On top of the Whorld

17-18 Aug 2001 - by Peter Maxwell

After reading George Sinclair's recent report on Whorl Mountain and the subsequent followups, Arun Mahajan and Peter Maxwell (scribe) thought they'd "give it a whorl" over the weekend of August 17/18. We didn't take any rope or other climbing gear, based on George Sinclair's recent report of being able to successfully tunnel behind the famous chockstone. This made for nicely lighter packs, always a favorite for me.

While getting the permit at the Bridgeport ranger station, the ranger commented that typically August is a very busy month and they'd been filling quotas on almost every day. He said that July is the time to go. We were fortunate in that we were the only two for that day's quota of nine.

When I was paying for the parking at Mono Village the guy asked where were going, and when I said Horse Creek he gave us the wonderful news that there was an "endurance horse ride" group coming down there at the moment, with 150 horses to contend with. What a way to start a wilderness experience. We were envisaging the worst (insert your own imagination here) but were pleasantly surprised to meet only 8 horses in two groups, the majority apparently having already finished.

In truth, we may have missed some in our unconventional way up the cascades near the start. Missing a crucial hairpin bend, we bashed almost all the way up alongside the creek, in increasingly steep terrain. When we finally emerged onto the trail again we were met by a ranger who was puzzled by our route and said "You can stay on the trail, you know".

After starting our hike at 9 am, we finally arrived at the saddle separating the Horse Creek and Spiller Creek drainages at 3 pm. We camped not far from the nice tarn there, which is a perfect base for doing Matterhorn but somewhat further from Whorl. A better placed campsite is to be found by walking south further to reach another tarn. By this time there was a very strong wind blowing and we tried to find shelter behind various boulders, eventually ending up using a pre-constructed wind shelter. We contributed our bit for future users by extending the wall in both directions.

The wind dropped a bit during the night, enough to let smoke from the Yosemite fires invade the area. All night long I could smell smoke and my clothes smelt like I had spent the weekend gardening and burning clippings, rather than climbing.

Arun and I argued about what time we should get up the next morning (he wanted to get up earlier and I wanted to sleep in), and we compromised to end up with a departure time of 7 am. We started to gradually climb as we headed for the area of the saddle between the middle and south summits. In retrospect, we'd have been better off staying level, walking beyond the next tarn and then not start climbing until reaching the second class gully, which is very broad at the base. The obvious orange area high up is a good reference since this gulley is a bit further south.

By the time we picked up the class 2 gulley we'd already ascended quite a bit and it wasn't at all obvious we were in the right gulley. We thought we might have traversed too far south and just plugged on to see what we would find. After going almost all the way to the top, there was an obvious notch on the right to get to the next gulley, which we could ascend further, again until almost the top where there was yet another obvious notch. Climbing over this, much to our amazement there was the chockstone in the next gulley.

So far we'd done nothing more difficult than easy, non-exposed class 3. The only tricky part of the whole climb was the short traverse over the rib into the chockstone gulley. This is at the same height as the notch we had just come through, and although not difficult, it.s certainly more exposed and requires some care.

The only snow near the chockstone was a small patch on the ground underneath it. Having read the stories of tunneling and worming one.s way through, when I looked up and saw a small hole I figured that was the way. There was only enough room for a body and we had to pass our packs through, and then worm our way through on our backs, walking the feet up the wall just opposite. On the way down we found a much larger opening, easily enough room for a person and pack, and no difficult worming either. From below, having found the small hole, you have to look up and to the left to find the larger one.

The class 1 sidewalk shortly afterwards is truly amazing. The guard rail referred to by Eric Beck is where a nice 3' wall separates you from the dropoff. At 10:15 am we were on the summit. Unfortunately, the smoke had not dissipated so views were severely restricted, which was all the more frustrating because 2 hours later the wind had picked up enough to clear it all out. However, there was still a nice view of Matterhorn.

We left the summit at 10:35 and were back in camp by 12:35. Jim Ramaker had written that it was possible to ascend the chockstone gulley all the way from below, so we decided to descend it to see what it was like. This avoided all the class 3 traversing, but our conclusion is that whereas it's a great descent route, all the loose scree would make it a frustrating ascent. For those who want to try it, the start of this gulley is immediately to the left (south) of the obvious orange area referred to earlier. At this point this anvil-like rock is noticeable right above you on the skyline.

After having lunch, we left at 1:15 and were back at the car a bit after 5:00 and home before 11 pm. Whorl is a complex mountain, and it's incredible how relatively uncomplicated the ascent can be. The best time to do this peak is late season when the chockstone should be clear of snow, and no ropes would be necessary. However, if the chockstone is blocked then you're in for a class 4/5 climb around it.

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