Winter Ascent of Mt. Whitney

Winter Ascent of Mt. Whitney

“Hillary! Why must you leave me???”….Ok, so perhaps Hillary Clinton didn’t visit us on our winter ascent of Mt. Whitney last weekend. After all, she is probably busy campaigning in South Carolina or something, maybe it was just the effects of altitude and exhaustion wearing away at my consciousness.

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Nate and I tried to drive to Whitney Portal on Friday night but only managed to make it ~0.5 miles past the road closed sign before the snow and ice on the road became too much for my X-terra to handle. Not knowing exactly how far we had to go before the portal we went to sleep and just walked up the road in the morning. After a few hours of restless sleep, at 4:30AM, we departed our parking spot at 6,500 ft elevation and headed up the road. Our goal: Iceberg Lake (12,600 ft).

Everything seemed to be going fine as the mostly consolidated snow along with our rented snow shoes allowed for fairly quick progress. By 9:30 AM we were at Lower Boy Scout Lake and by around 11AM we were at UBSL. This is where the trouble for me began. As we ascended the slope above UBSL I was constantly short of breath and I had pretty bad nauseousness and headache.

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At one point I remember leaning over my hiking pole trying to catch my breath with my eyes closed and drifting away dreaming of Hillary. It was then that Nate called back from 100 ft further on the trail and, seeing me in my pitiful state, announced that perhaps we should take a break.

We determined that the snow was too steep for our snow shoes and after donning our crampons and ice axes we frontpointed up to Iceberg Lake.

We set up camp and I jumped into my sleeping bag trying to catch a few Zs to rid myself of my altitude headache while Nate prepared some dinner and water for us.

Shay was leaning half into the tent for an inordinate amount of time, arranging the pads and sleeping bags, or so I figured. I was wondering what the hell was taking so long and found him asleep with his face on a pad and his ass in the air outside the tent.

We had the bright idea of bringing a piss bottle on the trip. We tested our dedicated piss bottle on the drive up when both Nate and I relieved ourselves into the bottle, nicht zussamen. Now, at Iceberg lake, as we were getting settled to sleep in our tent both Nate and I had to go and we almost completely filled the 1L powerade bottle. Several hours later with the wind beating on our tent I awoke with an intense urge only to find the bottle filled to 2 inches from the top. Would this be enough? With down sleeping bags crowding our small tent, a catastrophe would surely ensue if my bladder volume estimation was off. I opted for the alternative and reached outside the tent and dumped out most of the bottle.

Later in the night Nate also had the urge except when he found the bottle it was frozen solid.

I woke up hours before dawn, uncomfortable as hell from the lumpy snow, with a huge piss a brewin. I found the pee-bottle by shay's head and to my horror, it was completely full, and frozen solid. I brainstormed a few ideas, and was unwilling to chug a liter of water or dump it out, and there was no way I was going outside, so I resigned myself to sitting in my bag and waiting out the rest of the night.

We woke up in the morning to find the wind howling and blowing spin drifts down from Whitney and all along the Iceberg lake basin. Occasionally a blast of spindrift would come up under the rain-fly and spray us with snow. Our objective was the East Buttress of Whitney, however, due to the wind and cold we decided on plan B: The Mountaineers Route.

After collapsing our tent we started up the Mountaineers route and when we were 50 meters from the notch I looked back to see Nate in the fetal position trying to defend himself from the wind.

Apparently, he hadn’t been able to feel his exposed nose for the past 30 minutes and when he tried to cover it his goggles became fogged up and then icy. After talking it over for a few minutes, a half-blind and cold Nate continued up to the Notch from which we could see the summit looming tantalizingly close above us. We decided to push on, and after ascending a steep snow slope and a mixed rock band we found ourselves on the summit of Whitney.

Fucking lame-ass goggles froze over and I couldn't see shit.

While on the summit of Whitney we could see some clouds abrewin and decided to get down to Iceberg lake, collect our stuff and head down to lower elevation.

When we got down to our tent it was completely cemented-over in wind-blown snow. The pit we dug had also completely filled in, burying our buried water even deeper. After fifteen minutes digging randomly for the water I figured screw this, we're blasting all the way back to the car! Water is for pussies. So with a half-liter of slush between us as our reward for reaching the top of the highest mountain in the 48 states, we headed down.

At first we were only going to go down to LBSL, then we agreed on setting up camp at Whitney Portal, then Nate got the idea that we should go all the way down to the car so we can eat at Lone Pine and then camp at the Alabama Hills. That’s when Nate’s ambitions ran rampant and we decided to make the drive all the way to San Diego that night. The plan was good in theory. Little did we know that we would be enduring a Soviet style death march down the road to our car. I guess on the approach we didn’t really notice how far down from Whitney Portal we actually parked since we were excited and well rested. After more than an hour of walking along a snowey/icy road with absolutely no milestones our blistered feet arrived at our parking spot.

Sitting in the Lone Pine Mexican restaurant looking at pictures, almost forgot about the suffering. What's next? That was easy!

What we learned:

  • 2 piss bottles, dump it out right after you use it!
  • brewing in the morning sucks, too much work, just pack up and go
  • we need to learn to climb rock in boots/crampons
  • pack up your tent like you mean it
  • use a marker if you are going to bury water

In accordance with the rules and regulations of Winter Club that a.) the route be completed between the dates of December 21 and March 20 and b.) the route be at least a grade III and/or involve multiple days of post-holing, we humbly submit our ascent as application for our entrance into the Winter Club.

We also recognize that we are wusses for doing the easiest possible route to attain Winter Club membership.