Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney Trip Report (#19423)

  • Signed By: C.E. Kammeraad
  • Date submitted: September 27, 2006
  • Date(s) climbed: 1983, 1984
  • Number of People Encountered:0-10 people
  • Recommend to a Friend: Highly

1983 was in late October and we encountered total whiteout at the end of Day 1. We dug in at about 11,000 feet or so to ride it out. It got seriously cold, with wind chill it was about 10* below. Day 2 was no better and it looked to get worse. This was in the days without Contact 3.0 and related technology. We packed it in! Our Wilderness Permit was what it was. We learned a lot though and it was my very first overnight adventure in high altitude and snow conditions.

We went back the next year (1984), in early June and were totally on snow and ice from the Portal on (crampons, gaitors, etc. were things we were glad to have). We did not have ice-axes, however, and a group going for the summit just ahead of us(we were near Trail Camp) had a guy come off the snow and iced-over-switchbacks (leading to trail going by the windows on the Needles on the way to the Whtiney summit). He lost a lot of tissue on his elbows before he got his axe in! He did arrest--barely! The ice was very hard! They bailed to get him to an emergency room. He was bleeding badly and it spooked us. We were relatively inexperienced and we had no axe at all and this guy took a fairly bad screamer down that chute! The thought of blowing off and taking a screamer to a lake and jagged rocks below was, well, a bit intimidating for us. Again ... we made it to about 12,000 feet or so and turned around.

Some are, due to cardio-pulmonary strength and strong conditioning, able to ascend Whitney with a fanny pack and water, shorts and cross trainers, in a single SUMMER day. That is NOT on snow and ice, however, and it isn't averyone. Anyone can do this mountain but you should be prepared and it would not be wise to underestimate 14,494 feet or that environment.

The real issue with Whitney, of course, isn't the technical difficulty--even the East Face is only about 5.7; It's the altitude! It's in the "very high altitude" category and you have to be ready for that. For experienced world class mountaineers (those driven into the final "extreme altitude" category), Whitney isn't much worthy of serious mention, I suppose. I love that mountain, though, and it's a great mountain for those who are totally novices at mountaineering. It is totally UNDER-RATED!

I recommend for anyone who MAY experience difficulty going from the desert floor to, say, 12,000 feet or higher in one day (more common than most would like to admit), stay one night at the Whitney Portal before heading up. This will help you acclimatize to 8,500 feet and this will give you a big edge the next day. If you camp at Trail Camp (12,000 feet) night two, the third day would afford a beautiful day to do the summit at 14,494 feet. Trail Camp affords beautiful views and the hike up from Outpost Camp (another Day 1 end option) is truly beautiful. Drink lots of water! It's the very high Sierras, be prepared for the unexpected:--lightening strikes, sudden storms, can kill, etc. (One lost his life going for Whitney's summit from the backside in the summer of 2005 due to lightening strike).

Having now spent the entire summer of 2005 in the Sierra Nevada, and returning to the sport as like returning to a first love, my wife and I will do Whitney on snow and ice Spring/Summer 2007. We've got a lot to do to get ready for our ultimate ambition: Denali in 2009! This is how we'll kick it off!

Mt. Whitney is a beautiful place to be even if it doesn't look like much from Lone Pine or from the Portal. There are those who make this a one day deal but 3 days for Mt. Whitney makes for a beautiful adventure. Enjoy it!

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