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Ascent of Mount Whitney on 2010-08-10

Climber: William Musser

Others in Party:Nate Lundberg
Wayne Lundberg
Ben Musser
Marc Holder
and Hernan Lopez
Guides: Neil Woodruff; JB Brown; John Bisignano SWS Mountain Guides 888-797-5539
Date:Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Whitney
    Location:USA-California
    Elevation:14495 ft / 4418 m

Ascent Trip Report

Met guides at parking lot. Finally hydrated and acclimated. Langley acclimation hike took a lot out of all of us and 5 out of 6 of us displayed signs of AMS coming down. Ben and I had it going up (see TR for Langley). Had to repack before leaving. Guides were from SWS Mountain Guides (JB, John, and Neal). Our major concern prior to leaving was with issues with Ben: (getting him hydrated, his blood pressure in check and most of all, would his boot last?) One entire sole had peeled off his boots attempting Langley and the other was starting to peel. His boots were completely wrapped in duct tape to hold them together. I gave Ben my Keenes as a backup pair of shoes to get down and the guides allowed us to proceed.

The Mountaineer's Trail is now regulated like the South Fork Pine Creek Trail (the main route used with a class 1 approach). This rugged and steep trail is used for more technical ascents of both Whitney and Mount Russell. All climbs from this direction are class 3 or higher. We met the guides at 7:10 AM (having spent the night in Lone Pine at 3,500 feet in a County Park). After re-packing and gear check we started at the TH around 9:20 AM. The granite columns and walls along this canyon leading up to Lower Boyscout Lake are impressive. The pine trees are enormous in places and up to 36 to 42 inch diamters! At least 7 different species of pines were observed.

The Ebersbacher Ledges are as interesting as I had read. Mostly class 2 moves but with some class 3 as well. The exposure in some places is high but the path width is easily adequate enough to traverse the wall of granite without roping in. The imfamous "foxtail" pine that leads the path to the all important ledges is not a foxtail pine at all - it is either a white bark or similar looking species (but this key landmark does not have orange bark). The ledges lead you to Lower Boyscout Lake which has an amazing view of the glacial carved landscape ahead. Some great bouldering opportunities were found there and Ben and Nate pulled out the sticky shoes and had at it during our break. Ben's boots were still holding up with the duct tape.

At around mile 4 we completed walking up the big slabs of granite approaching our campsite at Upper Boyscout Lake. The glacial polishing on the stone was very interesting as well as the large pegmatites of what appeared to be pink feldspars embedded in the granite. We were at camp by 2 PM and rested, ate, and began a rock climbing refresher course. I learned a great technique how to remember to quickly make a clove hitch or a Munter hitch by making Mickey Mouse ears and a flip (note to self -each ear must have one over and one under). We discussed routes with the guides and ended up with Ben and Nate (19 and 20)with their sticky shoes trying either the East Face or East Butress and the rest of us old guys (ages 40 to 63) doing a modified mountaineer's route. The standard mountaineer's route is a class 3 scramble to the top with some rope and harness for protection where the exposure increases to class 4. The plan was to have 2 of the guides play around the east side columns and towers(left side ascent) of the last 500 vertical feet (just past the "notch") and set anchors for a few pitches of technical climbing that could be accomplished in regular hiking boots (no sticky soles).

The next morning we were awaken at 3 AM, had breakfast, packed and left by 4:20 AM with flashlights to make our way from camp at 11,320 to Iceberg Lake at 12,240. The sun had not come up yet as we saw the towering cliffs of the needles ahead. The view of the towers and Aiguille's and needles south of Whitney are impressive but our photos will not come out as it was still too dark. Finally as the sun came up around 5:30 we saw the mad dash of technical climbers head up the final approach. So many people went straight to the Butress that the boys had no other option than to put on their sticky shoes and head up the East Face. The traverse has some breath taking cliff views from very narrow ledges. The guide had them complete the climb in 9 pitches of rope and although it is listed as a 5.6 climb, he selected routes that made if more of a 5.7 climb. The most technical move was around a 5.8 according to Nate.

Meanwhile the 4 old guys headed up the steep gully of a mixture of class 2 and class 3 work with about 1,800 feet of total vertical. The pulverized granite powder, sand, and scree made this a very tiring climb and footing is difficult for most of the way. At 14,000 feet you reach the "notch" and the view of Mount Russell, and Iceberg Lake below is tiny below. We put on our harnesses and helmut's and practiced removing protecting with a nut wrench and then found the seam up the mountain just left of the standard class three route. Wayne and Hernan were roped in with John as their guide and Marc and I were roped in with Neal as the lead climber.

The guides weaved their way through the pinacles and towers first getting us used to class 4 and lower class 5 moves in the first pitch. We found that even lower class 5 smears were difficult in the hiking boots as we were not confident of the holds until they found more vertical walls with cracks, seams, chimneys and other features that allowed for boot wedging, arm wedging, hand wedging and jugs to grab. By the third pitch we moved above 5.4 moves and the guides found a beautiful crack that required a 5.6 move in a cave with a reverse horn grab that was plenty challenging for our novice group. The forth pitch had 5.5 and 5.6 moves that were fun crack climbs.

In all we climbed the entire route of 500 feet with 4 pitches or rope. I was assigned the job of removing protection and providing bottom belays for our guide(Neal) when the exposure became thousands of feet. At around 12:45 PM I had the pleasure of high fiving my good friend Marc as he celebrated his 63rd birthday on the summit of the tallest mountain in the contiguous states after a challenging 7.5 mile, 6,335 feet total vertical gain ascent of Whitney.

By 1:45 PM we saw the boys Nate and Ben reach the top of the summit proud of their first big climb and having done the famous "open air traverse". It was late and we gathered our group of six united with our 3 guides and headed down at 2 PM the standard class 3/4 route of the mountaineers route with many other competing groups that were more experienced and faster descenders. Then we nearly had a tragic event!

Ben and Nate were making a mandatory crossing of the ravine feature when a belayer from above dislodged a softball size rock from the top and yelled "rock!" we watched the stone safely bounce passed us but it had already dropped about 100 feet and gained dangerous momentum. It bounced crazily from right to left and was unpredicatable where it was heading but it seemed to be zeroing in on Ben and Nate and their guide far below us. We watched in fear as Nate ducked at the last minute, but my son Ben was struck high on the body. He screamed out an explicative and one of the climbing teams near us yelled out that he saw the rock hit him in the head. We all watched in horror expecting to see Ben collapse to the ground. Luckily, he had been struck on the shoulder and it missed breaking his face by only 9 inches. We were all eager to get down from there and let the faster teams pass. At the notch we confirmed Ben was fortunate to have only a bruise and we made haste down the gully hugging the wall when we could to minimize other potential rock fall from higher teams coming down.

AMS was not an issue on this climb as the punishment we endured trying to do Langley right off the airplane plus one night down in the valley for recovery appeard to do the trick. A little dehydration on the way down as Ben used up all of his water again and started to my supply including three quaters of my badly needed gatorade cost me once again and I began feeling dehydration on the way down and a slower pace ensued than I would have preferred. We rolled into camp at around 5 PM. As Neal made a tasty dinner of cowboy rice, the rest of our group quickly dissappeared to the comforts of their tents as the temperature had dropped suddenly and spent climbers huddled in their tents and rested. I waited outside with the guides trading stories until the hot food was prepared and then took my dinner in the tent with Ben. The warm food and warm tent was welcome - we had 3 helpings each.

The following day we casually hiked down by noon enjoying the route and towering vertical granite views one last time. Definately a satisfying way to bag the big peak of the 48.

Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:6335 ft / 1930 m
    Elevation Loss:6335 ft / 1930 m
    Distance:15 mi / 24.1 km
    Grade/Class:1,2,3,4,and 5 (see r
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb, Aid Climb
    Gear Used:
Rope, Ski Poles, Guide, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Clear
Beautiful entire trip but cold at night
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:6215 ft / 1894 m
    Extra Loss:120 ft / 36 m
    Distance:7.5 mi / 12.1 km
    Route:Lone Pine to modified Mountaineers Route
    Trailhead:Lower Parking lot below TH  8400 ft / 2560 m
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:6215 ft / 1894 m
    Extra Gain:120 ft / 36 m
    Distance:7.5 mi / 12.1 km
    Route:standard mountaineers route
    Trailhead:same  8400 ft / 2560 m



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