American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, California–Sierra Nevada, Mount Witney, Direct East Face, Winter Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1986

Mount Whitney, Direct East Face, Winter Ascent. In February Mike Graber, Ron Kauk, and I skied into the cirque under Mount Whitney to attempt the long Grade V route to the left of the normal east face. After setting up camp we fixed a pitch up to the base of a prominent dihedral that eventually joins the standard route after 1200 feet of Yosemite-style climbing. Before dawn the next morning we set out without bivy gear, hoping to get up and down the route in a day. Although temperatures were well below freezing, the cracks were in quite good condition and easy to protect with Friends and chocks. Most of the climbing was 5.7 to 5.9 cracks and chimneys, but at the most difficult spot, an overhanging off-width crack bypassed by a bolt ladder, a tremendous noise that sounded as if a major part of the face was coming down put our hearts in our stomachs. Ron, who was leading at the time, tried to thrust his body into the crack to avoid what seemed at the moment to be inevitable death from above. A micro-second later a military jet that had just broken the sound barrier whooshed past at the level of the summit. Ron’s cheek was bleeding, and if we had been armed there is little doubt in our minds that the plane would have suffered three direct hits. Without bivy gear we moved quickly enough to reach the summit by mid-afternoon and to descend the Mountaineer’s Route back to camp by dusk. We believe that this classic route that catches the first morning sun had never before been climbed in winter, although records of winter climbs in the High Sierra are not well kept. (V, 5.9, Al.)

Galen A. Rowell

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