After bailing after only 1-pitch due to a late start and a heavy pack a month ago during a Whitney-Russell weekend, Lin and I decided to head back to the Direct East Face (IV-V 5.10+) of Mt. Whitney and try it again. However, a Beach Boys concert at Humphrey's Friday night, and my desire to climb Bony Fingers at the portal on Saturday, along with the fact that we're also lazy and didn't want to carry heavy packs required that we give it a go car-to-car.
Getting a later start than we'd hoped, we headed up the trail towards the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek at 03.45. On the way up through the ledges we ran into Anton, Matt and Jasmine who were descending after a 28+ hr. epic on Russell's Fishhook, ikes! After four and a half hours of hiking we were at the base of the route, having dropped our main packs where we would cross paths with our descent, and by 8.30 were actually climbing.
The first pitch went quickly this time up, and it was nice not having to clean out the anchor-crack of brush again, which sped up our start considerably. Lin was still recovering a bit from the hike, so I ended up leading the next pitch as well, taking a 70m pitch to some an uncomfortable stance in the middle of P3. Then Lin took over, getting off route into some run-out 5.10 territory (while listening to rocks whiz by after being knocked-off by climbers above, and a whole rock face give way across the valley). Finding her way safely through this ate up a decent amount of time, and so she handed the lead back to me for the next few pitches - some more run-out 5.8 face, and some fun 5.8 OW/chimney action. The crux 5.10d and 5.10c OW after this was interesting, and I unfortunately popped off pulling the last move of the 5.10c part, but didn't have time to pull the rope and give it another go. The number 5 and 6 were nice to have here.
After the short crux, I kept going for a while instead of belaying at the sandy alcove right above it (pro in there was funky, and there was a lot of rope left), going only about 40m before rope drag was getting funky. Then I made a belay and Lin started following through the crux. "Up-rope!" she yelled... "um, wait, this ropes tight?! WTF?" I thought. "UP-ROPE!" she yelled again... dangit, it was stuck in the number 6 at the lip of the crux. We tried to pull it and free it somehow, but no dice. Nor could Lin safely get to the cam and free it without a decent fall potential and possibility of pinching the rope under tension...Luckily, the halfpoint of the rope had just come through, so I could rappel down to the #6 with the remaining slack in order to free the rope. With this in mind, I tied off the rope to the anchor using the slack behind the belay device, used a sling to make a prussik on the rope below the belay device, and transferred the weight to the prussik. Then I put the rope through the anchor as if it would be a TR, got ready to rappel down the free end of the rope, untied the backup knot, and rappelled down to the #6 on a counter-weight rappel through the now "TR anchor". Luckily, although wedged against the rock by the camming lobe, the rope hadn't gotten pinched, so I freed it and worked my way back to the sandy ledge above the OW. From there I was able to belay Lin through the section as if she was on TR. She was then able to go all the way to the anchors before putting me back on belay and bring me up so I could continue leading.
The rest of the route went pretty smoothly, and we did the 5.9 direct variation instead of the "Fresh Air Traverse" after meeting up with the east face route (and picked up a nice new cam in the process!). We simul-ed some of the upper 5.7 pitches, and then topped out just after dark (a little before 8), climbing the last few 5th class moves by headlamp. My headlamp had turned on in our pack during the climb and was now dead, but luckily I was able to keep it going for the descent by stealing some batteries from my camera (it was too dark for photos anyhow!). Lin and I hung-out, re-hydrating and resting in the summit hut until 20:30 (thank you to whoever left a 3/4 full water-bottle in the hut), and then began the slow descent down the mountaineers route, plagued by weak headlamps (I was glad we had done that just a few weeks before and knew where to go). We finally arrived back at the car about 2 AM, a little more than 22 hrs after starting out, and then commenced the drive back to San Diego for work that same morning. Overall, a really fun and successful weekend!
As for our thoughts on the route - it was fun, but I don't think I'd recommend it to others, or want to repeat it. I think my comments on summitpost sum it up: " Did C2C (no aid) with Lin. Honestly, not too impressed by the route. Marginal rock, lot's of rock fall (a little from the leader, most from those above on the East Face), decent run-outs, and other than the aesthetics of the line from a distance, an uninspiring route. Perhaps I built it up too much in my mind with expectations, but not one I'd recommend to others. If you're interested in doing it, our rack of doubles in small gear, a set of nuts (including some small ones), a #2 link-cam, singles from 0.5-2 (meant to bring, but forgot the 3), a 5 and a 6 (C4's), and three mid-sized hexes worked well-enough. Also, a gray alien, red TCU and small nut worked well for the first "thin" belay (which had to have some brush cleaned out of it when I did it)."
(Also to be posted at alaskarobb.blogspot.com)