Confirmation on Mt. Whitney – East Buttress (5.7)


After a successful climb of Fishhook Arete we woke up to this beautiful sight in the morning. After a bowl of oats, chia seeds, vanilla protein, sliced almonds and spices, we were eager to start the approach to east buttress. We were thankful for a fairly mellow approach compared to the uphill hike on loose and sandy terrain for Mt. Russell.

Mt. Whitney and the needles seen on dawn light
East buttress from the class 2/class 3 approach

Rick had a 15 minute nap before I came around and poked him at the base of pitch one. I guess he guzzled my share of coffee as well and became the typical energizer bunny. Our original plan was that we will swing lead and see how fast we can get it done but today I felt a bit sore probably due to the work yesterday and hiking with 35 lb backpacks. So we changed plans to do block leads instead. Since Rick was well rested, I asked him to do the first four pitches: I wouls lead the following four and we would simul-climb to the top. Rick said the first stemming pitch was interesting, but honestly after the stellar climb of Fishhook Arete, this route didn’t impress me at first.

Pitch 1

Stay to the right side to start pitch one then traverse left and up. In the following picture you can see the start of pitch two but it has some low angle wide sections where I chose to hump the rail.

Pitch 2

Pitch three has two options, you can either climb the unprotected face which is 5.7 as per the topo or you can traverse right to another wide section. We couldn’t see the pin from the topo or any pro, so we chose to go around to the side.

Pitch 3

Pitch four has some interesting face moves, a short hand crack and some other low fifth stuff that deposits you on a ledge to the left (end of the red corner). Since there was another party on that ledge we built an anchor on a lower ledge.

Pitch 4

With my turn to lead up I was finally able to get rid of the backpack. We noticed that as soon as you ditched the ~10 lb pack you are no longer breathing heavily and everything seems cruiser. This pitch required a few stemming moves right above the anchor, but the rest of it is fairly easy and fun terrain.

Pitch 5

The party above us started breaking up pitches and setting up intermediate belays, therefore their leader and I started together on pitch 6. He was a bit to the left and protected the in-cuts and small cracks on the left side. I crossed over his rope once but I wanted to keep our ropes untangled therefore I crossed again and stayed to the right. It mostly unprotected face moves on thin flakes. I think this picture is taken before I crossed the second to fix the tangled ropes. I ran out of rope about thirty feet before the belay ledge. I didn’t want to stand where I was standing so the leader of the other party suggested me to ask my partner to simul a bit. He also generously offered me to clip into any of his pieces on the anchor. Energizer bunny was hopping and jumping to leave his nest. A few moves later I built an anchor using my #3 and the already placed #3 of the other party.

Pitch 6
Upper section of pitch 6

Rick climbed up to me before the follower of the other party so I started on the sweet 5.7 finger crack with stemming for feet. .5 cams fits perfectly in this section. I thought Rick said I need to belay below a chimney not a wide/off-width crack. Therefore I went right of the line shown in this picture and belayed below the squeeze chimney. As Rick got there, we were interested to explore the chimney so I went up and found a corner with occasional .3/.4 cam placement. I couldn’t see if the corner traverses left and merges to the actual route. I wanted to get Rick up the chimney and let him lead the probably 5.9+ corner and explore further. But to avoid a cluster he asked me to down-climb the chimney and some to merge on the route shown on the left side. Well bonus pitch for me, and I wouldn’t have turned down a chimney.

Pitch 7 5.7 finger crack

Meanwhile, the leader of the other party had already started on the wide/off-width pitch so we we had to wait for a while on a hanging belay. What I was about to start was going to become one of my best leads so far. I think this is a the most memorable pitch for me on this route. The crack widens to #4 up above. I used my #3 about 15 feet above the anchor. We brought singles for #1, #2 and #3 cams. So I had twenty feet of wide crack without any protection. For the first time I used the wide crack technique for both my hands and feet. I used the rubber of the toe and heel to stick the feet and butterfly stack for hands. I shifted sideways such that my left arm crawls up the wall. I thought the crux was to pull over the chalk stone which was quite scary as I didn’t have any room for a mistake. Note that the upper section of this pitch isn’t visible in the picture. As I pulled up on the chalk stone I found a fixed blue sling. After clipping to that I found that the hand and finger jams are a few moves away. Somehow I missed the under cling. I looked to my left and found a knob for my left foot, a smear for my right foot and a small knob for one hand. It was a delicate balance move before I could get to solid jams. I was on cloud 9 as I eagerly waited to hear a few grunts from Rick, but there were none. He probably didn’t even break a sweat. Even though the pitch is rated as 5.6, I could have sworn that Rick would have been petrified if he had to lead twenty feet of wide/offset crack without any pro followed by couple insecure face moves. I think men don’t show when they pee in their pants.

Pitch 8 5.6 wide crack

Pitch 9 has a short jump / insecure traverse move as you can see from the rope but the rest of it is fairly easy on blocky terrain. As per the topo, keep slightly left from this pitch on-wards to climb on easy terrain.

Base of pitch 9

After pitch 9 we simul-climbed most of the way before I ran out of gear. So I belayed Rick up to the base of the following crack in the picture. This is a short straight vertical hand crack that deposits you to the blocks on the summit. Maybe there is an easier way to the left but this crack felt irresistible so I led it and protected it with a #1. The crack ends on a ledge about 5-8 feet above the red #1 placement.

Bonus hand crack right below the summit

We cherished the summit and were thankful for these planks that are left for people to enjoy. I didnt realize that the back side of the other plank had the rest of 14,500 engraved on it. Oh well, it was a long day.

Summit shot

We descended via the mountaineer’s route. The register had no pages left so sadly we couldn’t register our names. It was a bit hard to find the start of mountaineer’s route but there is a obvious large cairn right next to the cliff and then a way to weave down the buttress. It is a bit foreboding to not be able to see the entire downclimb, but most of it is easy except the last part that deposits you on a large ledge that goes to the notch. This part felt about 5.0. After the notch its loose and sandy. First keep to left and then trend right following the trail. This will bring you close to the start of the east buttress route.

We slept through the night and descended back to the car the next day to find all our food & cookware stolen from the bear boxes.. but that’s a story for another day.

Between upper and lower boy scout lake
Looking back towards Whitney
Looking at lower boy scout lake

For future trips to Whitney, I would do a couple things differently. Carry melatonin pills to sleep comfortably at iceberg lake. I slept very well at upper boy scout lake but despite a long day of effort, I couldn’t sleep well after our Fishhook Arete climb. I felt that my mucus was much thicker which woke me up a few times and I couldn’t go back to sleep. Carry shopping bags to hang wag bags. We weren’t aware that minuscule bear looking creatures are fond of chewing up wag bags. It would be wise to prepare a strategy to avoid a stinky mess on the descent.

Also, while our minimal food packing strategy left us burning fat and with shredded abs, it would probably have been better to bump up our calories by 1000 or so to help with recovery (we were running around 1800 cal per day off oatmeal, a shared freeze-dried meal, and snacks). The macadamia nuts and chocolate bars are already packed for the Cirque of the Towers… 😀

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