Today was the big day. Everything else we had done on this trip was only a warm-up to today. We rolled out of our sleeping bags, threw some food into our backpacks, and hiked out of the portal. Tons of people were already on the trail, headlamps bobbing up and down the trail in the dark. The nervous excitement was palpable.
We left the main trail at the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. For the most part, the approach to the Mountaineers Route and the route itself follow a use trail. After a little bushwacking, we reached the first major obstacle of the day: the Ebersbacher Ledges. We ambled up these granite ledges, doubling back a few times as we found our way. Although somewhat confusing in the dark, it provided a fun diversion from the tedious use trail.
After the ledges, we reached Lower Boy Scout Lake. It took a few minutes to figure out how to cross over to the south side of the lake. From here we climbed along the slopes to Upper Boy Scout Lake. This would be our major decision point for the day.
We were supposed to meet up with our friends Vanessa and Chris who had spent the night here. We looked for them, but they had already struck off for the summit of Mount Russell. The weather was a bit unsettled, and clouds were coming in and out. We had not decided whether we would go for Mount Russell or continue up the Mountaineers Route to the summit of Mount Whitney. As we sat there in the windy cold, though, watching clouds build up over the crest, we decided that Whitney would be the safer route. At least with Whitney, if the weather turned bad, we could just run down the trail rather than scramble cross country back down the Mountaineers Route.
So we headed to Iceberg Lake. Right before reaching the Iceberg Lake area, there were a set of ledges. Had we gone just a bit further to our left, we would have found an easy walk up to the lake, but, wanting to save some time, we ended up climbing up some light fourth-class terrain. It was a good time, but it spooked us. We got to the lake without incident, though, and spotted the Mountaineers Route proper, and headed up.
The Mountaineers Route, a big chute that takes you directly from Iceberg Lake to the summit plateau of Whitney, is pretty straightforward. You can either hike up the middle of the chute, a gravelly, cruddy mess, or you can do your best to stay on the sides of the chute, where you’re mostly scrambling up solid rock. After two-thousand feet up climbing, we made it to the top of the chute (which still had some snow on the ground from the previous day’s storm), and were on solid ground once again.
From here it was a simple walk/scramble to the main trail, then a half-mile of trail to the summit. We had made it to the highest point in the contiguous forty-eight states, and we took the less-travelled route. We took some pictures, made some hummus, and had our celebration lunch amongst the throngs of people who had hiked up the trail. By now, the sky had cleared a bit, and we could see everything within the line-of-sight of the summit.
After an hour of rest on the top, we started making our way down the trail. The clouds had come back, and the sky was gray. George and I made a quick detour, attempting to climb Mount Muir, but turned back after we decided we couldn’t find a safe enough route. Reports describe the peak as pretty simple class-three, and that may be true, but we couldn’t find the way.
It took another couple hours to hike down the trail. We ran past throngs of day hikers and backpackers coming over the crest. The breathing got easier, and we could even see Whitney Portal tantalizingly close. This four hours seemed the longest, most tedious of the day. It seemed like days before we got back to the portal, found the car, and drove back to the campground. This was one of my longest days out, and I proceeded to crash for a few hours before we had dinner.