Mt Whitney via the East Face
5.7, Trad/Alpine, 13 pitches, 1000′, Grade III
Sierra Nevada/ Inyo County, California
14,505 ft (4,421 m)
For me an adventure is something that I can take an active part in but that I don’t have total control over.
On September 10th, 2017, Blake and I climbed Mt Whitney via the East Face. The East Face is included in Steve Roper and Allen Steck’s “50 Classic Climbs of North America” and is a very popular route! Unbelievably, we had the entire East Face to ourselves, giving this climb a real “Alpine” feel! Most of our climb was smooth sailing, but a little weather build up half up the climb and a narrow escape from rock fall in the loose chimney, right after the Fresh Air Traverse kept us on our toes. We pitched out only the technical traverses and simul climbed and short roped or soloed most of the climb. This was Blake’s first ever 10+ pitch climb and first ever 14er! All was going well until we got to the snow in the mountaineer’s route during our descent. Due to rain and below freezing temperatures the snow couloir was frozen up pretty solid, making it very hard to get down even with crampons. Thankfully we were able to exit the couloir and descend down on rock all the way to Iceberg Lake.
Blake coming up the Washboard
I have wanted to climb the East Face of Mt Whitney ever since I first laid my eyes on the two thousand foot face while doing the Mountaineers route several years ago. Weather, injury, and the health of my climbing partner had previously kept me from climbing this route but thankfully that was not the case this time. We started hiking from Whtiney Portal at about 9:30 am. Both Blake and I had pretty heavy packs so the hike in was slow! Taking our time we made it past the Ebersbacher ledges, Lower Boy Scout lake and stopped just before the Upper Boy Scout Lake to fill up on water. Our goal was to make it to Iceberg Lake but mother nature had different plans. Winds picked up, it started to rain and got pretty stormy. We ended up, setting up camp about 500 feet above Upper Boy Scout Lake. The rain and wind kept on for a few hours so we were very happy to be nice and dry inside our tent.
The drive to Whitney Portal
Blake’s facial expression says it all
Representing American Alpine Club on our way to Mt Whitney
Next morning we got up at about 4 am, ate some breakfast, geared up and slowly started the hike. It took us almost 2 hours to get to the base of the climb.We started climbing at about 8:30 am. We could see hail and snow collected in some places from the storm, the day before. I started out by leading The Tower Traverse. Blake and I then simul climbed The Washboard. Blake led the next short pitch and descent. I then led the 5.8 variation of the Fresh Air Traverse, the most fun traverse pitch! We narrowly escaped disaster when a pretty large piece of rock came loose in the gully right after the Fresh Air Traverse. We then simul climbed most of the route, stopping only to pitch out harder sections. Soon we had summited! We enjoyed some snacks and water in the summit hut and the views of the High Sierra and then started to head down, we rappelled down some of the frozen over parts of the Mountaineers route and then hiked down to the snow.Due to rain and below freezing temperatures the snow couloir was frozen up pretty solid, making it very hard to get down even with crampons. Thankfully we were able to exit the couloir and descend down on rock all the way to Iceberg Lake. We filled up water here and continued down to our tent close to Upper Boy Scout Lake.
The massive East Face of Mt Whitney
The East Face vs. the East Buttress
The Washboard, Blake and I simul-climbed this section of the route.
Blake coming up the Tower Traverse
Simul-climbing the Washboard
The Fresh Air Traverse visible right ahead
At the belay station right after the Fresh Air Traverse
Simul climbing up the Grand Staircase
Mt Russel, clearly see the Mithral Dihedral and Fish Hook Arete
Nearing the top and a look at Iceberg Lake
Mt Whitney via the East Face
Next morning, we woke up to a sunny day and gingerly packed up and started our hike back. We were both pretty tired from the last two days and were going pretty slowly until we started hearing some thunder in the distance. It was about noon and this was another storm rolling in. We hurried our pace so we could get down the Ebersbacher ledges before the rain hit. We timed the descent just right to where it started raining right after we got down the Ebersbacher ledges. We kept hiking in the rain which kept getting heavier. Finally, we made it back to Whitney portal. Blake had refused to weigh his pack on the hike up but stopped to check the weight on the way down. Neither of us was shocked to see that his pack weighed 52lbs. This trip was definitely a lesson for Blake on how to pack for Alpinism and not expedition mountaineering!
On the way back to Whitney Portal
The weigh in!
52 Lbs, Blake! Definitely not Alpinism!
Total time car to car: 3 days
Total Elevation gain and loss: 12,262 ft