Note: This trip report is part of the TetonAT Trip Report Contest. Shane is now in the running to win a FREE pair of Black Diamond skis based on viewer response and the TetonAT panel of judges! Good luck Shane!!
Shane Jones checking out Day Needle, Keeler Needle and Mount Whitney.
It was April 5th 2008 and the sun was shining in the Sierra’s. My buddy Ben Hatchet a.k.a. (Granjero) and I have had a good winter touring around the beautiful shores of Lake Tahoe in our neighborhood. With the nice weather in store we decided to have a go at the Mountaineer’s Route (first climbed by John Muir 1873) on Mt. Whitney.
Mt. Whitney is named after Josiah Whitney the State Geologist of California. The peak stands at 14,505 ft. and is the southern terminus for the classic John Muir Trail that runs 211 miles from Yosemite’s Happy Isles. Whitney was almost named Fisherman’s Peak as it was first climbed by Charles Begole, A. H. Johnson, and John Lucas; fishermen who lived in Lone Pine, California 1873.
I picked up Granjero and we hit 395 south (Peak Riders Highway) and made our usual stop at the IN N OUT burger in Carson City, NV to throw down some easy calories before our big day. If you haven’t driven the 395 south from Tahoe to Lone Pine it is a must do for any backcountry skier or hiker. There are countless aesthetic skiable peaks along the way and it is hard to keep your eye on the road. There is also a must stop at the Whoa Nellie Deli, located in the Mobile gas station on Highway 120 which heads west into the Yosemite valley. Also enjoy the view of the gnarly chutes and couloirs on the Dana Plateau while eating you gourmet grub.
Back to the objective….. We arrived to Lone Pine around midnight and started to make our way up the Whitney Portal to the base of the mountain to camp at the trailhead that sits at 8,360′. We were cruising along the Whitney Portal in the moonlight craning our necks trying to get some kind of glimpse of the mountain when all the sudden we came upon the bad news. We were at around 6,360′ on the Portal road and were pretty bummed to run into a road closed sign. We figured the road closure would add roughly 3 miles and 2,000′ to our already big day. We were now looking at around an 8,145’day up the mountain. Right as we were climbing into our sleeping bags an alpine climber named Tim Fisher showed up to climb the mountain in a few days. We told him we were going to climb in a day and he decided to join us on our adventure.
Tim passing the loose gravel.
We woke up to our alarm around 3 hours later at 4 a.m. and abandoned our nice cozy sleeping bags for our 3 mile walk up the Portal to the trail head. As we made our way up the road we found the reason for the road closure. It turned out that we could have gotten a car around the big piece of granite, but we were already 1 hour up from the car, and didn’t know what else we would encounter. We continued on the road and shortly we had skis and skins on at the trailhead and were making good time. Apparently we missed the huge boulder in the dark that indicates where to turn to head up the North Fork toward Lower Boy Scout Lake, the main trail for the Mountaineers Route. It wasn’t until arriving at the base of the beautiful south face of Thor peak that we realized our error. As the Granjero stated, “Oh well, that is why it’s a tour!”
Tim working across the ridge above Pinnacle Peak.
The only way for us to get back on track was to climb up and over Pinnacle Peak and descend its north face. We did some class 3 moves to get up the peak and then traversed the ridge looking and hoping for a spot to descend. We then came upon a spot we figured we could down climb on and the Granjero was fired up to make some turns. Tim and I did some ass puckering down climbing on rotten snow while the granjero somehow found turns on the shallow snow over rocky slabs and shark teeth.
By the time we joined up with the real approach it was around 1 p.m. and we were at about 11,500′. Tim dropped his pack and made a dash for the summit. I was following with skis on pack climbing the couloir excited to ski it. Granjero decided to go scope some other crazy lines he wanted to ski and we decided to meet back up with him at the bottom of the couloir in three to four hours. As I made it to the notch (top of the couloir) I dropped my pack and skis and Tim came around the corner on his way down. Tim let me know that I only had around 30-45 minutes of some exposed class 3 rock and then the final summit snowfield to the top.
Granjero skiing the sharks teeth on Pinnacle Peak.
Finally I made it to the top and enjoyed the warmth from sun that was hiding from me while I ascended the eastern couloir. I took in the scenery from the top for about 15 minutes and knew that I had to make good time to catch up with Tim and Ben. I carefully down climbed the snow field and rock and found my self back at the notch where my skis and pack were. There was not one central boot pack up the couloir, rather a freeway of boot pack that was now re-frozen and bomber. I chattered my turns over the frozen hard pack and away from the snow covered Iceberg lake to where Granjero and Tim were waiting patiently. They were happy to see me as they had been sitting in the cold for a while. Tim made a nice batch of warm sports drink and then we started down the mountain. Since Granjero and I were on skis the whole way down we decided to take Tim’s keys and run his car around the granite boulder in the road and to the start of the trailhead to save him the 3 mile down climb on the portal.
The skiing was a little variable on the way down, but we still managed to have a good time as always. We soon passed Boy Scout Lake and knew we were on the right path down. We made survival turns down the last 500′ or so through the trees and did our best to avoid falling in the creek. The creek soon lead us to the bottom and we spent at least a half hour looking for our shoes that we stashed behind a tree we knew we couldn’t miss on the way out!! To our credit, we probably stashed those shoes around 17 hours ago and those headlamps work good, but everything looks the same in the dark. Somehow, the last magical tree I picked had our shoes behind them. Of course, how could I have missed it I thought! We were relieved. We did not want to walk the three miles down the road in our ski boots. What a great feeling it was to take off those boots and put on our shoes. We started hiking down the portal, knowing that food and beer was less than 3 miles away.
Mount Whitney summit cabin.
We got to the cars at around 10:30 p.m. 18 hours and 30 minutes after we began our day at 4 a.m. Wow! I hopped in Tim’s car and Granjero hopped in my Suby, and we rallied up the Portal and about 2.5 miles up the road we ran into Tim cruising down the street. I was impressed. We flew down the mountain on skis and he was hiking the entire time. He is super strong and makes amazing time for a dude around 215 lbs. We stopped in the center of the road and broke out the chairs, beer, grub and decided to Party on the Portal. The other night I was watching the ski documentary Steep and I had a good laugh when Eric Pehota said, “That beer can be piss warm, but it’s the best beer you’ve ever had!”