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Mt Whitney Mountaineer’s Route Trip Report  - Sept 12 2016

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Gina and I did Mountaineer’s Route ascent and the regular Whitney Trail descent for a total of about 16 miles on Sept 12 2016. It was our first 14er! We didn’t know what quite to expect but we found the trail easier than we thought. We didn’t suffer from any attitude sickness or exhaustion. Below are the stories and lessons we learned.

Trail Report

We arrived the day before and camped the night with our UC Davis crew of 9. Since we got the permits together, we were only allowed to have one car at the reserved spot. We had to drive down our 2 extra cars to Lone Pine and park at the Lone Pine Film Museum. There wasn’t anyone to pay for the ticket so we left a note and hoped our cars would not get towed.

We started on the trailhead at 230a and made the trail split about a mile in right before the stream crossing with the sign. Temperature was warm at 2am; maybe 50 degrees. We stripped to our t-shirts less than half a mile in.

We used a GPS on an iPhone via the Hiking Project App and didn’t run into any real route finding issues. From the trail split to the ledges, we crossed the main stream twice and saw an awesome waterfall. I accidentally stepped my foot into a stream and got my shoe and wool sock wet! Derek gave us the advice to carry an extra pair of socks for this type of mishap. Gina snuck a pair into our backpacks even though I didn’t think it was necessary to save weight.

Mt Whitney Mountaineer’s Route Trip Report  - Sept 12 2016

As we continued walking through the well defined trail, we saw the famous lone fox tail pine tree and hiked our way through the Ebersbacher Ledges. In the middle of the ledges, we went left up to a tree when we should have continued to the right and then up. Because of the dark, Gina didn’t even notice the exposure. We carried on from the ledges to the Lower Boy Scout Lake. The Lake isn’t much of a lake so we didn’t really stop. Around this time, we got a call from Derek and Katrina, we were surprised the walkie talkies still worked at this distance.

Helpful carins

From Lower Boyscout Lake to Upper Boyscout Lake, it’s basically a scramble up a talus field. We saw helpful carins at some points. Gina got a little spooked but once we saw headlamps behind us, she was re-assured we were not lost. These headlamps were gaining on us quickly. We got to the split off to Upper Boyscout Lake in a slabby area with water run-off where the group behind us caught up. They realized we were n00bs to the route when they saw our headlights zig-zagging through the field. They started at 330a and caught up to us! They went right towards Mt Russell. They were a nice group of alpinists and said “great job” instead of “you are gonna die” like some high strung alpinists might. This was again very re-assuring. We couldn’t actually see Upper Boyscout Lake either, so we just stopped to share an energy bar and carried on.

On the journey from Upper Boyscout Lake to Iceberg Lake, the winds started picking up and we put on our jackets. It was around 6am as we got closer to Iceberg Lake. The sun was starting to set and we saw amazing views of Whitney, Keeler Needle and Day Needle. We stopped to share a sesame bagel filled with cream cheese, swiss cheese and salami(thanks Allie!).

Tommy and Gina at the base

The iconic three peaks

The lake was to the right of us with a large wall blocking our view. We decided not to stop at the lake since it would mean us walking further down in elevation. Heading up to the Notch, we stayed mostly to the left side of the mountain. I scouted ahead of Gina and we occasionally backtracked here and there to ensure an easier path. It seemed the gully to the right was sandy and it would slow us down.

Staying to the left on the scramble to the notch.

Looking at the final 400 ft to Whitney Summit

Once we got to the final 400 ft, it looked like the easier class 3 and 4 route was covered in snow so we elected to stay more to the left going up. Some of the hand cracks were still covered in snow but at least our feet were solidly on rock. The climbing to the left wasn’t particularly challenging but a little climbing experience does helps to avoid any unnecessary beach whaling maneuvers. Gina was afraid we were going up a false summit so I went ahead to top the edge, saw the clear talus field and climbed back down to ensure her it was indeed a correct path. We got over the edge once again. Both our hands were still cold from grabbing snow here and there. Our phones turned off from the snow as well! We walked to the summit hut and saw hikers from the regular trail. I think we might have been the first ones to summit via the Mountaineer’s Route that day. We signed our name and left promptly to our descent via the regular Whitney Trail. I did jog to summit another 14er, Keeler Needle since it was so close. We then stopped to eat our other bagel near Keeler. Around here, we saw Derek, Katrina and the rest of the UC Davis gang. We were happy everyone was fine. It looked like they were colder than us so the regular trail must have been exposed more to the winds in the wee mornings.

Tommy and Gina on Whitney summit

The walk back on the Whitney Trail was torturous. It wasn’t particularly tiring, it was just LONG. The switchbacks felt forever. It was not hard on our knees since the descent grade was easy. Our brains were tired from waking up early so our coordination wasn’t quite there but the trail was paved well enough. We got passed up by a few parties including one set of 70 year olds. One of these 70 year olds recently climbed the Matterhorn so we felt a little better. At the last 3 miles, we got our second wind, sped up our pace and even passed a few parties. Much to our delight, we saw Nick and Doug at the trailhead. We arrived back to the trail head around 445p.

Preparation

Mt Whitney Training Plan (for 5 weeks):

  • Mon: Jog 1.5 mi (zone ½ heart rate)
  • Tues: 3 mi morning run on steep hills (zone 4/5 intervals a min at a time) / evening: hangboard for 20 mins / 10 min abs session
  • Wed: afternoon: Jog 3 miles (zone ½ 9 min mile pace) to climbing gym, boulder for ~40 min, jog 3 miles back
  • Thurs: Jog 2 miles morning / evening: 10 min abs session / 5x10 kettlebell swings/squats
  • Fri: Jog 1.5 mi (zone ½ heart rate)
  • Weekend: Climb either sat or sun. Rest the other day.

We primary train more for climbing than just hiking Mt Whitney so that’s why our mileage was on the lower side.

We did hike Pyramid Peak in South Lake Tahoe via the Rock Canyon Trail two weeks prior. We felt this was a decent indicator to see if you are in decent physical shape.

If you are trapped in a lab, you can run up the stairs and take an elevator down for one/two hours.

Gear Packing:

Each backpack was 10 lbs at the trailhead and at the end, they were 6 lbs each.

Clothing

This was the right amount of layers to avoid sweating and the cold.

Food

Tips

Apply chap stick more often. My lips got sunburn! There’s plenty of places to fill up water with your filter bottle so don’t carry too much water at any given time. Light packs help a lot: you can move faster and there’s less impact on your body as you move down.

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