Whitney Via Mountaineers Route
Tallest Peak in the Lower 48
Being the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney was a must-do in my list. I was looking for somewhere to go climb in the beginning of summer and after a quick search it became obvious the 14,505’er was to become my next objective. I sent a text with the idea for the trip to the two guys I knew would join me, Yen and Carlos. Within a week we where booked and ready to go. Id done plenty of hiking and camping with Carlos but he had never been on an actual climbing trip. He is very well versed in all things survival but lacks the technical knowledge that goes along with climbing. On the other hand, Yen had been with me to Shasta but has done far less hiking and camping. Needless to say we where a match made in heaven ready to have a blast on a week long adventure that would take us through Death Valley, climbing on Whitney, not showering for days on end only to finish the trip in a 5-star hotel in Las Vegas. We where in for a true adventure.
Its June 11, I had spent the last 2 months training my ass of and growing my mountain mustache. My training had changed a bit going into this trip. Carlos and I had spent countless hours in our local climbing gym, working on our holds and making our way to 5.11’s(we had nice blisters and calluses to show for it). This along with our stair master of death challenges (more on this at the end of the article) was to be our arsenal to conquer Whitney.
At about 11am I had gotten home from the office, finishing up some paper work that had to get done before I left. My wife was waiting for me with all the gear and bags stuffed in the trunk of the car. We picked up Carlos, then Yen and we made a last minute stop at Bass Pro Shops to buy some missing items before being dropped off at the air port. It was a long and uncomfortable flight in a budget airline to Las Vegas Nevada. We arrived at 11pm with neck Kinks and headaches but there was no time to waste, we where on a tight schedule. We picked up our rental car, stopped at Sonics for some refueling before hitting the road to death valley…The road seemed never ending with nothing in sight but the head lights of the car and the sky littered with stars as far as the eyes could see. The further we got away from the Vegas lights, the brighter the stars got till at one point I asked Yen to stop the car only to step outside and see the Milky Way towering over us. It was like something out of a National Geographic’s Magazine. After a few minutes of star gazing we hopped back in, windows down, music blasting and kept rolling through the Valley all through the night. About 3 hours in we all hit a wall. Not sleeping for the last 24hrs caught up to us and just as we are entering the national park we decided to pull over by the big “welcome to death valley” sign to try and catch some Z’s before the sun came up. It didn’t take long before the heat of the dessert woke us. We where sleeping all contorted in a car, 3 men full of camping gear in a small Toyota Rav 4. We looked like we’d been hit by a truck with bags under our eyes, hungry and smelly. We decided to drive and pull up to the first eating spot we could find. After a nice meal, and some freshly brushed teeth we continued our drive to where our climbing journey would begin.
Our plan from the start was to arrive at Lone Pine and find a place 9,000’+ where we can camp and acclimate before starting the climb. We poked around and talked to the locals until we where directed to Horseshoe Meadows (approx. 10,000’). We drove up the winding roads and arrived at this beautiful camp site. Carlos and I set up our hammocks (Yen would sleep comfortably in the car) where we would sleep. We spent the day hiking and hanging out with the fluffy little marmots. After staying up till the night fall to do some star gazing, it was time to hit the the hammocks. When it was time to get in It took me about 10 min before I thought I was settled only to spin around and flop right onto the ground. By this time, it was dark and cold and I was just craving a good nights sleep after having spent the previous night in the car. A few moments after I was able to get tucked in, I head a loud “ Thump!”. You guessed it, that was Carlos getting a good feel for the ground after loosing his balance on the hammock as well. I had a good laugh knowing I wasn’t the only one. Quickly after that I was out cold, or so I thought. Carlos ended waking up a good 10 times to urinate limiting my sleep to 30 min spans.The next morning, we packed up all our gear and headed down into town for the day. We stayed at a bunk house that night where we could shower and have a nice warm meal. We also went ahead and planed our nutrition for the climb. It consisted of nothing more that three 12” subway BLT’s which we would have for lunch and dinner for the next 3 days. At the moment it seemed like a better alternative to freeze dried mountain food. The following day we met with what would be our team on the mountain as well as the guides. Quickly went through everyone’s gear, checked food and reviewed poop bag instructions. Gear was packed in the cars and we set off to the trail head. Upon arrival, we rushed to the scale where we would compete amongst each other and see who packed the lightest. I won by a pound but that came by sacrificing layering in order to stay light and move quickly.
Day 1 of Climb
It was 7 of us at the start, we began moving quickly through the Whitney trail before arriving at the fork where we would break off to Lone Pine Creek. This trail would take us through a series of creeks where keeping your balance on the slippery rocks was critical if you wanted to keep your feet dry. We would then get to the base of the valley where we would climb some steep ledges which offered amazing views of Lone Pine and the monstrous granite walls. The ledges have some exposure and if your afraid of heights it will prove a difficult crossing. From here we hiked through some beautiful meadows and while walking up a steep granite slab, Terry one of our team members slipped. A nearby stream had been spilling water on to the slab making it extremely slippery. Terry hit the ground hard and pulled his hamstring badly. Luckily we where only a couple hundred feet from the where we would spend the night. We spread some of his heavier climbing gear amongst each other and Matt would throw Terry’s pack over his own, carrying the lions share of the weight. With a slow and steady pace, we all made it to upper boy scout lake. This would be our camp for the next two nights. Upon arrival we where all instantly mesmerized with the amazing views of the jagged peaks that surrounded us and the incredibly crystal clear lake full of fish. Of all the campsites I’ve ever been too, this one stands above all the rest. After exploring a bit and getting a quick bite, we broke off into our tent groups and began to settle in in our spots. The next day was to be the summit push so in an effort to be as rested as possible we went to sleep early.
It was 4am, and unusually warm for an early summer summit push. Our packs where practically empty except for some food, water and our crampons. We began the approach to the chute scrambling up the rocks at a hurried pace in order to maximize our opportunity of making the summit. There was not the slightest breeze and the sunrise created an alpenglow on Whitney, it really was a sight to be seen. Up until now everything was according to plan and the summit seemed almost guaranteed…When we made it to the chute and it was time to slap on our crampons, there was an over sight by the guides and they assumed Carlos’s boots would be fine even if they where not proper mountaineering boots. They where not rigid and would flex under minimal pressure. Even though the crampons fit, the fact that the boots where not the least bit stiff rendered them practically useless. Regardless we decided we would push on and Carlos would try his best. Then we ran into our second problem, given the warm temps the snow was very soft and slushy. This meant that for every 3 steps forward you where sliding one down and for Carlos it meant he would be sliding onto all fours and having to pick himself every time. As the hours went by, the chute that seemed like it would be a walk in the park proved to be a greater challenge than anticipated. We where making very little progress with the sloppy snow. We eventually reached the notch but our summit window was closing and we still had another steep section of the chute to climb. Carlos was beyond exhausted due to his less than ideal boot set up and the snow was getting sloppier by the hour. We ultimately made the decision to turn around, it was a tough choice to make because the weather conditions where perfect and I still had a lot of energy left in my tank but given the circumstance it was the right choice. We then took advantage of the sloppy snow and glissaded a good portion of the chute before reaching a very rocky section near the bottom. All in all, we where in good spirits and we quickly made it back to camp safely. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the area and organizing our gear for the hike out the next morning. After a nice dinner with the group we shared some stories by the “kitchen” and then called it a day.
7am we where all out of the tents packing our gear and breaking down camp. It was a pleasant hike down, I spent most of the time talking to the guides picking their brains for climbing tips and tricks. We loaded up all the gear back into the cars and drove back into town. We all cracked a few beers open before saying our good byes and heading our separate ways. For Yen, Carlos and I, that meant the final phase of our get away.
We ate our last meal in lone pine and in the same clothing from the past 3 days on the mountain, we hopped in the car and started our drive back to Vegas. The whole road trip was spent talking about the great time we had on the mountain, regardless if we didn’t summit and before we knew it we where pulling up to the bright lights of “Sin City”. Not showered in three days and still dressed in mountain ware we pulled up to the Aria, a 5 star resort. To say we got some funny looks would be an understatement. We where hungry and tired from the long day, went to the first restaurant we can find to have a meal and then went straight to the room for a nice hot shower. From spending the last few days on the mountain sleeping in a tent, to staying in a suite on a 5 star resort was a hell of a transition. We planned to take a quick nap, get dressed and check out the night life. Turns out there was no gas left in the tank, as soon as our heads touched the pillows we where out for the night. The next day we explored the city, went to the casinos and took the day to just rest.
Looking back, it was damn good time. I would have liked to summit, and I figured the weather conditions where perfect but certain situations made it difficult. I had trained my ass off as usual and it was the first climb I did where I was already partnered with the HERO Foundation. But the good thing is that the mountain will still be there and I can always go back and give it another shot.
Make sure you have the proper gear, especially boots. They can make or break your climb as you can see on this trip. Its not that hard of a mountain to climb but it is beautiful and definitely worth the trip.
- La Sportiva Trango Cube Boots
- Point 6 Light weight socks
- Mountain Hardware Chockstone Pants
- Black Diamond Crampons
- Bight Gear Solstice Hoody Men's (base layer)
- Men's Alpha Ascender Hoody (soft shell)
- Marmot Wind stopper Glove
- Julbo Tamang Glacier Glasses
- Black Diamond Climbing Helmet
- Black Diamond Couloir Harness
- Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe
- Osprey 85 Pack
- Mountain Hardware 3 degrees Sleeping bag
The closest airport to fly into is Las Vegas AirPort. You rent a car and drive through Death Valley for 4 1/2 hours before getting to Lone Pine. In town there are plenty of store where you can purchase last minute gear. The bunk house is a great place to stay before and after the climb.
Cost Break Down:
- SWS Guide Service- $950.00 (+tip for guides)
- Food (we ate subway)- $32.00
- Bunk house- $35.00
- Misc.- $100.00
Total: Approx. $1,117.00
* Stair Master of Death - this is where me and Carlos would go head to head on a stair master, carrying a 25lb plate to see who can climb the most steps in 15 minutes. By the time your done you are either noxious or your legs feel like jelly.
* Mountain food - its not a good idea to eat the something for three days in a row on a mountain like I did. Its hard enough to eat at altitude. Best advice is to take lots of snacks the you personally enjoy and eat the nutrient rich food provided by the guides or in the case of climbing without a guide, research a proper climbing diet to make sure you are consuming the appropriate amounts of fats, carbs and protein.