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Mount Whitney-Mountaineer's Route, CA

320 7 1
Guide 7 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List CA > Sierra Nevada
5 of 5 by 2
Warning! Technical climbing skills required. Risks include serious injury to death.  Risks are not eliminated by skill.
Climb Consensus (7) → View
Difficulty 3rd
Climb III G Boulder
Rock Granite Excellent
Length 2000 ft 4 Pitches
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Difficulty 5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Round Trip 9 miles
Trailhead Elevation 8,365 feet
Elevation Gain 6,132 feet
Accumulated Gain 6,200 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 12 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 40
Interest Perennial Waterfall, Seasonal Creek, Perennial Creek & Peak
Backpack Yes
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
20  2014-07-05 oceanwithin
20  2011-02-06 Jim_H
19  2009-07-31 Misubri
149  2009-03-19 Jim_H
60  2008-12-28 Jim_H
17  2008-09-07 pickelltree
35  2008-08-31 Jim_H
Author Jim_H
author avatar Guides 55
Routes 44
Photos 7,651
Trips 1,608 map ( 9,661 miles )
Age 40 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jul, Aug, Jun, Sep → 7 AM
Seasons   ALL
Sun  5:37am - 5:58pm
1 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
A more challenging way to the top.
by Jim_H

Likely In-Season!
Mount Whitney is the highest mountain peak in the 48 contiguous United States. The only state that has anything higher is Alaska, and it has many, many mountains which are. Most people will use the 22 mile Whitney Main Trail to climb to the summit. If you don't like long trails or lots of crowds on trails, or just want something different and more challenging, then the Mountaineer's Route (hereafter MR) is for you. This route is also a popular way to access the technical climbs on the east face of Whitney.

The MR begins at the Whitney Portal trailhead at the end of the Whitney Portal Road. Initially, the MR and the main trail are the same. After about 1 mile, the trail will come to a crossing over the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. There will be a water fall on the creek just above the main trail, and immediately before this fall and crossing the MR will break off and climb steeply uphill and to the right. After a short distance you will encounter some signage telling you that you are not on the Whitney Trail. Continue on the trail as it climbs with the steep switchbacks through the Jeffrey pines and white firs to the crossing over the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. This crossing may be difficult when water flow is high, but is very easy when flow has diminished in later summer. After the crossing you will once again climb steeply up switchbacks for about 3/4 of a mile. You will hike through alder, mixed pine, bush chinkapin, and finally shrub willow that grows along the higher reaches of this section of trail and the creek. You will again cross the creek, and then climb a section of very steep and rocky trail. At the top of this section it may appear that you are about to hike on the creek, you do not. Instead, you will head up to the Ebersbacher Ledge, also known simply as the Ledges.

Climbing the Ledges can be difficult with a heavy pack, but if day hiking it should be fairly easy. If for some reason you have difficulty here, or on the Ledges, turn back. You will prefer the main trail. The ledges and the class 3 climb that takes you to them can serve as a test to determine if you can handle the later sections of the MR. If being done in the winter, you won't need to bother with the Ledges. Instead you can head directly up the snow covered canyon to Lower Boyscout Lake.

Once at the section of trail that meets the creek and appears as though it may follow it, turn around and look up. If you see this pine tree you are in the correct location to climb up some boulders to the ledges and begin the approach to Lower Boyscout Lake. Climb up the rocks and begin to backtrack east on the lower ledge. Route finding here is moderately difficult and very import. The ledges are never very wide, but will be wide enough that you should have no risk of falling. The safest route will be up higher. Look for the cairns or ducks and follow the path through the ledges up to the next section of switchbacks. The Ledges doesn't last very long, but it can be a challenge. On the steepest sections, and if carrying a heavy pack when down climbing, it can be a good idea to have a partner to lower packs down to and down climb without the added weight. That way you won't need to be concerned with dropping them down a steep section and having them roll off the cliff or wearing them and having the pack throw off your balance.

Above the Ledges you will climb a relatively easy section of trail that will take you up to Lower Boyscout Lake. Lower Boyscout Lake isn't very large, but it is a good place to relax and enjoy the fabulous scenery, and if you are running later than expected it can be a good place to camp. Camping here will add significant time to your climb the next day. Above Lower Boyscout you will climb the Slabs to Upper Boyscout Lake. This is a particularly scenic and interesting section of hiking. The trail goes south around Lower Boyscout. Here, it is a mix of switchbacks and rock hopping. About half way up to the Slabs the trail becomes braided and may be a little confusing. Look for this pyramid shaped rock that you will hike in front of. Using the rock as a marker, bear to the right on the trail near it. The trail will continue up through willows and cross the stream before you walk on the Slabs. The trail is pretty obvious in the willows, but you will need to look for the cairns to follow it accurately on the Slabs. Keep heading upslope on the Slabs until they come to an end and you are once again walking on weathered material. The trail will turn south and start to head up a mix of switchbacks and short wide tilted ledges. If you wish to go to Upper Boyscout Lake, follow a small side trail that branches off to the right just beyond the last section of the Slabs. This is another popular camping area, but if you plan to summit the following day it will add an hour or more to the next days climb.

Taking the trail above Upper Boyscout Lake, you will lose the last views of the valley that you have come up. However, you now gain some spectacular close views of Mount Whitney and the Needles to its south. Stay on the trail and watch for the cairns as you move west again and towards the base of Whitney. The trail will mostly be obvious and well worn, but some areas go through rock and require a little attention. As you come up to the valley below Iceberg Lake you will encounter a cliff wall with water seeping out of it and flowing down onto the rocks below. There will be a good deal of vegetation here. The trail will split in two, with one branch losing some elevation and another gaining elevation towards the seeps. The rock is wet on and above the seeps, so the safer trail is the one that descends slightly. You don't actually lose much elevation and soon you will be switch-backing up an obvious trail towards Iceberg Lake. The trail to Iceberg is very easy, if you find yourself climbing up boulders you are off trail, but this will only be a real problem if you have a heavy pack.

At Iceberg Lake you will come to the last water source on the trail, and the traditional high camp(12,600') for this route and the numerous technical (5.0+) routes that ascend Whitney's east face. These are impressive climbs and may be the reason that this route has its current name. Unless you have taken the MR to make these technical ascents, the route will now be up a class 2/3 gully to a notch at the top. From this notch you proceed up the "final 400" to the summit plateau.

There are cairns and a braided trail that head towards the gully which is on the north side of Whitney. Going directly up the scree and talus slope in the lower part of the gully is not the recommended route. It can be difficult and dangerous due to the tendency of that material to slide. It is however, the preferred route in winter or when covered by snow. The summer route climbs up rocks and passes through or along side of the small gully in the rock outcropping at the bottom of the main gully. If the climbing here becomes very steep or difficult you have gone off route. There are cairns here to guide you and it's not too difficult to get to the main gully once you see where the route goes. Next, hug the North East face of Whitney in the main gully and stay on the trail and rock that will take you to the top. This view looks down on the route from close to the top near the notch.

From the notch at the top of the main gully you will need to make the ascent up the final 400' to the summit plateau. This is regarded at the most difficult part of the climb, but it's really not that hard and should not exceed class 3 if you pay attention. The easiest to access and one of the best gullies to the summit is the one which is closest to the notch. The trail continues west, but it goes to other gullies of equal or greater difficulty. This view looks down the first gully toward the level area west of the notch. It is taken about half way up the gully. If using this first gully, the crux move of the entire climb may be getting into it. Once in it, it is a straight forward climb to the summit plateau. On top you can head to the eastern edge and look back on the better part of the route you took to get here. Otherwise, look around and enjoy the views from the highest point in the country outside of Alaska.

From this point you have two ways to descend, the way you came up or the Whitney Main Trail. If day hiking, you might want to do the main trail to see what it is like. If you backpacked in you will need to head down the way you came up. Going down can be relaxing and is a great time to enjoy the views. With a heavy pack you will want to allow plenty of time to descend the steep route. It may take 3 hours or more from Iceberg Lake to Whitey Portal. Enjoy it and have a safe descent. If back at the Portal Store before 7pm, you can eat some well earned hot food there.

Pro: A helmet of some sort is required. You will want something to protect your head from rocks that may be dislodged by fellow climbers. The route can be busy, especially when the day climbers arrive. Rope, and any other specialized gear is not necessary for Summer. In Winter, you will need a full compliment of gear from crampons and ice axes to avalanche beacons and possibly a satellite phone. Its typically a 3 day, 2 night climb in winter.

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2008-09-04 Jim_H
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Mount Whitney-Mountaineer's Route
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    My arch nemesis, the wind, impacted my sleep the night before and I got a slow start. I parked above the first switchback at 7200, started at 715 and made really good time on great snow conditions. The North Fork is buried under 30 feet of it, and most of the snow is hard and crusty, or it was for me. I made UBSL in 3.5 hours and Iceberg in 5.75 hours. Fatigue was setting in by the time I made Iceberg Lake, but I think that is reasonable after 5000 feet. I moved slowly for the next couple of thousand feet and summited in under 8 and a half hours. Included in that time are numerous breaks, lunch, and about 30 minutes making water. I think I did well.

    I spent about 60 minutes on the summit and started down. The conditions were great and the views fantastic. I love the way you can see a lot of the range, and California's features. The snow was not as good today as it was in 2009 and I went slowly for the initial descent to Iceberg. Below Iceberg, it was dark and the snow was ice. I stopped and had tea in the area above UBSL with some climbers who had done the East Buttress. After 45 minutes of water and tea, I started down. The stars were incredible and I stopped every so often to shut off my headlamp and look at them. I tried not to fall asleep when doing that. Descent with a light pack(20 lbs) is much easier than with a heavy pack, but the hard icy snow still works your legs, a lot, and after more than 7000 feet I was exhausted when I got back to my car. Car to car it was around 14 miles and 7400 feet in 16 hours 30 minutes. Probably 2 hours of summit, eating, resting, and making water could be subtracted, but it still took me the 16.5 hours to do this. I ate a can of baked beans, a tortilla, and put up my tent on the Portal Road and went to bed. It was a well deserved rest, I think.
    Mount Whitney-Mountaineer's Route
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    We got a late start at 10:30 am on the 18th and carried our very heavy packs up to about 12,100' in the valley which is in front of Whitney. We parked lower than the trailhead and added some elevation, making it a 4000' climb on day one. Conditions were really good before and after the steep section of trail in the North Fork; the part from the 1st creek crossing to LBSL. Above LBSL it was a nice winter climb, despite it feeling like spring.
    Summit day was really nice. We had hard conditions the entire way up, and it was a good climb in both the main gully and the final 400. It was hazy high clouds on most of the summit day, but we had nearly calm winds, and perfect temperatures. Descent went fast. My pack weight was the only thing that made descent from our camping area difficult. 56 and 45 pounds is too much to carry for something like this. If I do this again, I would just try to day hike it. We left the same day as we summited, and had we not had to deal with all the camp issues that you do in winter, it could have been a 12 hour trip, max.
    Mount Whitney-Mountaineer's Route
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    This was an unsuccessful attempt to summit under conditions that were anything but conducive to hiking. Deep powder combined with un-crusted snow, dangerous un-scalable ledges, and thick willows in the valley to make just horrible climbing conditions. What took me 2 hours in summer took 12 hours on the 29th. Myself and two other fellows from CA only made it to Lower Boyscout Lake before we decided to turn back. According to frequent climbers this was a safe move as the boulder fields that follow are treacherous under those conditions. Break a leg after falling through the snow type of thing. Still, I wish we would have gone further.
    We parked about 1 to 1.25 miles below the trailhead and made good time to the first creek crossing. Then it was a very slow go in waste and chest deep snow. This meant cutting tracks in snow that collapsed as you entered it and would slide down with each step. The 3 of us all agreed that it was the hardest thing we ever did. A group we met camping at the Portal told us they had turned back in our tracks. They also said that last year in January the North Fork had enough snow to cover the willows completely. Those willows were 15 feet tall out of the snow this year. We hope to try again in March.
    Mount Whitney-Mountaineer's Route
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    I did the Mountaineer's Route as an overnight backpacking trip that started on 8/31. I summited on 9/1, but the elevation will be counted in one day on 8/31. I spent the night sleeping under the stars under some cold and (early on) windy conditions at Iceberg Lake. Fantastic display of stars up high under pretty dark conditions. New moon. Descended alone on 9/1.
    Fantastic hike with incredible scenery.

    Permit $$
    Special Use

    Check out the Inyo FS Whitney page for more information.

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike & climb trip
    Take Interstate 40 west to Barstow, CA and merge south on to Interstate 15. Proceed south on I-15 to exit 179, the California Route 58/ Bakersfield exit. Take CA 58 west 28 miles to Four Corners and turn north (right) onto US Route 395. Proceed on US 395 to the town of Lone Pine. In Lone Pine find the only traffic light, which is the junction with the Whitney Portal Road, and turn west onto it. Follow the Portal Road 13 miles to the trailhead.
    page created by Jim_H on Sep 04 2008 4:08 pm
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