The Mountaineer's Route — Page 7

Mount Whitney - Above Upper Boy Scout Lake

VII. The Moraines

Hikers may choose from three potential camping sites during their Mountaineer's Route climb. As mentioned, Lower Boy Scout Lake is the first—and lowest.

Most people prefer to get farther up the mountain for their summit bids, thus they continue on to the second camping area, Upper Boy Scout Lake. Here, the scenery is perhaps not so stirring, but the weather (usually) remains reasonable, and the area is within striking distance of Whitney's 14,497' summit.

Mount Whitney - Moraines Mount Whitney - Pinacle Ridge Mount Whitney - East Face Mount Whitney - Climbers on the East Buttress

More importantly, at 11,300 feet in elevation Upper Boy Scout Lake lies within a much safer window insofar as altitude is concerned.

Sea level residents must concern themselves with this issue of altitude and acclimatization—especially regarding where they choose to sleep.

The highest camping area short of the summit itself is Iceberg Lake, fifteen hundred vertical feet above. At this elevation, some degree of altitude sickness is not a possibility for unacclimatized hikers—it is a certainty.

I strongly recommended camping no higher than Upper Boy Scout unless you are an experienced high altitude mountaineer. Camping lower will increase your chances of making it up the mountain successfully, and getting back down safely.

Today, I am of course ignoring my own advice and continuing upward to Iceberg Lake. This is partially under the guise of research: I want to expose myself to a night at altitude and see how my body reacts.

We revisit that experiment shortly. Meanwhile, the day remains unexpectedly hot, even at my present elevation. I am sweating heavily and wishing for a breeze.

The landscape has taken on an otherworldly cast, as if I've somehow suddenly climbed up to the moon. These are Mount Whitney's moraines—remnants of glacial action. The route winds through immense piles of debris, carved out and pushed about by long-departed glaciers. The going is slow here: a long, tedious traverse across loose ground and steep rubble.

But it is a thrill as Mount Whitney's glorious East Face comes into view for the first time. And I hear shouting now—On Belay! Off Belay!—plus other emotionally-charged climbing terms I'm unfamiliar with. Yes, these distant calls are coming from that great expanse of vertical granite ahead. Someone is up there somewhere, and from the sound of it, they're having a bear of a time.

I zoom in on the East Face, trying to locate the climbers. At last, I find two tiny dots working their way up a crack toward the center of the East Face route. As I draw closer, I spot more climbers, these on Whitney's East Buttress route. And more shouting leads me to think someone is also attempting the formidable Harding Route on Keeler Needle, though I can't seem to spot them. I continue up toward Iceberg Lake, now only a short scramble away.

next: Iceberg Lake

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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