High Sierra

Dale had the foresight to lock up permits for a trip we dubbed \"Occupy Iceberg\" way back near the beginning of the year.  Our plan was to bring a big group of friends up to Iceberg Lake just below Mount Whitney and crush alpine routes every day, having a grand old time every night.  I picked up some tickets well in advance and planned to head down for the festivities.

Dale called before the trip to mention that a monsoon weather system had parked itself over the Sierra and that things weren't looking good.  We decided to try and make lemonade from the lemons, so I jumped on the flight regardless.  SEA to LAX was no big deal.  LAX to Mammoth Lakes was another story--we circled the airport, trying to land for a while, and eventually had to return to LA.  Bummer.  Luckily, I found two other guys who wanted to rent a car together and we made the 6-hour drive together into the wee hours of the night, meeting Dale at the airport near 1:30am.

Mendenhall Couloir on Laurel Mountain

Photo by Dale Apgar

Dale wisely parked us at the Convict Lake trailhead where we awakened the next morning ready to head up the Mendenhall Couloir on Laurel Mountain.  It was a great, low 5th class scramble up about 4,000 vert to a summit with some great views.  Solid.  Beer and happy hour ensued.

Waiting for better weather up high, day two hit up Cardinal Pinnacle, a picturesque crag not too far from Mammoth.  We hit some classic multi-pitch routes there and had some fun throwing ourselves at V8 Crack--a classic, fun 5.10d.  More beers, hot tub crashing, and general merriment followed, along with a decision that we'd give it a try up at Whitney the next day.

We provisioned, geared up, and busted down to the Whitney Portal where we packed up our 4 days worth of gear and started the hike pretty well loaded down.  Despite the weight, we made it to Iceberg Lake in about 3.5 hours, sweat-soaked, but smiling since we'd beaten the sunset.  And we were glad that we did.  The sky turned from blue to orange, to red, to purple, all contrasted against the skyline of Keeler Needle and Mount Whitney.  Not too shabby.  It was worth a sip or two of scotch (Vitamin G--Glenfiddich, to be exact).

Star Trekkin, Whitney's East Face, and Mithral Dihedral

Our climbing from camp at Iceberg spanned three days.  We hit Russell's Star Trekkin' on Day 1, Whitney's East Face and East Buttress on Day 2, and the Mithral Dihedral on Day 3.  Weather on our first day was a bit chilly, but otherwise calm.  The other two days were not quite so nice.  Our East Face endeavor was completely fine and there was little indication from the summit that weather was rolling in, but by the time we had descended the Mountaineer's Route and were half-way up the East Buttress, things turned ugly.  Some sleet and rain started coming down and thunder was booming.  I saw some flashes and heard booms closer together than I'd like.  We waited it out briefly and then finished up in slightly damp conditions.  Our last day was more of the same--a perfect morning followed by nasty electrical storms right around summit time.  We started hearing our gear buzzing as we packed up on the summit of Russell, after climbing Mithral, and immediately started booking it for the 4th class descent gully.  It was a little touch-and-go, but the storm moved over pretty quickly and we hunkered down behind a boulder near the Whitney Russell Col until things cleared up.  Whew.

Despite the crazy weather, we had a blast on the routes.  Everything lived up to the hype, especially Mithral.  I put a few leads in and we did a fair amount of simuling and soloing on the really easy terrain to keep things quick.

With the weather likely to deteriorate further, we canned our last night and hiked out after climbing Mithral, reaching the Portal and our chilled beers after about 2.5 hours of cruising down.  We lucked out in a big way and knew it.  Sleeping in the next morning after eating baby-sized burritos in Bishop was a beautiful thing.  I could get used to this yearly pilgrimage to the Sierra.  Thanks, Dale.