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Mount Whitney - Mountaineer's Route (Plus)

Published by 360 Pro , 11 August 2014, 23h18. Text and phots by the participants

Region: World » United States » California
Date of the hike:18 June 2014
Hiking grading: T5- - Challenging High-level Alpine hike
Mountaineering grading: PD-
Climbing grading: II (UIAA Grading System)
Geo-Tags: USA   US-CA 
Time: 2 days
Height gain: 2200 m 7216 ft.
Height loss: 2200 m 7216 ft.
Access to start point:Mount Whitney Portal: US 395 to Lone Pine and then turn onto the Whitney Portal Road and follow to it's end
Accommodation:Whitney Portal Campsite

Mount Whitney is one of the most popular mountains in the US, most likely due to the fact that it is the highest point in the contiguous US and it has some rather easy paths to it's summit. It is so popular that the government decided to regulate the access and only allow a certain number of people per day to climb it. This would normally be a reason for me not to climb a mountain...
However, sometime at the end of April Vauacht (who currently also lives in California) contacted me and offered me two permits to climb Mount Whitney together with him and his friend. After doing some research on the routes up to the top and talking to Alpin_Rise, we found the so-called Mountaineers Route which seems way less crowded than the Whitney Trail. Unfortunately the permits which Vauacht possessed were not valid for our desired approach, and so we tried to get some permits for that same day when he wanted to summit, meet him on the top and then walk down together. Unfortunately the Mountaineers Route permits for that day were long gone and therefore we decided to go a few days earlier, where a few permits were still available. The decision to climb Mount Whitney via the Mountaineers Route was definitely a good one and we had two wonderful and unforgettable days in the High Sierra.

After Alpin_Rise spent almost two weeks in the Yosemite Park, I pick him up at the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center and together we drive to Lone Pine, get our permits at the Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center and then spend the first night in a campsite at the Whitney Portal. On the next day we pack all our gear for the trip (we've been told that crampons are not necessary due to the very little snow this year) and head to the trail head. Our goal for today is the Upper Boyscout Lake at around 11340 ft elevation, where we want to set up our tent and spend the night.

In order to get there we first follow the main Whitney Trail. Shortly before it crosses the North Fork of the Lone Pine Creek we then take the well established use trail forking off on the right. It leads up the wooded slope to a willow and green alder choked valley. Since Alpin_Rise and I both think the trail would be a no-brainer, we didn't really prepare thoroughly and instead of crossing the stream at the bottom of the valley we stay on the right side of the creek. There we fight our way through dense bushes. Some signs indicate that other people have made the same mistake. Anyway, at some point it just gets too bad and we decide to take out the route description and study it. Shortly after we also see people on the "real" trail on the other side of the creek and therefore cross the stream and get to its south side.

For a while the trail continues on the left side of the creek and at around 9500 ft crosses the river and follows along the base of the cliffs on the north side for a short while. We then climb up a third class chute (T4) that leads up to the so-called Ebersbacher Ledges in a wide right turn -  the salvation of the thicket. There we continue pretty high above the river on the north side and eventually get to the lower Boyscout Lake. After a long break we continue on the left side of the valley along clear path traces and lots of cairns and get to the Upper Boy Scout Lake, where we set up our tent. Of course Rise has to check out how the trout in the lake bite and almost immediately catches one. So 360 gets to try out Rise's telescope fishing pole as well and soon catches one too. At the end we catch 7 trout together and eat them all for dinner. Amazing how many fish there are in a lake at the altitude of almost 3500m.


We get up around 4 AM eat some breakfast and drink some coffee and start hiking up towards Iceberg Lake around dawn. The path is marked with lots of cairns and is rather easy to find. From the outlet of Upper Boyscout Lake we head south through steep slabs and talus near the right side of the upper valley. Eventually the trail turns west and leads over moraines to a barrier before Iceberg Lake. The path through this barrier is not always obvious but is marked with cairns and poses no technical difficulties.

From Iceberg Lake we climb the evident chute to the west, leading up to a deep notch in Whitney's north ridge. The difficulties here are moderate, around T4. Once we reach the N ridge we see several options to get all the way to the top and decide for a rather direct climb: for a short period we scramble up the steep gully immediately west of the notch, later we climb on a secondary ridge west of the N ridge (a moderate T5/II). Soon we reach the summit plateau and walk east to the summit. To our surprise we are the first party on the top today, even though it's "already" 8:15h. We enjoy the solitude and the amazing views, try to figure out where we can see which mountains while gradually other parties reach the summit from different routes. At this point we both feel great, we show no signs of problems with the altitude even though my acclimatization wasn't exactly ideal.

For our way back to Upper Boyscout Lake where we left our camping gear, we planned for a little alternate route. We decided to go visit a few peaks/needles on Whitney's south ridge and from the Trail Crest head northeast and somehow get over the Pinnacle Ridge and back to the Upper Boyscout Lake. The first additional peak we plan to visit is the Keeler Needle. However, we did not exactly prepare too well for this peak and interpret the map we brought along somewhat wrong. So instead of climbing the first needle south of Whitney (which would actually be Keeler Needle), we climb the second needle, which turns out to be Crooks Peak (we don't know this at this point, but only find out at home). We climb the top from the John Muir Trail via its west face, pretty much a walk-up in scree.

Next on our agenda is Mount Muir in order to get there we walk along the John Muir Trail to it's base. In the meantime I seem to start feeling rather exhausted and without energy. Not very optimal acclimatization and the high altitude, not enough sleep and not really eating enough food this AM seem to all pay their toll on my body. So I let Alpin_Rise climb this peak alone* while I rest, eat and recover a little bit. Mount Muir is a short 15min climb from the Whitney Trail. A faint trail leads up the talus of its west flank, T3. The summitrocks are climbed in a crack/corner system on the right side, 3rd class/T5 II. The summit it self is then to the right and requires a bit of easy but exposed 3rd class climbing.
We meet up at again at the trail crest junction and continue along the Whitney Trail to the Trail Crest. I still don't feel all that great but Rise does and so he also quickly visits the close-by Discovery Pinnacle. This fancy peace of rock is best climbed from the Trail Crest, traversing to its south ridge and scrambling 2nd class/T4 to the highest point, some 10min return trip.

Shortly after the Trail Crest we leave the path and walk and slide down northeastwards in scree and snow to the lake west of Wotans Throne. From there we try to keep the altitude, traverse on scree and slabs over to the base of the Pinnacle Ridge and follow it eastwards to a weakness in the ridge (we actually found a few cairns leading the way) and climb up to the ridge without major difficulties. However, looking down the ridge on the other side to the little valley west of the Frog Pond makes us scratch our heads a little bit. How in the world are we going to climb down there?

We inspect the ridge for quite a while find a small rappelling belay, but nothing that suites us. Alpin_Rise finally sees a possibility. However, he can't see to the very end of it. Since it's pretty much the only option we have, we give it a try anyway. In unpleasantly steep and rather exposed terrain with lots of loose rock intermingled with some snow, we carefully scramble down. The point we could not see from above turns out to be feasible and we finish off the most difficult part of todays tour (probably T6-ish).

The rest of the hike doesn't need much further explanation. From the little Frog Pond valley we climb back up to the trail, walk down to the Upper Boyscout Lake, pack up our tent & gear, Rise catches 2 more trout and then we retrace our steps from the previous day back to the Whitney Portal.

Check out this website for Mount Whitney info and permits.
pika8x14s entertaining *Whitney report (German) and useful information
Description of the Mountaineers Route on summitpost

Hike partners: Alpin_Rise, 360

Click to draw, click on the last point to end drawing


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Comments (4)

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MicheleK says: great
Sent 12 August 2014, 02h20
good to see your duo back in style! thanks for sharing this adventure :)


360 Pro says: RE:great
Sent 12 August 2014, 22h31
Thanks Michele, unfortunately the "duo" was only of temporary nature and by now Rise is about 10K km east of CA again... :-(
Cheers. 360

pika8x14 Pro says:
Sent 17 August 2014, 15h21
Hi together,

congrats to Mt. Whitney via Mountaineer's Route.

We are a little late, but live from Azerbaiyan (nearly as high as Carlifornia, but no crowds on the summit ;-).

360 Pro says: RE:
Sent 19 August 2014, 18h21
Thanks! Looking forward to reports about the solitary 14-er (like Bazardüzü?) in Azerbaijan!
Cheers, 360

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