Mt. Whitney April 28 – May 1, 2010 – The Mountain is Always the Boss

On April 28 our second group from Summit For Someone showed up at Lone Pine for a Mt. Whitney climb raising money to help Big City Mountaineers take inner city urban teens on 7 and 8 day wilderness adventures this summer. Each of the seven participants on this trip raised a minimum of $3800 for the program. Each summer Big City Mountaineers gives under-resourced kids between ages 13-18 opportunities to experience the beauty of our wild lands and cultivate relationships with caring adult mentors. Summit For Someone is a fundraising effort for this program. People raise money for climbs that Summit for Someone books through SMI. The money raised goes towards funding these wilderness adventures for the teens. The program has been highly successful and SMI is proud to be associated with this highly respected and successful program.

Under a pleasant day the team left from the trailhead at Whitney Portal. The first day of the trip is always a good opportunity to get comfortable with some of the participants gear and equipment that may be new since their last adventure. The team worked out adjustments on packs and fine tuned the fit on boots as they ascended to camp 1 at 10,350 feet. Arriving at Lower Boyscout Lake mid afternoon the team set up tents and settled into camp. There was time to enjoy the scenery on this clear day. A hearty meal was followed by the team retiring to their tents for a good nights sleep.

April 29 saw the weather change from completely clear at 8 AM to snowy by 10 AM. Weather changes quickly in the mountains sometimes and this was a great example. The team packed up and began climbing to camp 2. While the weather was never completely clear it didn’t turn into a full blown storm either. Clouds would come in and sprinkle a little snow then turn to partly cloudy skies. The team arrived at high camp at 12,000 feet mid afternoon with a 3″ blanket of fresh snow. After setting up camp SMI guide Chris Werner did some afternoon training with the team to review skills needed for summit day while Kurt cooked an Italian dinner. The weather remained a bit unsettled but by 7 PM Mt. Whitney came into view as the team retired to their tents in preparation for our summit bid in the morning.

On April 30 Chris and Kurt woke the team for a pre dawn start. Another 6″ of snow fell during the night at camp. Hot water was made and everybody ate breakfast before donning crampons and shouldering light summit packs. Weather was clear with occasional wind gusts. Chris kicked in a new trail as the sun rose from the east revealing another breathtaking morning in the Eastern Sierra as Mt. Whitney’s east face was cast in an orange glow. Arriving at Iceberg Lake at 12,600 feet team members adjusted clothing layers and put on sunscreen and sunglasses. Kurt took over cutting in a route in snow that was now over 12″ deep. As we entered the Mountaineers Chute snowdrifts became 2-3 feet deep. Moving slow and steady though the team continued to make good time up the 35 degree chute. As we ventured higher the wind gusts became stronger and more frequent. By the time we reached 13,700 feet the wind was a steady 20 – 40 mph. At the top of the Mountaineers Chute at 14,000 feet we were greeted by strong steady chilly winds. A rock outcropping provided a small bit of shelter for the team as they ate and drank while Chris and Kurt surveyed the last 400 feet of steeper snow and rock leading to the summit where we normally set up 3 pitches (rope lengths) of fixed line. In spite of the wind Chris and Kurt decided to try and set up the ropes and make an attempt at reaching the summit. Chris climbed the first pitch and a few minutes later found himself in winds hitting 70 mph. Realizing it wasn’t safe to be in winds that strong on such a cold day he radioed to Kurt and said he was coming back down.

The team took a group picture at the notch before descending down the Mountaineers Chute having made a valiant try at reaching the summit but finding the conditions on the mountain not quite in safe conditions to reach the summit. In spite of falling a little short the team still raised over $25,000 towards taking urban teens on wilderness trips. Everybody learned a lot and had an adventure with memories that will last a lifetime. As happens many times when teams return short of the summit everybody had the opportunity to learn from experience in ways that never present themselves on a climb with pleasant weather. Friendships were formed through the experiences we all had and all team members expressed a desire to return for another try.

On May 1 the team took their time descending back to the trailhead stopping many times to take pictures and to simply soak in the view. A special thanks to a great team and we look forward to climbing with you all here in the Sierra again on Mt. Whitney or perhaps on another classic Sierra peak!

Here are a few pictures. The rest of Kurt’s photo album can be found here:

Mt. Whitney from the Whitney Portal Road on a clear day.

Camp 1 at 10,350 feet

The team packed up and ready to start climbing to camp 2 as snow began to fall

At 10,700 feet with Lower Boyscout Lake below

Team members taking a break at 11,400 feet with clearing skies

Mt. Whitney from 11,800 feet with a fresh dusting a new snow on it

High camp at 12,000 feet

SMI guide Chris Werner (left) explaining some mountaineering techniques that will be employed on the summit attempt the next morning

From right to left: Mt. Whitney, Keeler Needle, and Day Needle glowing orange in the sunrise. When we are treated to mornings like these it is easy to see why lovers of this mountain range affectionately call the Sierra the Range of Light.

Taking a break near Iceberg Lake at 12,600 feet

Climbing up the Mountaineers Chute at approximately 13,000 feet

Spindrift blowing above indicated strong winds and gave us a preview of the conditions we would soon be facing

Approaching the Notch at 14,000 feet

SMI guide Chris Werner trying to climb the first pitch above the notch with wind gusts hitting 70 mph

Video of the winds above taken from a protected spot at the Notch

The team poses for a group picture at the Notch holding BCM flags. Thanks for the valiant effort from a great team: Gus Valentino, Garrett Herfkens, David Cerio, David Giacomin, Chuck Parker, Steve Wargo, and Mark Piretti

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