Caught Up in Wild Weather at Mount Whitney
Pulling into the Whitney Portal, California, we knew there was a high chance of wild weather totally stomping our attempt to climb the east face of Mount Whitney. We agreed that we were here for an adventure, and if the weather got bad we wouldn't climb. Day one was absolutely beautiful all the way to Upper Boy Scout Lake where we set up camp. Other than the normal aches and pains that usually come with the North Fork trail, (and the adjusting to the lack of oxygen moving from 7 to 10,000 feet), the way up to Upper Boy Scout Lake was pretty smooth.
Other than some wild cloud display in front of some of the bluest skies I've ever seen, weather seemed to be great - contrary to the forecast of the day. If we got enough rest and an early start, we hoped to attempt the summit the next day. Another climber suggested we do the East Buttress, as you can bail onto the mountaineers route if it started to snow. It's impossible to rappel off the East Face, you either send it, or down climb the route, which is pretty out of the question in the snow or rain. We had a warm dinner, hung out and fell asleep pretty quick. It was a calm night - no wind, very quiet and I slept great. Good vibes all round thus far.
An epic Sierra sunrise greeted us the next morning after waking up at 4:30 and having breakfast. Snow and a chance of thunderstorms by 1pm was the forecast. The clouds were similar to the previous day so we decided to push up to the base of Mount Whitney and scope the weather out, keeping in mind the East Buttress route. The walk up to Iceberg Lake was full of looming doubts about whether we would be able to climb. Thick dark clouds followed us up the pass from behind and began to swallow Mount Whitney and the Needles up ahead.
The clouds that were rolling in were heavy. We were sure that neither the East Face nor the Buttress were climbable. We made the call to bail as neither of us wanted to be stuck a thousand feet off the floor on an exposed face during a storm. We scrambled around the towers that overlook our camp, took some pictures and bailed. That's when we heard thunder. Then came snow. Immediately relieved with our decision, we hoped the party of climbers we passed would be safe. We got back to camp, packed everything up in blizzard-like conditions and continued down to Lower Boy Scout Lake. That's when things got wet.
Below 10,000 feet, the downfall of snow became a downpour of rain. We spent four hours trying to get down the North Fork in what we referred to as 'The Sierra Jungle'. We both fell in the river a few times. A good deal of time was spent crawling in the mud, bush whacking our way in the rain. I had my cameras out snapping pictures and video of this hilarious bout of suffering we endured.
My room mate was calling me while I was hanging from a tree trying to down climb a ten foot ledge. I only noticed because I was trying to pull my phone out to have Austin snap a pic of the most ridiculous situation I've ever been in. I answered with my free hand and yelled: "You'll never believe where I am right now!!"
Exhaustion can make you do things you'd never do otherwise. I then did the dumbest thing I've done in the mountains yet. We ended up on the edge of a slab that led about nine or ten feet down to another 4 foot wide ledge, then to a hundred foot drop back down into the brush. Everything was wet but I thought to try lowering my pack to that ledge below, then slide slowly down the slab to the ledge on my butt and be on my way.
I lowered my pack as low as I could. It didn't reach. I let it go, thinking it would land softly a foot or two lower on the ledge. Instead it hit the ledge and chucked itself off the cliff. I watched in misery as it spun in free fall, both water bottles flying off the pack in the air disappearing.
I found all the pieces to my pack. We walked in pain and exhaustion back to the trail. When we got back to the car soaked, beat, and delirious we couldn't stop laughing at what a catastrophe we just went through. Although we didn't get to attempt the climb, we had a wild adventure...and now a reason to go back.
Written by Christian Lanley
Christian is a thisworldexists Adventure Ambassador. You can find more of this crazy adventures on Instagram: @lanleyc