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Mountaineer's Route

April 2018

What better way to spend the weekend before midterms than to pile three dudes in a car, get six hours of sleep over three days, and summit the tallest peak in the lower 48? That's exactly what I was thinking while I moseyed over to John's house Friday afternoon carrying ice tools, rope, harnesses, helmets, shovels, beacons, and more through the busy city streets of Berkeley. Anthony joined us after class, and we set out. All these photos were snapped by Anthony: check out his website here

John is quite the madman when it comes to driving -- and happily drove nearly the entire way to Whitney Portal. I say nearly because to our dismay, the gate was closed a few miles below the Portal, so we had to camp out there for the night. On Saturday morning we sorted our gear and set off for Iceberg Lake -- our destination for the day.

From left to right: me, John, and Anthony looking like a bunch of kooks at Portal

The climb was quite pleasant that morning, with partly cloudy skies and mild temps all day. The route was quite fun too: a particularly enjoyable section was called "the ledges" involved zig zagging up some granite cliffs. Other than some other climbers dislodging rocks from above and giving us some frights, we had an uneventful morning. 

John started to feel quite tired as the day progressed, a lingering sickness was slowing him down. So Anthony and I had some time to lounge around the various lakes and streams while John duked it out with the climb, his ailments, and the altitude.

A perfect stream for some lounging around

In the afternoon, we found ourselves just below Iceberg Lake -- and we decided to settle down and make camp. John darted to bed without a bite of food in him on account of his illness. Anthony and I stayed up to cook some food, melt some snow, and talk strategy. We were worried about John's health, and discussed a few potential options to make sure everyone got (hopefully up and) down the mountain safe.

Eventually, we hopped in our tent and got a few good hours of sleep too -- we had an early 3:00am morning ahead of us.

Climbing up to basecamp, our goal looming in the distance

Some of our neighbors at basecamp

At 3:00am our phone alarms dutifully went off -- probably one of the most dreaded noises I encounter on most of our trips. Waking up that early has me simultaneously stoked for the rad day ahead, and grumpy for having chosen to get mere hours of sleep and being freezing cold to the bone instead of relaxing back at home in Berkeley...

But, the latter feeling wears off quickly, and before I knew it, we were darting up the mountain. John's condition hadn't improved, and after 45 minutes of climbing, he decided to turn around, telling us to push on. He made the smart decision. Anthony and I pushed on past Iceberg Lake, and made it to the base of the infamous chute just as the sun was cresting over the mountains. We took a quick five minute break to devour some Clif bars and pick a route up. Then off we went.

Ascending the chute

We made it up the chute after a few hours, then proceeded to the traverse. Apparently, this was the easy part -- though the imminent death looming 3 inches to my right foot said otherwise. Technically, it was not too bad, other than a few mixed climbing rock, snow, and ice sections that were a bit testy. But everything was ten times harder with the high level of exposure on this section -- both of us were too focused (or scared) to take photos for this section...

Eventually, we made it up, my third summit of Mt. Whitney, and first on the Mountaineers Route. We were both pretty stoked. We slogged back down, the traverse remaining just as difficult the second time. After that, it was a quick shot down the chute back to basecamp. We packed up our gear and continued our hike out -- we eventually caught up with John who seemed to be feeling better at the lower altitude. 

The few extra miles to get to the car from Portal were a nice break from the tricky terrain descending the mountaineers route. We were amped to get back to the car, and John in his usual fashion drove the whole way back to Berkeley. We got in sometime after 3:00am, and I got a couple hours of shut eye before two back-to-back interviews at 10:00am. Sick weekend.

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