Sunday 22 May 2022

Forty years ago on Mount Whitney on the Pacific Crest Trail, and a more recent ascent

On the ascent

Forty years ago on May 22, 1982, I climbed 4.421 metre Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the 48 contiguous states in the USA, as a side trip from my Pacific Crest Trail hike. The High Sierra was snowbound, so this was a crampons and ice axe ascent. With my three companions I camped at Crabtree Meadows, a superb site where we were pleased to be able to pitch our tent on dry ground rather than snow.

Camp at Crabtree Meadows

The ascent was exciting and, in a few places, quite scary as we edged round bulging rock buttresses on steep snow with dizzying drops under our feet. The views from the summit were vast, with mountains disappearing into the distance on three sides and to the east the shimmering pale slash of semi-desert Owens Valley far, far below.

On the summit

Not wanting to traverse the crest round those buttresses again we decided to glissade down one of the many snow-filled gullies on the west face of the mountain. This proved equally exciting, especially when Larry lost his ice axe at a narrow stony section of the gully and ended up spreadeagled on his back out in the middle of the slope, held there by the crampons on the back of his pack. I climbed down to him, retrieving his axe along the way, and we then kicked steps down to gentler snow.


I didn’t take many photos on the climb, it was too intense, and we didn’t linger, not knowing how long it would take or if the weather would change. As it was the day took thirteen hours. I was the only one with a camera, which I handed to Larry to take pictures of me at times.

On the summit in 2016

Thirty-four years later I climbed Mount Whitney again in very different conditions. This was on my walk from Yosemite Valley to Death Valley and I made the ascent in mid-October after a long dry summer. This time I camped a little nearer the mountain at Guitar Lake, another spectacular site, and descended the far side. Free of snow the ascent was much easier though it was actually colder on the summit due to a strong wind.

Camp at Guitar Lake, 2016

You can read the full story of my first ascent of Mount Whitney and the rest of my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike in my book Rattlesnakes and Bald Eagles.



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