Mount Whitney the Fun Way
(Mountaineers Route in Springtime Snow)

24-26 Apr 2004 - by Cora Hussey

The beautiful image of the Mountaineers Route had long been calling from the 395, and so Dan Popa and yours truly set off to attempt it this past weekend.

We drove up Friday, and so got a good start (9:30 am) from the parking lot on Saturday. We found the Portal road easily due to there being only one stop light in the entirety of Lone Pine. After reaching the turn off up the North Fork of Lone Pine, we were again reminded of what adventure is implied in the term 'climbers trail'. Regardless, after only about 20 minutes of making peace with the willows choking the drainage, we reached the left side which was thankfully still covered with snow, and thus had a very nice hike to Lower Boyscout Lake.

At this point, it was about noon and we stopped for lunch. Snow covered only the north facing areas below Lower Boyscout, but the gully above us to Upper Boyscout Lake was pretty much completely covered with snow. After refueling, we set off on a sweltering bit of step-kicking. Near the ridge which separates Upper Boyscout Lake from the main gully, there are about four spindly trees providing shade, and every bootmark in the snow headed toward that shade. As did ours. It was nearly 80F out in the snow gully, and we were getting cooked. We rested again for a bit, and swapped water around since Dan had run out. Our eventual goal was Iceberg for the night, and so we continued up the nicely snowed-over right side of a rock band and kept ascending. By the time the terrain had flattened out, it was about 3:30 pm, and we decided to call it a night, or at least time to find a spot to camp.

As this trip was Mount Whitney the Fun Way, the only weather we had was perfect weather. The stars were out in force, which I appreciated as I often spend as much time staring at them as actually sleeping at that altitude. Unfortunately, Dan was not feeling too well before (and during) the night due to getting a bit cooked in the sun, altitude, and other mis-estimations, and so we were not sure about attempting to summit the next day.

At around 8:00 the next morning, we roused ourselves and stared at the mountain. Ah, if only beautiful mornings like that could inspire us every day... Needless to say, at 9:00 we had daypacks packed and were headed up. It was certainly the most 'fun' if lazy alpine start I have had, even if it did make us feel a bit rushed. Some erroneous routefinding on my part led us up and over some totally unnecessary class 3 in crampons just before Iceberg Lake, but then we were headed up the gully proper. We hit it at the perfect time. We could remove our crampons, and yet the snow was still firm. Fun stepkicking, on par with the trip's theme. Once at the top of the main prominent gully, we found one team coming down and two going up. The pair coming down said they had ascended the second gully (the one with the steep exit to the summit) and described the exit as 'rather sketchy ice and sugar snow over class three rock'. As our humble climbing skills did not quite equate 'sketchy' with 'fun', we chose to traverse around to the summer trail. I would imagine that the traverse would be quite, er, interesting in the summer with no snow, but with snow it was a bit of crampon traversing from rock band to rock band until the ridge was attained. The snow was variable, and so we alternated banging out our crampons and scampering pied a plat across the gullys. There was also a good bit of exposure at some points on the traverse, so we watched our footwork.

After traversing and then ascending the rest of the way for about an hour and a half, we reached the summit at around 2:30. The view and all associated rewards were, needless to say, worth it. We kissed the summit marker, snapped photos, and started down. The traverse stayed in the sun, but the Mountaineer's gully was in shadow by the time we reached it at around 4pm. We donned crampons (again, it was odd to have fine sun-warmed snow on the way up, and then descend a cold and hard gully, but indeed it was fun). Dan tried glissading the last bit, but promptly declared that the mashed up and step-kicked hard snow bulbs in the gully were ramming themselves up his... well, never mind. I considered that experience to be decidedly not fun, and walked the whole way down instead.

We knew full well at that point that we needed to spend another night out, but that did not bother us much as nothing much that one could call fun ever happens outside of the mountains on Mondays anyway, and the weather remained perfect. We also took the time to talk with a few folks on the way down. Two groups were playing hookey from work and skiing to various beautiful parts of the range, and one had along his extremely nice dog who seemed to be a better snow climber than I. My admiration goes out to those groups, and I always enjoy meeting such fine people.

On Monday morning, we discovered that the snow still held down the willows on the side opposite the ledges, and had a fine hike out followed by some equally divine cheeseburgers. Indeed, a fine ending to an equally fine trip.

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