Monday, January 24, 2011

It Takes Nuts to Climb Mt Whitney

California - where the gas is stupid expensive and the alpine climbing is simply off-the-hook good. The High Sierras are home to some prime time routes, of which I’ve only done a handful, so I was excited to get back there.
The drive from CO to CA is a long one, so we broke it up with a stop in Moab, UT to climb sandstone with a couple Crested Butte friends. From there to Mt Whitney we passed the time by listening to a book on the ipod. I just don’t understand why Harry and Hermione don’t get together, they seem perfect for each other.

Wanting to bypass the annoyance of getting an overnight permit we decided to climb the East Face of Whitney in one long day. We had created a routine of reading the chapter in the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America book to pump us up for the climb. Every chapter has an Equipment section at its end. “Chocks work extremely well, and a selection of 6-8 is sufficient.” We decided it would be fun to do this climb old-school style, and heed the author’s recommendation.

That night we tried to sleep at the trailhead, but the constant stream of fellow hikers getting an “alpine start” put a damper on our effort as they excitedly walked by the van. We finally got up at 4:00AM and hit the trail an hour later.

I had been here to climb the East Ridge a few years prior, so finding the way was not a problem. The fire red morning sun kissed the pale cliffs that make up the range as we made our way up the nearly unbroken granite slabs. We were wearing shorts, a privilege one can experience in the alpine environment few other places in the world, so the sun provided a welcome increase in air temp.

As we scrambled up to the base of the route we heard voices….crap. Not that having other people on the route was unexpected, rather it would slow us down and we didn’t really bring enough clothing to spend the night. There was a party of three finishing up the first pitch, and another party of two waiting to begin. We surveyed the scene, dropped our packs, and began shooting the bull with our newly found climbing buddies.

The climbing on the first pitch was pretty chill. That is, if you don’t look down. If you decide to look down, your stomach might drop a little because there is nothing but air for about 1000 feet. As Janelle led the first pitch there were several fixed pitons along the way, so our stoppers (chocks) were not needed. Once across, we passed the first two guys as we simul-climbed the next several hundred feet. We then did a short pitch to get up on the ridge that divides the two faces followed by a scramble down to a big sandy ledge.

That is where we caught up to the party of three. We perched ourselves on a two foot wide ledge and pulled the parking break. Hanging our feet over the abyss we meet our new friends. They were a married couple who were professional photographers from Italy, Dan Patitucci, here to get some photos of their backpacks in action. Awesome! What a perfect job. Their buddy was having trouble with the next part of the route, so I had time to pepper them with 101 questions about their job.

We eventually got going again, but not before seven other climbers were on the route with us! Welcome to California climbing. The next part of the climb was more like scrambling, so we un-roped and cruised up until the terrain got hard again. During that time Janelle started getting quiet. Anytime that happens I know something is up. Roped up now, I led a full 60-meter pitch and made the anchor. By the time Janelle got up to the belay she felt horrible. The ugly hand of altitude sickness was squeezing her head pretty hard. She bit the bullet, took the lead, and charged for the top. As we pulled away from the other climbers we had about 10 minutes of personal alpine experience, that is, until we got to the summit.

There is very little distance from the end of the technical terrain to the true summit. So you pull over the last big boulder and it’s like you are instantly teleported to the Verizon Wireless store the morning that the iphone goes on sale. People are everywhere. Nearly everyone looks at you slack-jawed, wondering where the heck you came from. “How did you get up here?” is the popular question.

Janelle continued to feel like poo-poo, so she lay down to sleep off the headache. I soaked in the victory and yet another spectacular view. Do you realize just how unbelievably beautiful this country is? Amazing.

We joined up with the crew from Italy on the descent, and the 101 questions turned into 404. I really enjoy talking to people who make a successful living “by their own boot-straps” while still pursuing their passions.

Miles later we were back at the van. We soaked our feet in a snow fed stream, ate chips and salsa, busted into some yuppy cane sugar soda from Whole Foods (Janelle is trying to kick my Coke habit for me), and life was good.

1 comment:

  1. I always thought rehab was the way to bust a coke habit...yuppy cane sugar eh? Haha.

    You guys are awesome! Love the videos and trip reports...looking forward to hearing about charlotte dome. That is one I've always wanted to check out. Hopefully that will feel less like california and be more of an alpine experience!