East Face 5.7

  • Currently 5.0/5

Mt. Whitney

High Sierra, California USA

Trip Report
Winter Whitney Linkup: Car-to-Car East Face and East Buttress, Solo
Saturday February 11, 2012 1:19pm
Marx said "the only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain." Don't know if who said it was Karl or Groucho, or some Marx in between. And I wasn't sure that trudging through the snow at 4am on the way to solo several thousand feet of alpine rock was good for one's mental health...yet driving back home euphoric, I once again realized the tremendous power of the mountains.

Marx's idea can be applied to climbing in general: it's an easy --or maybe a lazy-- way to get to essential things in life. Need some focus for your fuzzy mind? Soloing easily brings things into focus. Feeling bland? A classic climb is an easy remedy to bring joy. Having trouble finding God in the city? Even profane men like us can find God out in the mountains.
A gorgeous February almost-full moon sets over the Sierra on the appro...
A gorgeous February almost-full moon sets over the Sierra on the approach, Lower Boy Scout Lake
Credit: zoom loco

I love soloing alpine because I can reflect and take in the fantastic vistas when I want to stop and also zoom at my own pace when I feel good. But I also like the camaraderie of climbing and having so many good climbing partners that I haven't been out alone in a while. So seeing a weather window in the forecast, I was very much anticipating this trip. As it turned out, I was the only one in the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. There was one other car when I got back, maybe they went up the trail or hung around the campground. Such solitude, an amazing mountain to myself, was one of my greatest climbing experiences.

I'd never climbed the East Face of Whitney. It's so historic and classic, and easy and safe enough that I wanted to solo it. Because there would be enough time in the day, I would combine it with another route. Because of the proximity, East Buttress seemed like the best option. I would guess both of the routes have been soloed in winter; I'm not sure if they've been linked in winter but probably Peter Croft or some other beast Owens Valley climber has done it and probably added in some route on Russell as well.

For the rest of the report, see: http://pullharder.org/2012/02/11/winter-whitney-linkup/

Climbed Feb 10, 2012. East Buttress took 1:45, East Face took 1:30; the car-to-car time was 12:45.

  Trip Report Views: 7,437
zoom loco
About the Author
Zoom Loco is a mountain climber from San Diego, California. He climbs for and posts with pullharder.org and also on zoomloco.wordpress.com/


Trad climber
San Jose, CA
  Feb 11, 2012 - 01:50pm PT
phuck yea.

  Feb 11, 2012 - 01:58pm PT
Nicely done. Did you take skis? What was the portal access like? Ski from the car?

Trad climber
Hustle City
  Feb 11, 2012 - 01:58pm PT
Nice writing and a wonderful adventure!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Feb 11, 2012 - 03:11pm PT
Very nice Zoom,
Did you take Pons and an Axe for the approach/descent?

Honey badger don't care!
part-time communist

Mountain climber
Bishop, CA
  Feb 11, 2012 - 03:22pm PT
the car-to-car time was 12:45.


Marx said "the only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain."

true dat.
zoom loco

Mountain climber
san diego ca
Author's Reply  Feb 11, 2012 - 03:55pm PT
thanks everyone for the nice comments. I didn't use skis, I used snowshoes--currently (and often) whitney trail for first mile has patchy coverage; once you get onto the north fork there is still a lot of bushes/ debris that would makes skis annoying until under ebersbacher ledges. from there, skis would probably be quicker, and of course much faster on descent. yes I brought boots crampons and axe on the climb, and also a rap cord and bail gear in case i got hurt or in case the route conditions were impassible and had to go down. that made the pack a bit heavy, but yes you are right honey badger don't care...in current conditions an axe is unnecessary when descending the mountaineers gully, but crampons, though you could make do without, help a lot. and they're both useful on the way up to the start of the climb. i left poles and snowshoes before iceberg lake though.

Trad climber
Somewhere South Of Heaven
  Feb 11, 2012 - 04:41pm PT
Rad alpine trad!
Myles Moser

Lone Pine, Ca
  Feb 11, 2012 - 06:03pm PT

12:45 PROUD!

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Feb 11, 2012 - 09:33pm PT
I just got back from Chipotle. This TR makes me feel fat and lazy. It took me 12 hrs today just to make two trips to Home Depot. Way to send soloalpinebluebird style.

  Feb 11, 2012 - 10:57pm PT
pluckin', eh! Nice.

David D.

Trad climber
  Feb 12, 2012 - 07:14am PT
Damn dude, way to get after it! Thanks for putting up.

Trad climber
100% Canadian
  Feb 12, 2012 - 02:01pm PT
Spectacular trip and great insight to the opportunities down there right now
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
  Feb 12, 2012 - 02:50pm PT
Nice TR and photo. Fast time too! It would be all that moving in one day that scares me. I got cardio-envy!

Went up in warmer times once and onsighted the East Face solo but didn't feel comfortable downclimbing it. Next day did the East Butt onsite and that was a more straightforward downclimb.

Ideally I'd want to climb one and downclimb the other but it's good to really know a route for that



zoom loco

Mountain climber
san diego ca
Author's Reply  Feb 12, 2012 - 04:18pm PT
Thanks everyone for the comments. Regarding the questions/comments about route conditions I should probably be a little clearer. They are good yes but they are indeed winter conditions. Bruce and others thinking of heading out there, I do think conditions are generally good for February. But itís still cold and there is still a lot of dry powder to sink in. The Eastside had Fall-like conditions until mid January; but since the big dump then, Winter conditions are definitely in effect.
I maybe implied things were a bit easier than they were in the part of the TR I pasted on Supertopo; if you click on the link leading to the full, original TR on pullharder.org I describe how conditions were actually not good at all on East Face. You can also see pics. One day earlier and I probably would not have climbed it, as least not soloed it. They were good on East Buttress however.

Before I give more opinions, here is my perspective--I have been 3 times to the Sierra this Winter; all of the TRs are on Pullharder.org. Last year I went maybe 4 times in Winter? Before that, only a few. There are more knowledgeable people than me, in Bishop, Lone Pine, etc. But hereís my assessment of the factors of a winter Sierra ascent (which to be fair might be likened to summer ascent conditions in the great ranges).

1)Road snow conditions. These are good this year. I got within 1 mile of the Trailhead at Whitney just now with 4wd. It was a little icy but I only slid a little here and there. Bear Creek Spire required an extra 6 miles hike-in when we went 2 weeks ago, and I donít see that changing. However, this is only a matter of extra time, roads are easy and fast to hike. I believe Tuttle Creek is still good as it generally is. I have not been anywhere else this season; I think Palisades is good too though based on TRs.
2)Approach conditions. Times should be about the same as usual winter conditions, or faster. You still need skis or snowshoes or your life is postholing misery. Even with snowshoes sometimes itís a bit tough but generally quite decent approach conditions. In March people start coming to Whitney in hordes so there will be a trail by then. Right now youíll need to put in your own though. At most other areas, except Lee Vining, youíll need to break your own as well.
3) Route conditions. This is the only thing that really matters. Ice climbs depend more on the year and coming in at an exact time; for rock climbs, the weather in the last week matters more than the year. I watched to be sure there was no precipitation for 3 days before this climb; weather came in the day after. If youíre roping you may be comfortable with more snow and ice; I have never climbed a winter route that did not have at least some of the jams and ledges filled with snow. If itís sunny, snow melts fast in the Sierra, a small storm is blown off steep faces and mostly melts within days. This is true every year. But that means you need to pick a sunny objective. South Face of Lone Pine Peak is a good bet; steep routes are good bets but you also want something in the sun. Itís still very cold to climb even mid-fifth in the shade (see TR here). Itís February still. But with a sunny day and a route in the sun I think youíre good.

Hopefully thatís useful for those of you trying to decide whether to come out. Again, my Sierra experience is somewhat limited so I would defer to others who live there. IMO any season is a good season for the Sierra because itís so sunny. But I donít want to overplay the good conditions in this particular year, itís Winter out there still. The days get cold way before the sun goes down. But catch the window right and winter is the best, most tranquil, most challenging and most beautiful season in the Sierra! In short, yes, go for it!


Trad climber
100% Canadian
  Feb 12, 2012 - 06:30pm PT
Bruce Kay - check yer email
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
  Feb 12, 2012 - 07:29pm PT
Zoom, I like the way you think and write. Given your passion, I'm surprised you didn't throw in Fishhook, too. :)

Let us know when you're thinking of going out there again. You're right, these unusual conditions on the east side are fantastic, they have their plusses this time of year. Who would've thunk it given last year's dumping.

Trad climber
  Mar 1, 2014 - 07:11pm PT
phukingfab,i'mmm so green,,buildingblocks of ones life,you;ll take with,,thanks so much to share,,

  Mar 1, 2014 - 08:13pm PT
Solid! I missed this one before, can't wait to get up in the Whitney region someday. Soon.

Great TR.

Trad climber
  Mar 2, 2014 - 03:00pm PT
TFPU - looks like a great day!


Trad climber
  Mar 2, 2014 - 03:22pm PT
Now thats what climbing is all about.

Social climber
  Mar 2, 2014 - 04:14pm PT
Nice bump JJ/Burchey.

Those folks at pullharder are Fun Hogs in the finest tradition. RIP zoom loco.

Aki J

Trad climber
Placerville, CA
  Mar 2, 2014 - 05:23pm PT
Anybody know what conditions are like down in Whitney Portal right now? Drought year.. maybe it's "good" time for winter climbing on Whitney?

Trad climber
  Mar 2, 2014 - 05:46pm PT
This was a couple weekends ago, before the current big storm. I wasn't there, but this post kind of deterred me from going to check it out the next weekend.

Mt. Whitney - East Face 5.7 - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The route as seen from Iceberg Lake.
Photo: Chris McNamara
Other Routes on Mt. Whitney
Mt. Whitney - East Buttress 5.7 - High Sierra, California USA. Click for details.
East Buttress, 5.7
Mt. Whitney
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

The route as seen from Iceberg Lake.
Mt. Whitney - Mountaineer's Route 3rd class - High Sierra, California USA. Click for details.
Mountaineer's Route, 3rd class
Mt. Whitney
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

The route disappears behind the ridge and follows the gully to the summit.