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5.7 and 5 Stars up the East Face of Mount Whitney

Video: Bones warm and climbing skills enhanced the crew leaves the hot sands of Moab for the Eastern Sierra’s to climb a classic route up the East Face and East Buttress of the tallest mountain in the lower 48, Mount Whitney.

Writing this update three days later, my legs are still in pain from the beautiful stair-master known as Mt. Whitney. We left you with our last update making coffee in a random parking lot being chased by Andrew’s imaginary police hell-bent on maintaining order and justice in all random parking lots. Who knows? Maybe bivying is a serious crime in the great state of Nevada. Anyhow, we pushed onward.

Burk in the captain’s seat with Izzie in her standard road trippin’ state; sleepin’ like a baby birdie.

We spent the day initially driving to Yosemite to explore the area around Tuolumne Meadows, but alas, sequestration cuts to the National Park Service forced the Park to have a delayed opening and remain closed for now. Darn you reckless government – make snow-free roads, open and accessible National Parks, and pie for everyone, not war.

We instead opted to head for Mt. Whitney. It was on our bucket list, and seemed to be a good next place to push our individual mountaineering skills in regards to scope and sequence, hat tip Cheley Colorado Camps. We arrived in Lone Pine, CA that afternoon, and Paul led us to an awesome campsite in the Alabama Hills where we had a gear explosion from our cars and sorted out our packs for the hike in the next day. Be sure to check out the time-lapse photos Matt took of our Alabama Hills campsite at the end of the video, cool stuff.

We drove up the Whitney Portal Road and hit the trail early the next morning. It was only a 2-3 mile hike in to Upper Boy Scout Lake, however we started at 8,300 ft and ended up camping around 11,500. With full packs it was a semi-epic stair-master day. We set up camp, cooked an early dinner, made preparations for the next day, and passed out early for an early alpine start in the AM.

Paul making his way up the Mountaineer’s Route to our base camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake.

Lower Boy Scout Lake.

Spring Icefall on our way up to Upper Boy Scout Lake.

Night shot from our base camp looking up at Mount Russell.

Our summit day started at 2:30 scrambling up snowfields and rock slides by headlamp. Considering our pace the day before, we budgeted some extra time for our approach. Of course we crushed the approach to Iceberg Lake with light packs and ended up shivering and doing a bring-on-the-sunrise-try-and-stay-warm dance off and on for an hour waiting for the sun to hit the rest of our route. Once we had danced ourselves warm, watched the stars fade and the sun crest over the horizon we made the last scramble to our first belay stations and started the climb.

Morning alpine glow as we start our climb up the East Face of Mount Whitney.

Paul, Izzie, and Andrea took the East Buttress route while Sunshine, Andrew, and myself took on the East Face route. The East Face route consisted of 12 pitches of mellow grades from class III and IV scrambles all the way to 5.7 chimneys and cracks. The granite on the route is awesome to climb – shoes grab on just about anything, and there is almost always a handhold to be found right where you think it should be / need it to be. There were frequent “pucker-points” along the way where you had to make a move over some pretty huge drops. Like Ancient Art you had to let yourself feel “The Fear”, take a deep breath, imagine you aren’t hanging from the side of a cliff with a 700 ft drop below you, and just make the move with confidence. There were lots of “go slow to go fast moments,” hat tip Copper Mountain Ski Patrol.






























Andrew making his way through the Tower Traverse; First Pitch on the East Face.

We see our friends Paul, Izzie, and Andrea making their way up the East Buttress.

Burk, getting his belay on.

The first pitch, the Fresh Air Traverse, and the following chimney were the most exposed parts of the climb, and when we got to the crux the crack that reportedly was the normal way up was iced in. Andrew led the crux, crushed, and conquered. We didn’t realize it was the crux until he had cleared it, no big deal. After some simul-climbing, questionable route-finding, and soloing we reached the summit 11 hours after we hit the first pitch. Teams of 3 move pretty slow, and with frequent reminders from me of what our mothers might think of this anchor, that placement, or lack thereof, we probably roped up for a few more pitches than we should have. At the end of the day we all made it up in once piece, safe and sound.






























Andrew making quick work of the Fresh-Air-Traverse. Only a little bit of fresh air under his climbing shoes.

Sunshine looking at the exposure of the Fresh-Air-Traverse. Woohoo!

Paul and the ladies Hulk-smashed the East Buttress route and had themselves a righteous two hours to enjoy the view on the summit at 14,500 feet, the highest peak in the lower 48, waiting for the East Face crew. The East Buttress is 8 pitches of 5.7 climbs with some scrambling as well. It is harrowed as the more aesthetic and sustained route with less exposure. Starting out we were able to maintain line of sight between the two teams until the East Face team had to drop down on a pitch before the Fresh Air Traverse and the Buttress team wrapped the around corner out of sight.

Fortunately we had some of the best weather you could ask for at 14,000 feet. The East Face team had some frigid moments while stuck in the shade with some pretty good wind, but we warmed up on the summit and descended the Mountaineers’ Route as the sun set making it back to camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake around 9:30.

It was a long day, and we reluctantly mustered the energy to eat some tasty quinoa creations and pass out with false hopes of climbing Mt. Russell the next day. Mt. Whitney took it out of all of us for that trip. We opted instead to pack up camp and head down for a burger and brew before heading to Mammoth Lakes to rendezvous with Matt’s parents for some rest and relaxation.

Mt. Whitney was a burly peak for the most part – it was humbling and magnificent. At one point I joked to Andrew that he could buy all my climbing gear after this trip, but after the whole experience of reaching the summit and the grounding sensation only found while overcoming fears on the side of the cliff, I think climbing will stay in the cards for awhile. Sorry Andrew.

Coming down the Mountaineer’s Route be got a very colorful sunset.

Sunshine, Burk, Andrew, Paul, Izzie, Andrea

Photos & Video: Sunshine | Writing: Burk

  1. Great climbing with you guys on the East Face. Keep up the good photos. Good luck.

  2. Hey you six! It was very nice meeting all of you! I found somebody’s very nice Leatherman tool….who’s missing one? Let me know if we can meet up and I can get it back to you. GREAT PHOTOS! You folks not only know how to climb, cook a great out door meal….you also can get some great photos. Let me know. Ron

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