Backpacking Mount Whitney via the Mountaineering Route in California

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This trip to California was a great adventure for my friend and me. We set out from our home in Salt Lake City by Greyhound bus at midnight.mount whitney california We rode all night and arrived in Reno, NV. From here we took a smaller bus to a very small town in California called Lone Pine.

Upon arrival, we set up camp in a campground within walking distance of the main road and grabbed some food. We walked about to our camp and went to bed.

We woke up with the sun and packed our gear to begin our summit of the contiguous US’s tallest peak and the high point of California. The trailhead is in Whitney Portal, a small parking lot, campground, and store up a dirt about 13 miles from Lone Pine. So we stuck up our thumbs and started walking.

After about a mile, someone picked us up and drove us to the trailhead. We grabbed a snack from the store and began our hike.

The main trail is wide and starts up some switchbacks as it passes the store and begins climbing gradually. We followed this trail for a short time, passing a stream before turning right onto the smaller, slightly hidden mountaineering trail just before a second stream that passes over the main trail.

At first we weren’t sure if we were on the right trail but after a couple hundred feet we ran into a sign that said something like, “Danger! The mountaineering trail is for experienced hikers only.” We chuckled and continued on.

After going through some trees for a short time the trail opens up into a valley. This valley is filled with willows and became slightly difficult to make progress through as we made our way up the left (South) side and had to cross through the willows and over a stream to the right (North) side. The trail was not easy to find, but if you hug the cliffs on the North side of the valley, eventually a sloping ledge will present itself and you can cut East up the cliff. You scramble up the ledge for a bit then switchback heading west again as the ledge levels out a bit.

mount whitney mountaineering trailFrom here you will enter a new valley where Lower Boy Scout Lake sits. We stopped here and at some lunch before continuing West up the trail around the south side of the lake. The trail went through some boulders and scree until we arrived at Upper Boy Scout Lake after following cairns and bits of trail along some large granite slabs.

We set up camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake. There were a few other climbers camping around the lake as well.

mount whitney mountaineering routeThe next morning we began our summit. we began heading directly South away from UBS Lake and up over a ridge. We passed over moraine after moraine until the only way to go was West and up a steep incline to a saddle. Over this ridge was Iceberg lake, beautiful and half frozen still.

At Iceberg lake, the spires of Mount Whitney tower above and a somewhat intimidating chute to the West of the spires and directly South of the Lake calls you in.

We advanced up the chute and saw a few climbers heading down from the notch. They were coming down along the West side of the chute, but we thought the East side looked more stable. The rocks were bigger and we had to deal with less scree. The hike up the chute took us longer than we thought. The going is slow and the distance to the top (or the notch) was deceptive.

At the notch, we immediately turned East up a 6 foot cliff into another steep granite chute. This was my favorite part of the climb. It was exposed and was almost like a giant staircase to the top. When we were climbing, there was a small, frozen waterfall that added to the abrupt and jagged landscape.

Once we reached the top of this chute, we realized we were pretty much at the top. We only had to walk a few hundred feet to the hut and climbers log. The view was beautiful and the air crisp and thin! It felt good to stand at the top of the U.S.!

We hiked back down the way we came and returned to the camp before sunset. We ate dinner and went to bed early. THe next morning we hike back down the mountaineers route and back to Whitney Portal where we again hitchhiked back to Lone Pine.

Though our mountaineering experience was over, we still had a plan to get to San Diego. It was about 3 in afternoon, and the next bus didn’t leave to Lancaster until tomorrow at 7am. We didn’t want to stay another night in Lone Pine, so we paid for a shower at the local hostel and made a sign that said, “Lancaster $20.”

We began walking down the highway holding up the sign, and after about an hour, a guy in a van picked us up and drive us another hour and a half to Lancaster.

In Lancaster we caught a bus outside of a Carls Jr and rode it to the Los Angeles train station. By this point it was late and dark and we weren’t in a very good part of town. There were no trains to San Diego that left until the morning, so we bought our tickets and found a hotel.

mount whitney californiaWe woke up late and barely caught our train. We arrived in San Diego and our friend, Phil, picked us up. A few other friends from Salt Lake Drove down and met us. we spent a few days on the beach before we caught a flight back to Salt Lake.

This was probably one of my favorite trips of all time!

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