Peak(s):  Mount Whitney - 14494
Date Posted:  07/11/2014
Date Climbed:   04/27/2014
Author:  BirdMan
 Mt. Whitney - Day 1: Two Halves Finally Make a Whole   

Day 1: Half of Mt. Whitney and Half of Mt. Russell

Route Stats
2 Day Total ~30 Miles Round Trip and ~10,000 Feet Elevation Gain
* Day 1 - Mountaineers Route via the Whitney Portal: 10 Miles / 3,800 Feet Elevation Gain
* Day 2 - Mt. Whitney (Standard) Route via the Whitney Portal: 20 Miles / 6,200 Feet Elevation Gain

Folks familiar with these types of outings know you plan months in advance and hope for the best weather when the time comes. About ten days prior, I started checking the Lone Pine, CA weather forecasts and saw nothing but blue-bird climbing days with a few clouds the days before we'd be making our ascent. Yeah!

However, as I continued to check the weather I was alarmed by the initial reports of a few clouds changing to the possibility of snow in the area. Yipes! Calling the ranger station we learned that the Whitney area could expect up to a foot of new snow. Spring time in the Sierras, I suppose...

Our main goal was to ascend the Mountaineers route to be able to do a snow climb up the couloir. We were hoping the new snow would only enhance, but not change our plans. Though honestly we'd have no idea of the snow's impact on our chosen route until we got there.

The view from the Inyo National Forest ranger station after picking up our permit for the Mountaineers route the following day. Mount Whitney is poking up in back at the far right.

Note: We were chatting with the ranger while getting our permit and were told that he has almost ALWAYS had permits available for hiking and has almost never had to turn someone away due to all the permits being in use. FYI, for folks interested in going to this area - the permit system doesn't sounds anywhere near as restrictive as the books and websites would lead you to believe.

The next morning we were awake at 4:00 am and out of the hotel at 4:30 am. We were hiking under headlamps on the Whitney Portal trail at little past 5:00 am. The trail breaks right towards the willows and the infamous Ebersbacher Ledges. Here's an "action shot" of me crossing the creek below the ledges using the willows for balance.

After crossing the creek we started to encounter snow as we hiked higher up towards Lower Boy Scout Lake (LBSL). Though maybe not necessary at this point, we stopped to put on crampons and gaitors.

Feeling strong and ready to tackle the mountain!

Spirits were high all around.

The route up the ledges is pretty well worn with intermittent cairns and features to guide you along the way. The sun's already up but we still have a long way to go.

Heading up into the e-ledges. Behind me are the willows which flank the creek to LBSL. Once you cross the creek and get up on the ledges, you're out of the thick of things.

A little snowmelt waterfall to cross.

Below is the first view of Mt. Whitney as you reach LBSL. Very impressive!

The temperatures were rising with the sun and we were getting warmer in spite of our elevation gain.


Since LBSL is really more of a marshy area than a lake we decided to keep trudging on and stop at Upper Boy Scout Lake (UBSL) for a snack.

Lower Boy Scout Lake is behind me to the right.

As we got closer to Upper Boy Scout Lake we came upon a giant ice feature we thought we could use as a landmark.

Captain Obvious says, "it's right there!"


In our planning stages months ago we had thought about snow camping if we needed to. Based on the relatively clear weather we were relieved to not have to camp, but were surprised at how many other campers we did see. While it's not entirely scientific I would estimate that easily 80% of the people we saw on Whitney were doing some type of back country camping. My hat is off to them!

So it was about at this point that the first of two things went wrong for us that day. One we could have controlled (route finding), the other (weather) we couldn't...

I'm not sure if it was low blood sugar, or that we got caught in a sort of hypnotized state of simply hiking in other peoples' tracks, but we continued on northwest past Upper Boy Scout Lake instead of going west towards Iceberg Lake and our ultimate goal of Mount Whitney.

We didn't realize it yet, but Houston, we were about to have a problem...

We filled our bellies and were eager to get back on our way in pursuit of Mount Whitney. Unfortunately as we climbed higher we entered a box canyon of sorts with none of the geography looking familiar. Shoot!

After a quick review of the route info and topographic maps we'd determined that we weren't getting closer to the summit of Mount Whitney - we were actually half way to the summit of the neighboring Mount Russell. What the...!!!

Mt. Russell looking great below, but it wasn't where we intended to go.

In all, we figured our detour added somewhere in the neighborhood of another mile of distance, 500 feet of evelvation gain and an extra hour of hiking time.

We were still feeling strong and it was still early enough in the day (10:30 am?) that we figured if we maintained a good pace we still had a chance of making the summit.

Re-energized to be back on the route and under a familiar ridge line. Heading up and trying to make up some lost time.

Getting closer - Mt. Whitney in all her glory.

This was the point when we first encountered the people coming down the mountain. Uh oh...

The first reports were of the Mountaineers Route couloir having knee deep-snow and very strong winds. I'm not sure if it was a mild case of summit fever but I think we both somewhat discounted those initial reports and thought maybe we could still press on to the summit. We encountered more folks who had different versions of the same story - i.e. that they were turned around in the couloir due to deeper than expected snow and high winds.

The turning point came when we met someone that you could tell by his gear and his gait had a very strong "mountaineer vibe". He said he got to 13,800' in the couloir but was turned back by chest deep snow.

I'm sorry, did you say chest deep snow?

I'm pretty sure it was precisely at this point that we both knew we were beat. We are Colorado boys and prehaps ready for more than you average bear, but chest deep snow was certainly more than we had bargained for.

We very quickly and easily made the decision to conserve what energy we could and hike back to the trail head. We figured we had enough time to get back to the ranger's station before they closed at 5 pm to get another permit for the following day to attempt Mt. Whitney via the very long standard route. After all, even if we weren't going to be successful on our chosen route, we didn't go all the way to California to not get to the top of Mt. Whitney if we had anything to say about it!

Even though we're done for the day, there was still time to snap a few photos from this vantage point. Who knows when we'll be back at this location?


It was hard to say 'so long' to Whitney and our dreams of summiting via the Mountaineers Route, but it was the right decision considering the conditions.

Whitney, we'll have to try again tomorrow...

Day 1 on Whitney:
Day 2 on Whitney:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Great report(s)
07/11/2014 19:37
Really enjoyed both reports. You tell a story well, BirdMan! And all the beautiful photography made me even more excited about climbing Whitney later this summer.

Way to persevere and make the summit. Love the closing ”12:22” coincidence, too. Thanks for posting.

nice pix!
07/12/2014 00:30
looks like some familiar to rain up there in the Sierras. Nice up there huh?

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