Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Whitney - Russell Weekend

As the heat hit San Diego a couple weekends ago, Lin and I decided to escape and head up to the Sierra. Our plan was to give Russell's Mithril Dihedra a second go (snow had kept us from getting to the climb until too late in the day back in May), and to try the rarely climbed direct east face of Whitney. Leaving San Diego Friday evening, we arrived in the Whitney Portal and hit the trail around 11:45, hiking through the night to get to basecamp at Iceberg lake while avoiding the rangers who insist you have a permit (but which quotas make hard to obtain).
Despite complaining about being out of shape from spending the last few months studying for the MCAT, Lin kept up and pulled her share, and we made good time up the trail. While traversing the cliffs below Lower Boyscout Lake, we picked up a straggler who had gotten lost amongst the ledges, and then managed to get ourselves lost right above the lake (as usual), and it took a mild amount of bushwacking to re-obtain the trail. We were both tired after a long week of work, and coming from sea-level to a start-height of 8,200' in a few hours didn't help, but despite that, our weekend packs, and a little unintentional detour along the way, we made it to the cliffs below Iceberg lake by about 4.45 AM and bivied behind a rock to block the wind.

Although we both stayed pretty warm during the night, when I woke at 6.30 needing to use the bathroom, it was COLD! The wind seemed to take all body-heat away instantly, but still I couldn't help but stare at the beautiful east face of Mt. Whitney and the Keeler Needle burning in the pink morning light. It was gorgeous (though I'm not sure how I managed to get a decent picture considering how much I was shivering as I took them!). I was also awed by the look of the direct east face, and couldn't wait until Sunday when we would attempt it.

We both woke again and got moving around 7.15, and the chill that still permeated made me wonder if I'd made a mistake in leaving my poofy jacket at the car in interest of saving weight. As we got moving though, and the sun began to truly shine, we quickly warmed up and about 20 minutes after breaking camp we were at Iceberg lake. Here, we dropped all our camping gear, hung our food away from the marmots, and grabbed our climbing gear for the Mithril dihedral on Russell. Unfortunately, in the process, I managed to misplace the topo maps for the route, but we decided to go for it anyhow since there were other parties headed there in front of us, and since it's such a straight-up obvious line.

When we approached the Mithril, we saw there was already one group on the route, and another waiting to go. Now the Mithril tends to be a rather chilly route, and the second group mentioned that they were waiting for the sun to come around and warm it up before they started. This made us fear that it'd be too late by the time we got started after them, but Lin's off-hand remark about us maybe starting before got us started up the route beforehand while it was still chilly. Lin led the first pitch in good style, cruising up the 5.8 cracks, and linking up a couple pitches so that she arrived at stance while the other group ahead of us was still there. I followed up, then we waited for the other guys to move before bumping up our anchor a few feet to a more comfortable stance. From there I had the classic next pitch of a beautiful 5.9/5.10 crack up a corner. I led up the beautiful crack, which rotated between fingers, hands and a little OW, and it was amazing. Going about 200' up before I reached a nice ledge to belay from, I took the majority of the "money" pitch, and couldn't believe how lucky I was. Unfortunately, although normally a better crack climber than I, Lin had some troubles on the route due to our heavy pack (we'd both worn boots, and put those heavy things in there), and was suffering pretty good by the time she arrived at the stance. In good form though, she led up the next pitch, which involved an exciting step-over/traverse to the belay ledge. Our friends that let us cut in front of them followed-up right behind us, and after a few pitches of 4th class to 5.6ish terrain, we arrived at the summit - utterly exhausted from hiking all night and barely sleeping. Back to Iceberg...

Sunday morning we woke up late... too late, and it would cost us that day. As we packed up camp, our buddy Josh and his girlfriend Sheila stopped by on their car-2-car trip of Whitney's East Buttress (they had climbed the regular route up the 3rd pillar of Mt. Dana two days before too), and then we went our different ways as Lin and I headed down toward the very bottom of the east face, and they continued up to the base of the buttress. Arriving at the buttress at about 9AM, we began to realize that prospects for doing the route were dismal due to our late start. Regardless, we decided to see how quickly we could go. I led up the 5.6 R/X first pitch, but by the time I'd done that and belayed Lin up it was nearly 10 - too late when we still had 14 pitches to go, including one of 5.10d off-width. So Lin let over to a spot that looked promising to bail, and two nervous raps on nuts behind cracked flakes later, we were back on the ground.

Both bummed, we slowly packed up when I remembered I'd see some blue off to the side in the rocks, and decided to go see what it was... a size large Mountain Hardwear poofy jacket! Sunfaded, but still in good condition, I threw it in the pack and we headed back to our camp. On the way, we debated about what to do with the rest of the day... go down and climb in the portal, or do something else up Whitney since neither of us had been to the top yet. In the end, we decided to just hike the mountaineers route, and after an hour and fifty minutes later (and after passing Josh and Sheila on their way down), we were at the top of Whitney! It was a gorgeous day, and we were both glad we'd decided to hike up in the end... though were appalled by the looks of the hikers trail in the distance. The endless zig-zags just didn't look appealing in the least, and I was glad that wasn't our way back down. Lin took time to make friends with a Mike, the begging marmot (well, maybe not the best of friends since she wouldn't give him any of our awesome banana bread and nutella sandwiches), and then we were on our way back down. We descended back to Iceberg Lake, grabbed the rest of our gear, and chased the sun on the way down as it settled behind Whitney to our backs. Another fun and gorgeous weekend in the Whitney portal... and another route to return to with hopes of completion.


Lin said...

We definitely have a score to settle with Whitney...can't wait to get back there again!!

Alaska Jack said...

A good puffy can be a comfort. Don't forget your feathers when you head way down south.