November 27-30, 2014
It was the third year of California's drought and the Sierra was drier than I had ever seen it in late November. Up north near the Tahoe area, barely a foot of snow could be found. Down south in the Mt. Whitney area, only a few scattered patches of powder could be found here and there.
Several of us planned to head into the Whitney Zone and hike Mt. Whitney under winter conditions and sleep on the summit, waking up to watch the sunrise the next day. A few days before our start date, several people dropped off the trip due to personal plans and the lack of winter conditions on the mountain. At the end, the three of us who remained decided to go anyway.
The plan was to start hiking up the Mt. Whitney Trail at around noon on Thursday and spend the night at Outpost Camp (10,380 ft, 3.5 miles). On Friday, Inga and Johanes planned to head up to Mt. Whitney. I planned to take the Whitney Trail another 1.8 miles up to Consultation Lake and then head south to climb Mt. McAdie, then follow the connecting ridge southwest to Mt. Newcomb, Mt. Chamberlin, and Crabtree Crags. On the third day we would break camp and head out.
|Peak||Elevation||Topographic Prominence||Summit Coordinates (lat/lon)|
|Mt. McAdie||13,799 ft||512 ft||36.551787, -118.27629|
|"Crabtree Point"||13,027 ft||177 ft||36.546035, -118.284087|
|Mt. Newcomb||13,422 ft||594 ft||36.540073, -118.293349|
|Mt. Chamberlin||13,169 ft||407 ft||36.533734, -118.311157|
|Crabtree Crags||12,946 ft||577 ft||36.539657, -118.328569|
Inga and I met up with Johanes at Whitney Portal (8,300 ft) at around noon on Friday and headed up the trail a short moment after. It was a very easy day, with the straightforward hike to Outpost camp taking no more than 3 hours at a very leisurely pace. Once at camp, we relaxed for the rest of the day and checked out a ~25 ft frozen waterfall located a few hundred feet south from camp. There were two other groups camped by us who were (of course) doing Whitney.
Whitney Portal Trailhead
heading up the Whitney Trail
meadow shortly before Outpost Camp
frozen waterfall south of camp
Throughout the night, a steady 30mph wind blew out from the northwest- probably pretty typical for this time of year. I set my alarm for 4am but somehow woke up at 4:40. By 5am, I headed up the Whitney Trail, followed by a couple other guys who had camped at Outpost. I felt somewhat tired and sluggish this morning, likely due to not being up at elevation for over a month and my bad choice of food that morning. This feeling would persist throughout the day.
I reached the dark waters of Consultation Lake at around 6am and switched off the headlamp for a few minutes to see what it was like. Apart from a faint shape of McAdie silhouetted against the stars, the land took no form. All I could hear was the lapping of water of Consultation Lake. I switched the headlamp back on and aimed south towards the large obvious arc of Arc Pass.
route to Arc Pass seen from Consultation Lake (photo taken on August 27, 2012)
Based on trip reports I head read, the route up Arc Pass from Consultation Lake was horribly loose. After climbing to the pass, I would certainly have to agree. I stayed below the left side of the pass as I ascended, avoiding some cliffs which were supposedly to the right (I couldn't see them, of course). It was approaching dawn as I made it to Arc Pass, which was a barren sandy landscape. A steady 40 mph wind funneled in from the south. I stopped for a few minutes to much on some crackers, studying the craggy form of McAdie to the west. The sun rose as I began slogging up the slope westward towards McAdie, illuminating the high peaks of Whitney, Russell, Carillon, and Gamblers Special to the north.
McAdie is made up of two main pinnacles, with the northern one as the highpoint. A prominent gully existed between the pinnacles. About 200 ft below the notch between the pinnacles, I dropped into the gully and ascended via its southern (left) side. Once at the notch, the rest was straightforward. I headed up the northern pinnacle, taking one of several possible class 3 routes.
my route up McAdie, seen from the east (photo taken on August 27, 2012)
McAdie viewed from Arc Pass
sunrise from Arc Pass
heading up McAdie
true summit in view
dropping into the gully below the notch
It was around 8:40am as I topped out at the summit and spent some time there, feeling unusually sluggish. The low November sun cast large and imposing shadows of several peaks to the west; peaks that I had planned to climb that day. The connecting ridge to the first peak, a small but interesting highpoint which I had dubbed "Crabtree Point," did not look that difficult. I hoped to continue traversing southwest along the ridge to its terminus at Crabtree Crags that day.
views from Mt. McAdie
What more can one want at 13,000 ft other than frozen pizza?
From the summit of McAdie, I descended into the southwest gully, which could be found starting in between the northern and southern summits of McAdie. It was your typical sierra scree gully, full of decayed granite. It didn't take long to reach Crabtree Pass: the lowpoint between McAdie and Crabtree Point.
view southwest from the southwest gully
The northeast ridge of Crabtree Point began rising steeply immediately after I had crossed Crabtree Pass. The climbing was incredibly fun, with several class 3+ moves on solid blocky granite. Once the slope of the ridge began flattening out, a short section of class 2 rock hopping commenced to the summit, which was a short but exposed class 3 pinnacle.
large lake south of Crabtree Pass
Crabtree Point's northeast ridge
view southeast from Crabtree Point
After Crabtree Point, the ridge began becoming tedious. Mt. Newcomb, the next peak, didn't look far, but it took some time to get there. The very crest of the ridge was a jumble of large boulders sticking out every which way. I stayed mainly on the south (left) side of the ridge, making my way through a maze of class 3 rock. As I got closer to Newcomb, the ridge began leveling out, and a short final section of plateau brought me to the summit.
ridge to Newcomb
The next section of ridge between Newcomb and Chamberlain was two sections of plateau, separated in the middle by a series of cliffs which would contain the crux of the route.
view west from Mt. Newcomb
Just east of the lowpoint between Newcomb and Chamberlain was a small bump which is defined by a single contour line on the topo map. The west side of this bump contained the crux: a ~50 ft section of large and awkward boulders which required me to leap from one boulder to the next, along with a few class 4 moves.
ridge to Chamberlain
view southeast from Chamberlain
I slumped down on the summit of Mt. Chamberlain and munched on some stale bread. "Just one more peak to go," I thought as I stared at the very sloggy-looking slope of Crabtree Crags to the southwest. Crabtree crags was a very straightforward peak. From Chamberlain, I descended a gradual sandy slope to Chamberlain Pass (12,380 ft; the low point between Mt. Chamberlain and Crabtree Crags), then continued slogging up west. After passing over a handful of false summits, I arrived at the broad highpoint of Crabtree Crags shortly before 3pm. It was a unique place to be, viewing the deep canyon of the Kern River from its east side. To the south, the large broad summit of Mt. Anna Mills rose above the treeline. It was hard to imagine that I was standing on that summit during the Sierra Challenge just four months earlier.
route up Crabtree Crags
walking up the moon
view northwest from Mt. Chamberlain
With 1.5 hours of sunlight left, there was no time to fool around and take a nap. I headed back down to Chamberlain Pass and proceeded to descend the loose scree chute on the north side of Chamberlain Pass. When the chute eventually became split in two by a large fin, I took the right fork, ending up on the south side of Lake 3456. From here, my plan was to head northeast up the canyon to Lake 12,130 ft, then veer left (north), gaining ~1,600 ft of elevation to pick up the Mt. Whitney Trail north of Discovery Pinnacle, and follow the trail back to Outpost Camp.
looking down the north chute from Chamberlain Pass
The sun set as I made my way up the canyon, walking up very gradual uphill slopes, occasionally gingerly stepping on rocks that were coated with ice. The large pinnacles on the Sierra Crest around Mt. McAdie glowed bright orange in the sunset.
Alpenglow on McAdie
Around 30 minutes after sunset, I had made it to Lake 12,130 ft. Now it was time for the big slog up. It was almost completely dark as I began slogging up north. As tired as I was, the loose steep sandy terrain just added insult to injury. I was crawling up on all fours, sliding back one step for every three steps made. After what seemed like hours and hours of ascending (which was in reality probably more like 45 minutes), the terrain flattened out to a vast sandy slope. To the north, I could just make out the dark, partially moonlit form of Discovery Pinnacle. I walked around its right side, downclimbed roughly 100 ft of loose rock, and found myself on the Whitney Trail.
The walk back down to Outpost Camp was super easy going, seeming to breeze by. I got back to camp at around 9pm to find Johannes pacing back and forth, seemingly in a daze. It turned out that he had gotten back to camp about 30 minutes ago but couldn't find the precise location of our tents. Both Johannes and Inga had made it to the summit of Whitney earlier that day. Inga was, at the moment, nowhere to be found. She would eventually return to camp about two hours later. We later learned that she had decided to descend the Mountaineer's Route, which ended at the main trail 2.7 miles below Outpost Camp, and hike back up to the camp.
I managed to nibble on a few bits of frozen burger, decided that food was to gross to eat at the moment, and crawled into my tent for the night.
The next morning, we got a late leisurely wake-up, then proceeded to descend the trail back to Whitney Portal.
10,260 ft gain/loss
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Whitney Portal message board