Whitney Mountaineer's Route

22 Sep 1996 - by Jim Ramaker

Jim Ramaker

I'm thinking of soloing this route on 9/22/96. Anyone who's done it have any tips? Should I take an ice axe? Crampons?? Please reply to ramaker@vnet.ibm.com, not to the sc-peaks list.

Rich Calliger

I took both. Needed and used them- but I tend to use if in doubt and err towards conservatism. It was a July trip 3-4 years ago, so more snow and ice there..

Do you need a permit now with the new rules? I would like to do this route again soon in a less snowy year.

Robert Pinsker

I've done this route a couple of times, last time in September a couple of years ago. This has not been an especially heavy snow year, so I can't imagine that an ice axe or crampons would be necessary - I have not found them so. In fact, the last time was after an aborted attempt on the east face route, so I was in Five Tennies; no problem. Only 2 tips: usually a little ice right at the top of the 3rd class bit, which is only about 30 feet below the top, so one has to be careful there, and note carefully where you come out at the summit, so that you start back down the right chute. The landmark is the latrine - you come out right near it. Also, unless your route finding skills are extraordinary, resign yourself to wandering around a bit in the very first part of the route, below the Ebersbacher ledges, trying to figure out which side of creek is better. I know people who have gone up the north fork 6-8 times, and get a little bit lost every time. Just an annoyance, however. I think it's best to stay on south side of creek until you come all the way up to the creek crossing for the ledges, which are on the north side.

Both times I've camped at Iceberg, indeed. Really, though, the only reason to get an early start on the Mountaineer's route is so you can get down and out to Whitney Portal by dark. The climb only takes a couple of hours from Iceberg Lake. Certainly much more work getting to Iceberg than the rest. Oh, yes, that reminds me of another tip. When you get to the top of the slope south of Upper Boy Scout lake, instead of climbing the cliff directly to Iceberg, which is real awkward with a pack, keep going west (towards the east face of Whitney), until you find a steep pebbly path to the left of the cliffs. I've done it both ways, and believe me, it's a lot safer to go up that path rather than climb the cliff, which is wet and slick near the top. I assume you somehow got a permit, which was quite an achievement this year. My partner and I were unable to get any Whitney permits this year, and are thinking of looking for a break in the weather just after the end of the permit period (Oct. 15) and try to do the East Buttress route.

BTW, assuming you have a Web browser and are interested, a somewhat long-winded account and photo of the last time I did that route are at http://www-alpinistas.ucsd.edu/archives/1994/whitney.htm

Rick Booth

Last year coming down the Mountaineers route after ascending east buttress the snowfield at the top was extremely steep and icy. The groove worn into the snow field was icy and four of us made it accross but I was glad I had my ice ax. Two frenchmen who had run in from the portal turned around when presented with having to traverse the snow field. It may be possible to ascend 3rd/4th class rock directly on the summit ridge, i suppose, but i have no information about that. Good Luck!

I think we there about mid august.

Butch Suits

I've been on this route twice. In early season, I would reccomend an ice axe and crampons. In late Sept you probably won't need either, but you might want to bring an axe, which you can leave at the base of the route if you don't need it. (or maybe someone has more recent beta on the snowcover in the gulley).

David L. Harris

I've done the Mountaineer's Route a number of times and am leading a trip there this weekend.

You shouldn't need an ice axe or crampons this time of year. We're going without; if you send me mail next week, I'll give you a more detailed report of the conditions.

The only difficulty of the route is finding a good way through the Willows right after you leave the main trail. There's a good ducked trail leading mostly up the left side of the canyon to the base of the Ledges. The picture in the California 14er's book is useful for locating the Ledges your first time.

I'd recommend descending the main trail if you can get a permit. The Mountaineer's Route is a fun ascent, but a bit tedious on the way down.

The Mountaineer's route went well. We had a novice group; only three of the six of us climbed from Iceberg Lake on Sunday and of those three, one hiked down the main trail instead of downclimbing the chute.

Three inches of snow fell Fri night; leaving powder on most flat surfaces over 13,500. There were some large ice flows in ackward places between the top of the chute and the summit. We climbed the 3rd class ridge on the right side of the very first couloir leading from the top of the chute to the summit and didn't need an ice axe but did have to be careful about patches of ice.

I'd never tried descending to Iceberg and I wouldn't do it again. We went down the North face at the west end (toward Arctic lake) and over to Whitney-Russell Saddle. The saddle was pleasant, but the face had some hairy exposed 3rd class and too much ice.

It's starting to get chilly up there. Also, the trail is rather heavily used by novices; we encountered three groups who were lost and actually had to call off a helicoptor search when we found one person who'd been reported missing. Have a great climb!

Aaron Schuman

I down climbed the Mountaineer's route in 1987, after upclimbing the East Face. It was autumn, following a drought year, and the entire route was free of snow and ice. We didn't carry ice axe or crampons, and we felt safe.

When you complete the climb, notice very carefully from which gully you emerge onto the summit plateau. From the top, they all look similar, and all but one of them dead ends into cliffs.

You should collect all your answers and summarize to the list. Good luck, have fun, and be safe.

Jim Curl

I suspect you'll get plenty of responses on this, but here're my two cents anyways.

I've been up this route twice and down it four times, most recently this August after climbing the East Face route. It is not very difficult and might be third class in only a few spots.

The approach to Iceberg Lake has been improved in recent years, but can still cause you headaches if you lose the route. The "Shooting Star Guides" to the East Face and East Buttress routes have very detailed descriptions of this approach. A few valuable points:

(1) Exit the Whitney trail about 1/2 mile from the Portal at the second stream crossing (the first one is a bad mistake) and proceed up the right side of the stream. You should encounter a small kiosk containing voluntary "poop bags" a hundred feet or so up this steep path.

(2) Look for a good place to cross back over the stream that takes you up high on the left side. This won't be a bridge -- you might have to jump -- but it should be a pretty good trail. Staying on the right side all the way to the Ebersbacher Ledges is another mistake. This crossing occurs somewhere past the giant boulderfield that'll be on your left. The boulderfield, by the way, is an optional start to the approach if you go up the left side of the stream. It can be a lot of fun if you're in the mood.

(3) Cross over in front of Lower Boy Scout Lake and stay just above the vegetation (following a decent path) and look for a good place to exit right onto the slabs up above.

(4) Don't go too high on the final approach to Iceberg Lake. Stay low and keep heading towards the base of the Direct East Face route. Your patience will be rewarded with a second class path up right to the Lake. Heading up early (e.g. up the waterfall) is yet another common mistake.

Basically, if the path you are on becomes annoying (too much bush or water) or difficult (the only third class is getting up onto and switching back on the Ebersbacher Ledges), you're probably off route and would do better to go back and correct your mistake.

As for the gully, it's pretty easy. The best way to go is to stay left as if heading up towards the East Face and then traverse right along big ledges into the gully. If you start at the bottom right of the gully, you'll probably encounter some hard snow and loose junk. You can go this way, but it's a lot less fun. There's plenty of loose rock in the gully, but there's a fair amount of solid rock on the sides. Your choice. Up at the notch, there may be hard snow to traverse before the going gets easier to reach the summit plateau. You can either head straight up (solid third class) or do the traverse. You might want an ice axe here. There's a good chance you won't need one. But then again, you might. Don't take crampons though. I used my climbing nut tool the last two times I descended and kind of wished I had a real ice axe, but I've never wanted crampons.

On your way back, the easy descent starts about 50-100 feet past the toilet. The steep descent starts about at the toilet. On your way up it's not a bad idea to look back at that big notch so you will easily recognize it. My first trip up the route (my first peak bag actually) was a solo trip where I didn't pay attention to the rear view. While it took me two hours to climb from Iceberg Lake, I spent six hours descending because I didn't remember my route back to the notch. I ended up going over the Whitney-Russell Col instead. Not too good.

On my last trip up there, an innocent looking storm suddenly became violent and began pelting us with graupel type hail. I noticed a funny buzzing on my helmet and glove liners. "Hey Dave, what's this noise?" as I put a glove next to his ear. "Bzzzzzzzzzzzz". Our speed of exit from the summit plateau increased dramatically after this.

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