Trip Report
North Face, Mt Whitney-Hammerless solo FA? 1971
Thursday November 15, 2012 3:46pm
Mt. Whitney North Face, hammerless solo FA 5.8 1971
Mt. Whitney North Face, hammerless solo FA 5.8 1971
Credit: Keith Leaman
In September, 1971, I soloed Mt Whitney via an excellent route involving a couple of pitches of perfect 5.8 straight-in hand cracks on a nearly vertical section of the North Face, and have frequently wondered if it might be a FA. The plan was to travel light, so I left the ice axe, hammer, pitons and crampons at home, carried about a dozen nuts and a 9mm 150' rope, three prussik loops and a swami belt. Around 5 am the weather looked superb as I headed up the trail.
Mt Whitney sunrise solo 1971
Mt Whitney sunrise solo 1971
Credit: KL

Some of the approach near the benches was a bit daunting, but it was a warm day and I hoped for the best.
Icy approach to Whitney
Icy approach to Whitney
Credit: KL
Originally, the plan was to climb the East Face, however as I approached the point where that route leaves the buttress, the persistent lure of the unknown became irresistible. This is a view of approximately the point where I traversed right to the North side.
Day and Keeler from Whitney
Day and Keeler from Whitney
I self belayed with a prussik, then after about 70', set anchors, rapped down to the pack, cleaned the pitch and kept climbing on several short pitches of typical solid high Sierra granite until I reached the large snow and ice-filled recess near the summit.

This is where the climbing became somewhat frightening. Without any ice tools, I scraped the hard snow and ice from the ledges with my fingers all the while muttering under my breath "wish I had some type of scraping tool!!" Coincidentally, about half way up the section in the picture below, I was amazed to find a 1"x10" metal rod (guy stake?) protruding from the snow! It worked great!!
Mt Whitney ice on summit pitches
Mt Whitney ice on summit pitches
Credit: KL
You can just see my footprints in the lower center of the photo and follow them down to the point where I unroped above the rock face and committed to free soloing the remainder of the climb. The edge of Iceberg Lake can be seen also. It was a great adventure, got to the summit around 1 pm, didn't see anyone on the climb, nor the summit nor on the trail down. Was so happy that I had my picture taken when I returned home.
photo not found
Missing photo ID#273950

I haven't seen many views of this side of the mountain. The first photo showing the route is somewhere here on Supertopo, but I haven't been able to re-locate it yet for permission-hope its usage will be allowed. So to whomever it belongs, thank you in advance! Wondering if many have ventured to this less-traveled side of Whitney.


  Trip Report Views: 2,568
Keith Leaman
About the Author
Keith Leaman is a trad climber from Seattle.

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Social climber
State of decay
  Nov 15, 2012 - 03:56pm PT
Nice Keith. I know Galen did a route he called the North Ridge, from the Whitney Russell col.I think you were in virgin territory. I have a nice shot of the northern aspect somewhere. I try and find it and post up. Cheers, Tony

Nor Cal
  Nov 15, 2012 - 04:08pm PT
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Nov 15, 2012 - 07:01pm PT
Awesome TR from the way back machine,
Thank you sir!!!

  Nov 15, 2012 - 07:03pm PT
The next to last picture is freaking amazing. Proud climb!


Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  Nov 15, 2012 - 07:32pm PT
Jeepers, self-belaying on friction knots sounds exciting. If you fall and nobody hears you scream, does it really make a sound?

  Nov 15, 2012 - 07:42pm PT
Good show Keith! You look like a kid in that photo, I remembered you as an old guy back then :-)

Trad climber
The real McCoy from the inside of my van.
  Nov 15, 2012 - 07:45pm PT
no clue as to whether fa or not, but ty very much for sharing.
Keith Leaman

Trad climber
Author's Reply  Nov 16, 2012 - 09:23am PT
Thanks for the comments. Surprising that some of those 41 year old Ectachrome slides survived. I thought about taking more photos of the route, but the impulse to reach the summit by mid-day superseded. Thanks to Supertopo for providing a place to gather and present the information. We're all just kids then and now, right Don? Glad you're back safely, Tony.

Trad climber
San Diego, CA
  Nov 16, 2012 - 09:38am PT
Very nice! Here is another picture of the North Face from Russell.

Credit: StahlBro

Trad climber
under the sea
  Nov 16, 2012 - 09:42am PT
Sweet!! Looks like a grand adventure. Thanks for the morning stoke

Big Wall climber
santa cruz, ca
  Nov 16, 2012 - 03:31pm PT
Very cool thanks for sharing
dee ee

Mountain climber
Of THIS World (Planet Earth)
  Nov 16, 2012 - 06:35pm PT
Nice! I bet it was an FA.

Mountain climber
  Nov 16, 2012 - 06:43pm PT
I hope it was an fa. it would be interesting to find out.
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
  Nov 16, 2012 - 07:00pm PT
Cool BITD report, nice pics even.
Thanks for sharing,

  Nov 16, 2012 - 09:11pm PT
Killer adventure, very nice TR & photos. Sounds like that day is burned into your memory pretty good! Nice photos too, love the old school TRs that are written in the present day from the memory banks.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Nov 17, 2012 - 01:49pm PT
Great TR Keith!

That's grabbing adventure by the horns alrighty!

I hope it's an FA for you.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Nov 18, 2012 - 10:59am PT
I love to see this old stuff come to light. MORE!

Though I don't like this "hammerless" stuff. PINS RULE!

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
  Nov 18, 2012 - 11:51am PT
Excellent trip report, man. You did some bold climbing on that one.
When I think back on some of the climbs we did (i.e. that time with Paul on the north side of Tahquitz in the wind/rain storm) I'm amazed that we're still alive.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Nov 19, 2012 - 01:43pm PT
Pins are for BOWLERS!

Fortunately for ALL of us nuts carried the day...
Keith Leaman

Trad climber
Author's Reply  Nov 19, 2012 - 02:36pm PT
I did take along my lucky nut removing piton
Bent piton which was tied off at 3/4" and held a 60' whipper at Granit...
Bent piton which was tied off at 3/4" and held a 60' whipper at Granite Mountains (Amboy) 1969
Credit: KL
During an FA push at Granite Mountains near Amboy, this thing was tied off after only being driven about 3/4". It was my only protection on a runout 5.10 pitch and kept me from decking after a large flake broke off in my hands and I plummeted about 50'.

This pin was stashed in my pack on the Whitney climb though, and by the time I realized how tricky the upper section was, decided it was too risky to try to take off my pack on those thin icy edges and kept going till I found the metal stake.

Nice pic Stahlbro.
RyanD...sometimes I feel like Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim being "unstuck in time". Maybe someday I'll meet Montana Wildhack on Tralfamadore!

Hope you're staying dry Steve.

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Nov 19, 2012 - 02:36pm PT
Holy Buckets!

Was it difficult dragging your huge baalsak around for a couple days after?

Some of this stuff doesn't seem so incredible anymore with all the superheroes running around in big magazine spreads.
But in 1971?

Hat's off man, major league.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
  Nov 19, 2012 - 02:45pm PT
Just looking at the route, and reading what you did, gave my stomach the bouncies! Well done....WOWSA


  Nov 19, 2012 - 11:47pm PT
Nice thread, thanks,

Big Wall climber
Twain Harte
  Nov 20, 2012 - 08:20am PT
Way to go for it. Thanks for posting this!
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