Here's a TR from last July - its taken forever to get my act together
to write this up for all the usual reasons work, procrastination - if
it wasn't for Mittens continually harassing me to get it written it up
it would probably not have made it. Guilt wins out in the end.
So this is nominally a trip report, but it lacks almost any real
climbing. This last year was almost a complete wash out for my
climbing plans in Tuolumne and the East Side due to a combination of
weather and other commitments, but mainly due to the weather - this
trip was no different. But it was also one of the best trips I've been
on, and got me thinking on what makes a good climbing trip ? Its not
the numbers, thats for sure. I'm at an age where trying to get up
something more than moderately hard is inviting injury or some other
disaster that I can do without. The best trips have always involved a
friends, a great location and a good story and this trip had all
three. There are some places in the Sierras which are almost magical
to be in, it doesn't matter if you are climbing, the sky and the
mountains come together to make you realize that you are in a special
place. Tuolumne, the Needles in years past have been those places for
me and after this trip the Whitney Cirque has joined that list.
The trip started out six months before when Ron got up early and
snagged six passes to climb Whitney over the July 4th weekend. Ron
invited me and a partner, and some other Santa Cruz climbers to come on
the trip. I asked Mittens if he was interested and he signed on. A
month before we were due to go things started to fall apart. The other
pair of climbers dropped out. Then Ron's wife and climbing partner
Jenny had to go home to the Philippines as her father had died. I was
in the process of changing jobs. It looked like it was just me and
Mittens - if I could get the time off - and there was a ton of snow up
there ! We needed axes and crampons ! Who in California has that type of
stuff ? Luckily we have good friends who did and were
willing to share. We also signed up another two climbers. So then we
And then the day to leave came and we were three, Me, Mittens and
Gwen. After a final circuit of town to pick up some more crampons and
beer we headed out at about 7pm.
Ron's original plan had been to arrive, acclimatize at the trail head
for a day, hike to Iceberg Lake, camp for the night and climb the next
day. This is also the time table that most guides recommend as the
minimum time you should allow to get used to the
altitude. Ron is a canny and smart guy, and realizing that we were
coming from sea level made plans to maximise success. Our intrepid
three some had other ideas. We arrived at the trail head at about 5am after
driving all night and pretended to sleep till about 9am. We had
breakfast at the Whitney store. The sign said that the portions were
huge and they weren't joking. "Should we take crampons and axes"?
The old dude behind the counter didn't even think twice: "You're
climbers - you won't need them, you'll figure it out!". So we loaded
up our gear and started hiking in.
We hadn't got close to Lower Boy Scout Lake when it started raining. We sat
out the rain and then carried on.
With the heavy Sierra snow pack, all the creeks were running high and
cold. Crossing under the waterfall by the slabs was exciting, but
fording the creek before we got to the Lake was really cold. We made
it up below Iceberg Lake and set up our bivy before it got dark it was
then I discovered that I had left my sleeping bag behind in the
car. Never mind - Mittens lent me his jacket, I fell asleep, then woke
shivering with the cold, then would shiver myself warm and then fall
asleep again. I repeated this cycle all night. In the morning I
discovered that I had an emergency blanket in my pack - I guess the
altitude makes you more than usually stupid. In the morning we gunned
for the start of the East Buttress. There was a lot of snow on the
approach and we were wearing approach shoes, but we made good
Once we arrived at the start of the climbing, the weather had arrived
as well. It was like we were at the mouth of a giant vacum cleaner -
clouds were coming down towards us from the summit, they were also
heading up towards us from Upper Boy Scout Lake as well as blowing in
from Mount Russell. When we heard the thunder we decided to bail. The
route was in a complete white out, we were a party of three - this was
not a good time to be on the mountain.
We slid down the snowy slopes, packed up the bivy and headed back
down the mountain. Pizza was on everyones mind, so we drove to Bishop
and got some pizza and then sat in a hot spring. After 20 minutes in
relaxing as the sun set, a bunch of people showed up got naked and
joined us in the hot spring. It turned out that most of them were from
Santa Cruz as well. Mittens polished off the rest of the beer, so we
bivied by the hot spring.
In the morning we were ready to climb something - in fact we were
desperate to make something of the trip. We grabbed some breakfast in
Mammoth and headed down 395.
We took a short detour on Obsidian Dome scrambling over the shattered
obsidian and pumice, Gwen and Mittens are both rock hounds at heart
and loved the crazy geology of the place.
The Lions Dens sounded promising, we took
the turning and almost immediately realized that we had made a terrible
mistake. The road to the crag was loose silt four inches thick - which
would have been fine in a four wheel drive - but we were in a Honda
Civic. We got about mile down the trail before we got completely
stuck. Four hours later digging ourselves out with a flip flop, and
after chopping up a piece of plywood, we found buried in the silt,
with the ice axes we got back on the road. We were by now tired and
filthy, so we headed down to June Lake to take a dip to clean up.
By now it was the third day and we still had not climbed anything, we
knew some Santa Cruz friends would be over in Tuolumne which had just
opened, so we headed over there. As we pulled in by Tioga Lake we saw
some familiar faces climbing on the Cube boulder. We joined them, and
finally got to enjoy pulling down on some granite for the first time
on the trip.
There were some other people from the bay area climbing there as well
who were up in the Meadows for the first time. Unfortunately one of
them fell of the top of the bouder while trying to
down climb. Fortunately he was ok, but bouldered the rest of the time
wearing a helmet.
We bivied by Ellery Lake in what was our coldest bivy so far, before
heading back on Sunday.