Ascent of Mount Whitney on 2011-10-14

Climber: Ed Wandall

Others in Party:Tom Wandall
Date:Friday, October 14, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Whitney
    Elevation:14498 ft / 4418 m

Ascent Trip Report

Big day. When I heard I was going to be in Vegas for work, I applied for a permit. April 15th saw a $15 charge from the Inyo Ranger Station, so I knew I was in. I later found out that only 6 permits were requested for that date, the rest were picked up the day before. As the climb neared, I asked my brother if he wanted to meet me. As I live in the lowlands of suburban Philadelphia, and he is based in Oakland, it is rare that we get together. He accepted the challenge and drove the 8 hours to Lone Pine to meet me. Thursday found us at the Ranger Station where a permit was obtained for him. The rangers were great, just sticking Tom on my permit without going through any lottery (or charging him). We got good beta from the rangers, specifically, a lot of snow on top. Good to know.

We decided to try and hike up Lone Pine Peak as an acclimatization hike. We got a late start and didn't want to over-exert ourselves, so we turned back when we saw the scree couloir that we needed to ascend. We headed back to Lone Pine for dinner...a great plate of chicken fried steak for me, and chicken fried chicken for Tom. After dinner we headed up to Whitney Portal and tried to sleep in the car.

Remarkably, we slept fairly well (unlike our Mount Hood experience). We heard a few parties start up the trail around 3:30, and got up to follow them. Even though we did a lot of prep, it was still 4:40 when we started up the trail. Because the main reason for me being in the area was a work trip to Vegas, I had to SERIOUSLY cut down my gear. I didn't bring out my ice axe, helmet or water bottles. I would regret all of these omissions. I tried to take a picture of us as we started up, but my camera chose that moment to die. I had back-up batteries, but I wanted to save them for the headlamp in case we came back in the dark. I put them in the camera, but only took a few pictures, which was a good move.

Heading up, we were surprised by the amount of snow, low on the trail. Since I didn't have a helmet or Ice Axe, Tom left his in the car. Initially, due to our experience on the Meysan Lake trail, I didn't want to bring my crampons, as they ate up a large chunk of my small pack. But being in the Sierra, I brought them and my shell, figuring it was better to be safe than sorry. As we crossed snow patches low, I was glad I did.

My GPS once again failed (anyone interested in a PN-40? CHEAP!), so we just went by from reading everything I could on the route, and Tom from his experience hiking it as part of his John Muir Trail trek. Outpost Camp, Mirror Lake, and lots and lots of switchbacks passed by. Finally we must have gotten off trail a bit, and ended up south of Trail Camp. From here, we could see all sorts of climbers heading up to the final switchbacks by bypassing the lower switchbacks...heading straight up the mountain. We thought this odd, as the switchbacks save your legs. I headed up a snow slope toward the middle of the lower switchbacks, aiming for a large rock where a few climbers were slogging past. Kicking steps, we gained ground quickly, and caught the other climbers. This was climbing, not hiking, and Tom and I were loving it. Some of the other climbers, not so much, and we saw a bunch of folks head down. As we entered the switchbacks, we could see why some of the others were trying to avoid them by climbing directly up...icy patches. We cramponed up, and found the going mostly good. We made good time to the cables section, where we found a smart climber who didn't have crampons working his way down self arresting with his trekking poles. He worked his way down in fine style, but it made us wonder what we might find further up.

Hitting Trail Crest was a big deal. There were probably a dozen climbers there, some hanging out, others coming down, and a few of us still heading up. It was a party. A few of them were trying to descend by glissading from the crest, but Tom and I were without ice axes, so we would go back via the switchbacks. The climbers as Trail Crest were inspiring...cheering everyone that made the crest. I was proud to be a part of this 'brotherhood of the rope.' Right up until the point where one of them said "only 2 hours to go now." What? It was after 1 and I thought it was only 1/2 a mile to the summit! Tom and I always set a hard turn around time, which we always follow. We have turned around 500 feet from the summit of Shasta because of the time. We both thought 3 would be a late turn, but possible. We pulled off the crampons on the advice of the group at Trail Crest and promptly ran into more awkward stretches of trail. Tom put his back on again, but I kept them off, as I didn't want to take the time. Time was the big issue now...or so I thought. Tom was fighting a headache and we knew it was probably the altitude. At a beautiful gap in the ridge, with the Kaweah range behind us and the window of Aiguille Extra and Third Needle around the corner, we had to split up. He had to go down, and I had to go as hard as I could to make the turnaround time. I don't know who was worried more...Tom, that I would do something stupid on the way up, or me, worried about him going down with a touch of AMS. But this is the mountains, and you trust your ability. I cached my pack and took a single trekking pole. If I needed crampons, I would turn back. As it turned out, a few stretches were dicey, but I caught a few of the climbers ahead of me. Passing them, I had the summit to myself. As a collector of summit benchmarks, I was astounded by the 6 or 7 markers on the summit! I knew I was over the 3pm limit, so I didn't stay, I just signed the register and wrote a quick 'happy birthday' to Corrine, by brother Tom's wife (who had summited twice before and is a solid rope gun of her own right!), but I was on my way down.

As I went down, the couple I passed was just getting there, and there were two single climbers behind them. I let each of them know where the others were, then bombed down. Trail running at 14,000 feet was probably not the smartest thing I did, but it did get me to my pack quickly...where I found I was down to ounces of water. Oddly, as I passed a window, I heard my iPhone message tone. It was Corinne, whose birthday it was, checking in on us. I tried to respond, but got frustrated by trying to get a few bars, inches away from a 2000 foot drop to Upper Boy Scout Lake. Altitude. I put away the phone.

I put on the crampons again at Trail Crest, and headed down to Tom. Now it was getting late, and we tried to find the actual trail through Trail Camp. As daylight failed, we got turned around at a switchback and were put back to right by a nice couple in a tent that we were stomping around. The rest of the hike was sort of like the Bataan Death March. I was VERY glad I only took a few pictures and had strong batteries for my headlamp. Actually, I could have burned hundreds of pictures and still had 6 hours of light, but better safe than sorry. By now, I was out of water, but heading down was the refreshment I needed. They say there are 99 switchbacks on the way up. I think there are twice that on the way down. We shared the last water when we knew we were within an hour of the trailhead, and then received a gift from the climbing gods. Sitting on a rock, right on the trail, was a cool bottle of water. We shared this delicious gift and got back to the car at 10:15.

Great day, the best part was spending 48 hours with my brother. If you read all the way through this, thank you. Remember, this is a long hike...I do a LOT of hiking out east and I know my times. I expected a 12 hour day, but thought it MIGHT take 15. I have run several marathons, but this was the hardest day I can remember.

Thanks to Greg Slayden, who put this site together. Some of the best beta I have found on Peakbagger.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6648 ft / 2026 m
    Extra Gain:250 ft / 76 m
    Round-Trip Distance:22 mi / 35.4 km
    Route:Mount Whitney Trail
    Trailhead:Mount Whitney Trail Trailhead  8350 ft / 2545 m
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Crampons, Ski Poles
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:10 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:8 Hours 30 Minutes

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