Mount Whitney via the Mountaineers Route - Harder than we thought
(But we DID it!!!)

13-16 Sep 2003 - by Todd Byers

We are a group of backpacking and mountaineering buddies from Clovis, Ca. (Group Leader Todd Patrick Byers: 6'3' and 240lbs; Erik Petersen: 5'10" and 180lbs; Kenny Flores: 5'7" and 150lbs). We are all in good shape as we are all experienced backpackers and mountaineers, but not rock climbers. I'm the group planner and leader so it was my responsibility to obtain the permits, hotel reservations, and do all of the trip planning. It all fell in place really well after we got the permit for our desired entry date of Saturday, September 13th, 2003. We drove to Lone pine after work on Friday the 12th (5.5 hours in Kenny's Lexus coupe, which was kind of cramped for three grown men). We arrived at the Best Western at the south end of Lone Pine and secured our reserved rooms. We didn't have to pick up our official permit at the ranger station till 10:00. I got up and drove to the ranger station and was instantly accosted by several people who wanted to buy my permit..."It's not for sale, Dude."

We ate breakfast in Lone Pine at the Bonanza Coffee Shop and then drove up to the Whitney Portal trailhead. We stopped and checked out the Portal store and went through our gear one last time to ensure we had everything we needed. We actually stepped onto the trail at 1230 pm. The weather was perfect: clear, breezy, and about 75 degrees. I had planned our trip to include two nights on trail prior to climbing the notch to get to the summit so we could acclimatize. Our destination for the first night was Lower Boy Scout Lake. Having researched the route extensively, we didn't have any real trouble finding our way, other than some odd places where the alder got really thick. The ledges were no problem but there were several choices of actual lines to take on the "trail", all of them muddled and crossing over each other randomly. Basically you look up towards your goal, see where you need to go, and try to keep on track without going on too many side paths...they all head in the same general direction anyway). The exposure was minimal. The trail is mostly steep and gravelly the whole way so use caution. We arrived at Lower Boy Scout Lake around 5pm. We did the usual camp setup and dinner then did some stargazing, reading in our hammocks, and talking until one by one we went to our tents. There were no other people at Lower Boy Scout Lake that night. I guess most people take the main trail rather than spend a couple of nights on this more difficult and less popular route.

The next day we packed up and headed for our next camp at Iceberg Lake. This was the hardest part of the hike in for us. The entire way from Lower Boy Scout Lake to Iceberg Lake is steep, gravelly, and entirely in the sun (the trail from Lower Boy Scout Lake att eh way to the Summit is basically in the full sun - the only shade is found low and next to big boulders). We took a break at Upper Boy Scout Lake to cool off, eat a bit, and fill our water bottles (filtered of course - thank you Katadyn). The trail from Upper Boy Scout Lake to Iceberg Lake is steep, gravelly, sun-drenched, and completely void of almost all vegetation except for some low ground-cover grasses and plants (above tree line of course). It is very reminiscent of a moonscape or something. Right before Iceberg Lake it got really hard to follow the route (we were tired). We arrived at Iceberg Lake and finally got an awesome view of the gully and notch which would serve as our route to the summit the next day. It was very windy and got down to about 25 degrees not taking into consideration the wind chill. Camp setup was minimal. We ate and drank as much water as we could stand and went to sleep early. We awoke and started up the chute around 9am. It is extremely gravelly, scree filled, and slippery. It is very steep (steeper than it looks). The stones and scree make for slow going but if you stay along the left wall it seems to be the smoothest route. Our training in the Kaiser Wilderness area above Huntington Lake in the mountains northeast of Clovis helped as none of us had any altitude sickness issues so our progress was steady. It took 2 hours to reach the notch. Once we got there a climber coming down from the summit told us if we go up a class 3 section to the left (south) of the notch (standing at the top of the notch looking back down toward Iceberg Lake it would be to the right a 100-feet or so) we would be on top in 10 minutes. Just walk along the narrow trail for about 100-feet to your left once you reach the top of the notch and took left and up: that's the summit plateau. It took us about 10 minutes of Class-3 boulder scrambling/climbing to do reach the summit plateau. Erik, Kenny, and I all took separate lines up this route to get to the summit plateau. I took a line up the right side and reached the summit at 1230pm. Once I reached the summit plateau and saw the stone cabin I let out a victory yell that my wife may have heard back in Clovis (Yes, even a big, rugged guy like me can tear up a little - it was and still is a big deal to accomplish this dream). Erik and Kenny were just a few seconds back and did yells of their own. We had a group hug and congratulated each other for making it to the summit (recognizing that we were exactly halfway done). The weather could not have been better: clear skies, 55 degrees, and not a cloud in the sky.

After 20 years of dreaming about it, I (and we) finally did it! We all summited safely and did the usual things one does from the summit: the first being calling our wives and girlfriends. We walked around the summit, stood on the uppermost point we could find so that we could all say that we were certainly the person who was geographically higher than anyone in the contiguous United States at that point in time, checked out the stone cabin and decided that if we ever summit again we will definitely pack up our gear and stay on the summit in the cabin if possible, ate, eyed the stone toilet with disgusted curiosity and awe (a dude was sitting on it reading...), and took a multitude of pictures and video. We stayed on the summit for about 3 hours. From the summit we climbed back down the chute to Iceberg Lake, packed our gear, and hiked down to Upper Boy Scout Lake to spend our third and last night on trail. This was a very difficult hike as going from Iceberg Lake to the summit and then all the way down to Upper Boy Scout Lake made for a LONG and TIRING day. We camped at Upper Boy Scout Lake. We were all exhausted. The wind was pretty fierce this night. We could hear it sweeping over the peaks above and it getting louder and louder at our camp. It was so strong that Kenny's tent collapsed (he fixed it), but we ate a little and slept very soundly, even though the wind made the end of my tent poles constantly scrape on the rock they were positioned on. We got up and left for the Whitney Portal Store and trailhead the next morning. The hike from Upper Boy Scout Lake to the trailhead took about 2 hours. It seemed longer due to cramping quad muscles and the desire to try the double-cheeseburger and fries basket at the Whitney Trailhead Store we've all heard so much about.

We got back to the trailhead, took our packs off, and did a victory dance (Sore quads and all). We got the best cheeseburger and fries ever, cokes, beer, t-shirts, and other souvenirs to commemorate the successful trip and the realization of a lifelong dream fulfilled. As we sat in the shade on the picnic tables at the Whitley Portal Store we realized that we had just successfully climbed Mount Whitney by the Mountaineers Route, that the plans went of without a hitch, and we all made it back safely.

All in all it was a trip of a lifetime and is was also the hardest thing I had ever done, even harder than doing Half Dome in a day. The mountaineers route was harder than any website or book explained. Training extensively for this trip at altitudes higher than 10,000 feet made it easier and spending two nights on trail before summiting helped in acclimatizing.

I plan on doing this exact trip at least one more time: with my wife and kids if they are willing to train, strain, and focus on the goal. I think they will. I know I will. I DID.

Having Erik (Lil' Brother) and Kenny as hiking buddies who were willing to put in the work to do Whitney by the Mountaineers Route made this trip possible and made it worthwhile.

Bucket List: Mount Whitney - CHECK!!!


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