Whorl Mountain

8 Aug 2001 - by George Sinclair

When I climbed Virginia Peak last year I was impressed by the view of Whorl Mtn., and I decided then that I would make an effort to climb it the following summer. Reports I had read that told of difficult route finding on Whorl only added to the attraction. Perhaps the old Roper guidebook, with its one-sentence description, helped create this reputation.

It took me about five hours to work my way from Twin Lakes up to Horse Creek Pass. The first two miles above Twin Lakes is along a good trail, but beyond that the trail becomes a crude path that eventually becomes hard to follow higher up the canyon. The last section getting up to the pass is quite rough.

Once over the pass I encountered an SPS group that was also heading for Whorl. They invited me to join them, but due to insurance concerns they told me that they would not share their rope with me. I camped with them that night and early the next morning we all headed for Whorl. For some reason I soon found myself out in front of the SPS group and since the route seemed obvious, I pushed on alone. However, throughout the climb the SPS group was not far behind me.

Despite reports I've read describing difficult route finding and possible class 5 climbing on Whorl, I had no trouble getting up the mountain. Prior to leaving on this trip, I read several trip reports from the PCS web site and I later found that the one by Eric Beck most closely described my route. I don't think anything I did was harder than class 3. The most interesting part of the climb was tunneling up under the famous chockstone.

The summit register went back to the mid 1970's, with the second earliest entry made by old PCS climber Steve Brewer who did a solo winter ascent in 1976 (the same winter PCS climber Ken Berman was killed in an avalanche while climbing nearby Matterhorn).

Although the SPS group had another day left on their trip, I was planning to hike out that same day. So after a few summit photos were taken, I left the SPS group and quickly headed down the mountain. I made it back to our campsite near Horse Creek Pass shortly before noon. After a short lunch, I packed up and headed back down to Twin Lakes, which I reached about four hours later.

For those interested in going to Whorl, here is my version of a route description:

Head south from Horse Creek Pass to an obvious terrace that contains a small lake. Continue past this lake until terrace ends and continue south while gradually contouring upwards. Eventually you will reach the class 2 gully that Secor describes. This will be the first significant gully you will encounter. Follow this gully upwards. About 200 feet below the top of the gully veer to the right and head for an obvious U shaped notch on the right edge of the gully. Climb up to this notch, from which you should be able to see the famous chockstone in a narrow gully further to the right. To get to this narrow gully you will need to drop down a short ways and traverse a shallow gully to another rib. Climb up to the notch on this rib. A short class 3 hand traverse will lead you into the narrow gully. This traverse is probably the crux of the climb. The chockstone will now be directly above you. Climb under the chockstone on the right side and climb up behind it (you can make it with a pack on providing there isn't too much ice). Above the chockstone climb up to the ridge. The actual summit is not directly above you, but further to the north. Follow an obvious ledge that leads over and up to a notch in the ridge. Class 2 climbing leads up to the summit.

Jim Ramaker adds:

> It's amazing that there is an easy route up this peak.

The problem with this route on Whorl is that the tunnel under the chockstone is often blocked with frozen snow/ice. I've been up there twice in July and it was blocked both times. Climbing up over the chockstone is much harder -- there is no way it is class-3. Near the top is a moderately sketchy face move where you're exposed to a 25-foot fall onto rough boulders, with a further dropoff below that. Guaranteed serious broken bones. One person in our party of seven soloed it, but she's used to soloing easy class 4-5 stuff. On the descent, all seven of of us did a short rap, and the party included three skilled technical climbers. In my opinion, if you're not sure the tunnel is clear, and if you don't like soloing class-4, take a rope for this route.

Also, it's possible to climb directly up the gully all the way to the chockstone without doing all the traversing. It was nice class-3 climbing all the way, but finding where to start up was tricky and I don't really remember how we did it.

In any case, Whorl is a cool peak with some really nice rock. One of the amazing things about it is that when you look at the east face from a distance, like from Virginia Peak, it looks like a monolithic wall of granite. But when you're on it, there's quite a maze of gullies and ribs.

Owen Maloy adds:

It's worth pointing out that this is an incorrect interpretation of the insurance. As George is a Sierra Club member, the SPS group could have shared a rope. Presumably the leader should have the right paperwork. George would have had to sign in with a standard waiver.

I wouldn't take a rope on Whorl anyway, now that I know the route, although R.J. used my rope to climb it when I was sick in camp.

Some people climb around the chockstone on the left, where there's a little cleft. I don't know that way, but apparently one can find a way around that is Class 3. A good technical climber or boulderer could get around the chockstone directly.

It's amazing that there is an easy route up this peak.

Peter Maxwell adds:

It still represents a good example of how screwed up insurance and litigation has become: better to let someone seriously injure themselves than risk sharing your rope and invalidating insurance.

"it's always someone else's fault"

George Sinclair replies:

Actually I never needed a rope on this mountain. Perhaps the other reason, which I should have mentioned, why they wouldn't share their rope with me was that I didn't have a helmet. Apparently having a helmet is an insurance requirement.

Owen Maloy continues:

Having a helmet is not an insurance requirement. The leader makes that decision. One can see why, if he said everybody had to have a helmet, he might be unwilling to relax the rule for stranger.

But I'm not sure I'd want to go with a leader who thought helmets were needed on Whorl. The Angeles Chapter Safety Policy says that a leader must

"Know the areas to be entered and the conditions to be encountered during the outing. "

Ron Karpel adds:

Interesting we are hung up on this insurance so much.

What really is this insurance about, and what exactly does it protect?

I believe other organizations (AAC) offer a much more substantial insurance coverage to members without all the hassle the Sierra Club policies.

Greg Johnson adds:

Admittedly I rarely carry or wear my helmet in the mountains or even on the few occasions I've been rock climbing. I've been on Whorl myself and I don't think there is much need for helmets on this mountain either. But, I would think wearing a helmet when travelling in a group and where you have gully's to contend with it is the safe and smart thing to do. I wouldn't hold it against any trip leader who required that I wear one.

BTW does the "Know the areas..." requirement mean the trip leader must have climbed the peak prior to leading a group of people up it?

Neal Robbins adds:

The Angeles Chapter SPS web site (http://www.angeleschapter.org/sps/mcproc002.htm) states the following as the responsibility of the leader "on 3rd and 4th class trips make certain of the route before the scheduled ascent, limit the group size and have equipment suitable for the trip." In 2000 leaders were told that this means helmets on 3rd class routes. All 3rd class SPS outings I've been on since, either as a participant or leader, have worn helmets for 3rd class climbing.

It's unfortunate that insurance concerns limit our experienced leader's abilities to make decisions in the field. I've been on plenty of 3rd class where I was perfectly safe without a helmet. On the other hand I've been on 2nd class where I'd wished I'd had a helmet because of rock fall hazard.

Steve Eckert interjects, as politely as possible:

OK, let's move this thread. It is now only about the insurance question, which is sierra-club-specific... and not very interesting to non-club climbers in the Sierra Nevada. I'd suggest using pcs-issues@climber.org Thanks in advance for honoring my request!

George Sinclair continues:

Apparently, a simple comment I made in a trip report has caused many people to comment on SPS leaders (and Sierra Club insurance). However, I want to be clear that on my recent Whorl Mtn. trip there were no hard feelings between me and the SPS group. I respected the leaders decision regarding the use of their rope on Whorl, and in no way do I hold that decision against him. They did not know who I was and I can understand the reluctance of the leader to have me tie in with them.

Owen Maloy continues:

>What really is this insurance about, and what exactly does it protect?

This is not member insurance (which is not available as a Sierra Club benefit, but isn't expensive), but the liability insurance protecting the Club. Because of some lawsuits in the past, the Club must restrict certain mountaineering activities to members who have at least some experience. This is not the big deal that it sounds, but some people make a big deal out of it.

Leaders do have some protection on these trips.

Michael Gordon adds:

I've been on plenty of 3rd class where I was perfectly safe without a

Or so you thought. I'd like to remind everyone that helmets do more than protect a climber from rockfall. Just read ANAM each year, or other sources that report the extraordinary numbers of head injuries and deaths caused by falls that may have been prevented by wearing a helmet.

I even wear a helmet sport climbing. I enjoy life and climbing too much to have it changed by one simple, preventable accident.

Christopher Stone adds:

Sitting 20 feet from the wall at the lower buttress at Lover's Leap several weeks ago, some yahoo on the top pitch of one of the most popular climbs at the leap, Surrealistic Pillar, knocked a baseball size rock that landed 12 inches from my foot with a sickening thud. I had no helmet on as I wasn't climbing at the time, but I keep the rock as a reminder that lack of care on even well traveled and "clean" routes can end a life.

Chris Kantarjiev adds:

Not to mention the idiots at the top of Fresno dome that were trundling rocks over the edge a couple of weeks ago.

Rockfall is not under your control. Gear fall is not under your control (imagine what a #2 camalot dropped on your head can do).

Wearing a helmet is a personal choice. I choose to wear mine more often than not.

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