Winter Mt. Whitney Climb
< BACK PAGE
January 14th-17th 2008
The SMG Mount Whitney Winter Ascent program of January 14-17 accomplished a number of notable firsts. It was Joe’s first winter camping and first mountaineering of any kind. It was our first Whitney trip of the season and Jed’s first trip for the company. On all fronts it went spectacularly.
We start these trips in Lone Pine. Usually bustling, Lone Pine on a mid-week off-season day is pretty quiet. Packing, breakfasting and contemplating the mountains are very relaxing and welcoming from the quiet town. We drove, using four-wheel drive, to about 7200 feet on the Whitney Portal Road. We snowshoed up the road, a mile or so on the summer trail, then busted over-snow up the steep and sometimes-brushy North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. There was just enough snow to make the gully passable, not enough though to completely conceal all the willows. We camped night one at Lower Boyscout Lake, working through the mechanics of staying warm and comfortable on the snow.
Day two is designed to be easier traveling. It’s fewer miles and less vertical than the first day, but we’ve started from a cold campsite and we’re still acclimating. It still feels like work. Along the way we filled Joe with all the mountaineering skill he could absorb. And he thoroughly soaked it all in. We even reached the campsite ahead of schedule. One of the winter high camp options for Mount Whitney summit climbs is tucked into some east-facing boulders well below Iceberg Lake. We had views out to the warm Owens Valley, early sun, and built a simple snow-block wall to block the wind. Again, it is possible to be comfortable sleeping and living at 12000 feet in the winter, as long as you’re meticulous and patient.
Day 3 for us was summit day! We snowshoed, plodded, Pied en Canarded, and huffed our way to 14000 feet on cruiser snow. Rarely did we post-hole more than 20 cm, and never was it too hard for our bare boot soles. Just before the notch in the Mountaineers Route we had to holster the ice axes and schlep a bit on the shifting sands of the summery looking gully. Around the corner it was wintry again, big pillows of firm, wind sculpted snow packed in between compact sections of scratchy cramponing over rock. We roped up the final pitches and topped out just a short walk from the summit. The descent brought shelter from the high-country winds, warmer temperatures and thicker air. We were back in our comfy base-camp by 3:30pm. We pigged out, re-hydrated and were still in the sleeping bags before 8! Winter camping schedules rock!
Day 4 was all downhill, cruising to warmer, more oxygenated and cleaner environments. Joe was in a shower mere minutes after reaching the car. We are all proud of this trip. Not many people get to summit Whitney in the winter, much less in the cold and relatively dark month of January. Joe came to us as an eager student and a fit athlete. He readily adapted to near 0 (Fahrenheit) temperatures and persevered under the workload of a winter backpack and flopping snowshoes.
back to top