Mt. Whitney Mountaineer’s Route 14,508 ft. or 4422M
I received a certificate that reads: Liane Lau successfully completed a summit climb of Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route. A variety of mountaineering skills were employed including ice axe techniques, advanced crampon methods, team rope travel, 3rd class rock climbing, and ascending and descending fixed lines. The trip required expedition style camps that were constructed by team members. The climb was organized and led by Sierra Mountaineering International professional mountain guides, via Backpacker Magazine supporting Bic City Mountaineer’s. The group total raised $250,000.
When I look back on the expeditions and adventures I have experienced in the last 11 months: trekking to Mt. Everest base camp in Nepal, biking across the US, learning to scuba dive in Bali, silent meditation camp in the Philippines or the Professional Thai massage course in Thailand – this 4 day climb of the mountaineer’s route ranks as the hardest and most difficult experience in my life. It was an epic climb that challenged me every step of the way.
Tuesday, I drove in the afternoon to Lone Pine, with my new teammate Roseann. She is from Austin and has an background in adventure racing and ecoadventure which sounds like something I would like to try next.
Wednesday, we visited Manazar (the Japanese internment camp), played in the rocks called the Alabama Hills and met the team for dinner. Our team consists of 10 individuals from across the country, all different professions, ages 22-50’s, 3 professional guides and special guest, editor in chief of Backpacker Magazine, Jon Dorn. Ratio 4 women, 6 men.
Thursday, we met the team for breakfast and divided the group gear into our packs. Group gear was tents and food (bkst and dinner). Each of our packs included our personal items: a zero degree sleeping bag, sleeping pad, down jacket, gloves, hat, thermal layers, base layers, lunch snacks, bowl, spoon, 2 nalgene water bottles, ice axe, crampons, climbing harness, 4 carabiners, webbing, gaiters, trekking poles, mechanical ascendor, and an avalanche beacon. The pack is a 75L bag. The total weight of each person’s pack was no less than 45 lbs. I packed as lightly as I could, planning to wear the same clothes for 4 days.
Day 1 – we trekked to Lower Boy Scout Lake, camp 1 – from 10-3 pm, elevation 8,000 ft to 10,000 ft.
The first part of this route, we crossed two streams and scrambled across rock ledges before arriving to the beautiful mountain range. Lunch was a bagel with PB, protein granola bar and gummy snacks. Dinner: Thai peanut sauce, cashews, veggies and rice. (Meat eaters added shrimp). Drinking water was obtained from streams. No water filter needed as we pack poop out so the land stays pristine. The temperature at Camp 1 was about 30 degrees. We slept 3-4 people per tent.
About packing your poop – its’s no different than squatting over a toilet, as typically done in Asia. The only difference is you are pooping into a bag, then scooping it into a zip lock bag, similar to picking up after a dog. The only gross part is you need to reuse this bag when you poop again. The downside about picking up your poop is your pack will weigh the same going up and down the mountain even though you ate your food. One of my teammates weighed his poop bag at the end of the climb at trailhead and it was 2 lbs. I don’t know how many times he pooped but I would guess for most people the bag weighed 2-5 lbs.
Day 2 – we left camp around 8 am, arriving at high camp, 12,000 ft around 2 pm. Bkst was instant oatmeal, apple cider. Lunch, granola bars, protein bars, pop tart, chewy snacks. Dinner: cheese ravoli, pesto sauce and fresh veggies (meat eaters had meat ravoli). At high camp, snow is melted over a stove as our water source.
On the mountain, there is a total of 6 teams traveling for Big City Mountaineers over 3 weeks. 75 readers wrote to Backpacker Magazine for this contest. All were accepted, 60 people agreed to fundraise. Each person then selected the date they could climb and were put on that team. Team 1 was originally 10 people, but most dropped out, leaving 3 participants. Team 2 – we had 10 people start at trailhead, 2 dropped after camp 1, 1 went to camp 2 but did not summit, 7 successfully summited. The 2 people who turned around, one for altitude sickness and the other had not winter camped or mountaineered before. The 1 person who attempted to summit but turned around was sick from the start with congestion and flu symptoms.
Day 3 – summit day, we left camp at 4:30 am, traveled up the mountain wearing thermals, climbing harness, with crampons on our feet, climbing helmets on our heads with headlamps, ice axe and trekking poles in each hand. If you aren’t familiar with crampons, they go over your boots, its the same concept as chains that go on your car tires during snowy winter conditions. They are sharp metal teeth that allow you to grip the snow better. The ice axe is in one hand to stab into the snow to help you climb. If you slip, you stab the sharp part of the ice axe into the snow to prevent a free fall. We travel up the mountain, tethered in rope teams of 1 guide and 3 participants. I will never again complain about walking up the steep hills of San Francisco. SF hills are nothing compared to pulling yourself up a slope angled at 45-50 degrees at 6 in the morning with an pack, ice axe and crampons. The rope travel is for safety. If one person goes down, it hopefully prevents others from falling too far but there is the possibility we all go down together.
After getting past the chute, we arrive at the foot of the mountain and have to scramble, 3rd class rock climbing straight up 150 feet. Still tethered together but now without ice axes, poles and crampons, we team travel up. We also gained one more team member since one person had to turn around.
My team is Thomas as guide, Tanner, Matthew, me, and Jon. I was so thankful to have Jon, an experienced climber behind me help spot as I climbed up. I have done these types of mountaineering skills before but never all these different components in one day.
At 10:30 am, we reached the summit and were blessed with the most amazing mountain ranges. We stayed about 45 minutes and rappelled down back to our the spot were we left our ice axes, crampons and poles.
Downhill was particularly difficult, still roped together, there was a lot of stumbling and falling with melting snow and tired bodies.
Eventually we made it back to camp around 4 or 5 pm. Dinner was pasta and veggies. Tuna/chicken added for meat eaters.
Day 4 – slow descent, lots of stumbling, but we all returned safely to trailhead.
I loved the experience, learning from each other and the guides. They were so helpful, experienced and lead us to safety the entire way.
I definitely made many mistakes in prep and along the way. I rented/borrowed most of my equipment from friends because I did not want to fly my own gear from SF. This was by far the worst decision to be presented with gear I was not accustomed to and not fitted well to me. Next time, I will use all my own gear. I didn’t bring the right mix of foods, should have brought more protein and salt. I was a little concerned with things freezing so I didn’t bring snicker’s bars but more pop tarts would have been a good source of quick sugar and calories. Rum and scotch were perfect compliments at 10,000 ft. (Thank you Jon for carrying it and sharing.). I forgot a sun hat and moisturizer. On my wish list is a Sunto watch with an altimeter and Lowe mountaineering boots.
I once said, when I get married, it will be on a mountain summit and whoever can make it up, is welcome to attend. After this experience, I recognize the guest list will be very small.
Thank you for supporting me in this amazing memorable experience. Adventure 1 of the season complete, now to New York for the wedding.
More photos to come after teammates post.