The Mountaineer's Route — Page 12

Mount Whitney and the Mountaineer's Route

XII. Heading Down

The summit, as they say, is only halfway there—a mantra designed to remind climbers they must not only get up the mountain but also back down safely before the job is truly over.

Though most of the day's challenges appear behind me now, there are still a few areas to downclimb, plus the exposed section of the Ebersbacher Ledges to navigate. And, of course, I must make my way down, down, down, six thousand vertical feet or so. As promised, I try the traverse rather than downclimbing the north chute.

Mount Whitney - Traversing toward the Notch

Traversing Back to the Notch

Mount Whitney - East Face

The East Face

Mount Whitney - Lower Boy Scout Lake

Near Lower Boy Scout Lake

Whitney Portal - Back at the Trailhead

Rapture or Relief?

The traverse across the north face proves tedious: steep, loose talus that makes for poor footing. Is it really a better option (without snow) for hikers concerned with the north chute's climbing?

Perhaps, but my guess is such hikers won't be much pleased with either option.

Down the East Couloir I go.

The terrain is steep, demanding constant attention, making this a surprisingly tiring endeavor. The temperature hikes dramatically here on the mountain's east side.

When I reach Iceberg Lake, the sky seems even bluer, if that's possible.

A few white clouds sprout from Whitney's summit, but the desert air to the east is much too dry to allow anything to develop, and soon enough the clouds have melted away.

I take my time packing up camp. This time I make sure I eat enough before resuming travel. The walk down is a long one, sure to leave my muscles well sore tomorrow.

Eleven pages up, and one page down...

Hikers should not underestimate the effort involved in climbing down. While it take less physical energy, obviously, it takes far more mental energy, a constant concentration on where to place the feet. And the relentless pounding only adds to the burden, slowly but steadily degrading body and mind alike. Climbers with the extra time to do so may enjoy camping an extra night farther down, perhaps at either Upper or Lower Boy Scout Lake, to divide the long downclimb between two days.

The air thickens noticeably once I've passed Upper Boy Scout Lake, though my feet are starting to protest. Compared to the barren landscape above, the sudden rush of greenery below is a visual treat. As I finally near the end of this magnificent journey, emotions surge through me.

People climb Mount Whitney for many reasons. Some come not knowing whether or not they can climb Mount Whitney, and I must confess I admire them for it. Climbing Whitney, like any mountain, can be a personal test, a challenge to the limits we (or others) place upon ourselves. Some, alas, will leave Mount Whitney unchanged, as if they'd never visited. Others may find within themselves something new, something unexpected.

Tempered with experience and judgement, such strength can carry you not only up mountains, but also across the many, more vexing obstacles which lie strewn across the world below. I do not claim to know why I climb mountains, though I seem to catch a glimpse of it now and then, in these fleeting moments. I find I can't imagine not climbing—and that is enough, I know, to ensure my return...

Andy Lewicky

ANDY LEWICKY is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer who enjoys good books, jasmine tea, long walks in the rain, and climbing and skiing the big peaks of the California Sierra. email | follow