the heavy packs. It was a bit of a challenge and I got one good picture of the exposure. Above Lower Boy Scout Lake we had lunch before starting the snow climb. We put on skis & crampons because we are excitable dorks who don't get to the mountains often enough.

The soft snow, bright sun, altitude, and unrelenting climb really took their toll. I drank unfiltered water from below Upper Boy Scout Lake because my filter plugged (keeping my fingers crossed). When I finally made it to the steep slope below Iceberg Lake, I was tempted to set up camp at the bottom. I was spent and couldn't imagine dragging that ridiculous pack up the steep, soft snow and rock. But I saw one of my young partners practically running up the slope, so I started repeating a mantra from my favorite t-shirt - "mind over mountain, mind over mountain...."

I dragged myself across the frozen lake to where my work-mate was layed out on a rock like a lizard, and started melting snow and swallowing ibuprophen. The measly 4.2 miles took about 6 hours, and I was exhausted. My good knee was so swollen I wasn't sure if I could climb the next morning.

Iceberg Lake was beautiful. I didn't bring a tent because of the great weather, and enjoyed seeing the east face of Whitney in differing light every time I woke during the night. A little after 5:00 a.m. the sky was getting lighter and I was ready to get this climb on.

We started for the snowy chute about 6:30. The 6 of us climbed strong and soon met at the notch on top of the chute. My work-mate led up the gully to the left, on a rope with two of us behind him, and set a few anchors. The other whipper-snappers scrambled around like cats, dragging a rope behind them - it was a little out of control. We took a class 4 line straight up the middle of the gully, but could see easier terrain to the right. I climbed out of the gully and was surprised to find us on the summit. Even more amazing, we had it to ourselves!

After the usually summit tom-foolery, we headed down. Some of the guys wanted to rappell, and the rest of us just scrambled down. The ropes were completely unnecessary with no ice in the gully. I was back at camp a little after noon, while some of the crew played around trying to glissade. I didn't want to tear up my good climbing pants. It was great to climb with a group that was fit and skilled.

The hike back to the portal was much tougher than the morning's climb. There was scorching sun, post-holing, bleeding, bushwhacking, scrambling, getting lost, and more bleeding. Took 3.5 hours to get down from Iceberg Lake. The quicker group dropped packs at the Portal Store for burgers & beer. The other group didn't show up, but we had their permission to hit the road. Found out later that one of them had stumbled and dislocated a finger on the hike out.

I was beat up after the climb, but I'm planning to do something similar next April. Probably won't take full packs to Iceberg Lake though. Contact me if interested.

Pictures here:

https://picasaweb.google.com/toejamhike ... directlink

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Re: Mountaineer's Route Spring 2013

Postby maverick » Sat May 04, 2013 3:21 pm

Fun read Steve, looks like it was a good work out. Thanks for the pretty pictures.
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Mountaineer's Route Spring 2013

Postby Bluewater » Sat May 04, 2013 7:43 pm

Thanks for posting. Great photos!
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Re: Mountaineer's Route Spring 2013

Postby tomba » Sun May 05, 2013 12:10 pm

Thanks for the report. Nice description of the mountaineer's route. It is good to see current snow conditions. Picture captions help a lot.
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Re: Mountaineer's Route Spring 2013

Postby Jim F » Tue May 07, 2013 2:35 pm

Thanks for the outstanding conditions update. I am curious to see how much the conditions will have changed after the weather of the last 48 hours (May 5-6) clears.

The trail in back of the Picnic Area is the former Main Mt Whitney Trail. It seems to save the typical hiker 5-7 minutes.

You noted, " When I finally made it to the steep slope below Iceberg Lake, I was tempted to set up camp at the bottom." This was done a couple years back by one party and they were hit by an avalanche while in their tents.

Thanks again for the photos. I am now inspired to get up there more sooner than later.

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