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#2358 - 02/17/10 12:36 PM So, you want to climb the Mountaineer's Route in winter?
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7209
Loc: Fresno, CA
This was first posted by Bob R in 2005 (and updated in 2010), and it deserves to be posted again. So here it is...
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

So, you want to climb the Mountaineer's Route in winter?

I always cringe when I read such questions as "I plan to do the Mountaineer's Route next week; do I need a rope or crampons?" Or "Should I go up a chute or take the traverse?" Or "What's the avalanche danger?" Or any of a number of similar questions, most of which have only subjective answers.

By my count I have climbed the MR over 30 times, a goodly number of them being winter ascents. So I know it pretty well.

I cannot say it more clearly than this: The MR in winter is a prime example of something that only experienced mountaineers, who are skilled in technical winter mountaineering, should undertake. Note that winter conditions can extend into spring, and even as late as July. You need both the background to know what to do and how to do it, and the breadth and depth of experience with ice ax, crampons, and snow and ice rope work, to be able to do it safely. You must have practiced self-arrests repetitively, and you need to have the maturity, wisdom, and foresight to back off or change your plan if you find yourself over your head. Most often the situation is not this severe, but you always need to be ready for it. Climbing the MR in summer will not prepare you, nor will winter hiking with the occasional use of crampons and ice ax under benign conditions.

One caveat: There is nothing wrong with going with someone—such as a reliable guide service or a qualified and responsible friend—who does have the skill, experience, and equipment, and who will make sure you do the right things and protect you if necessary.

The MR is much shorter than the trail, and that means it's much steeper. There have been many more people killed on the MR than the trail, even though it has far less activity. If one guesses the danger of death on the trail to be X, then it is my opinion that the danger of death on the MR is at least 20X and may be of the order of 100X.

Skilled winter mountaineers have been injured or have died there, but it is safe to say that far more relative novices have suffered those fates. I am not sitting in judgment on the two recent fatalities, because I do not know their mountaineering backgrounds. Perhaps they were fully qualified and just unlucky, but I read some things in the accounts that I would never, ever, do myself. In any case, these incidents are truly tragic, and—while we cannot have the depth of sorrow and loss of their families and friends—we who go into these mountains always feel a special anguish when a tragedy occurs in the high places we love so much.

Sometimes similar questions on this board are legitimately posed by people who do have the skills and experience, and they are simply trying to get data on current conditions. But if you are asking because you really don't know what the climb entails, you are cautioned to do easier winter mountain ascents first. A whole lot of them.

One immense problem with these message boards is that you usually don't know the background or qualifications of those who post. It goes both ways. If, to a question about the MR, someone gives an answer, how do you know to trust what they say? Moreover, how can someone give such advice when they don't know the background of the one asking the question in the first place?

These issues are also valid for summer ascents, but are particularly important for winter. Not only are accidents more likely in winter, but the outcome is apt to be far more serious.

Unfortunately, many people approach this climb too casually. If you think I am being an alarmist, catch me out there someday and I will tell you a few stories.

-----

I want to elaborate on the caveat expressed above. When I said it was OK to go with an experienced friend, I meant someone you know and are confident of their judgment. An AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) guide is ideal. Going with a person you don't know, but because of reputation you are sure is qualified, is usually still OK. That's because it's a compact situation: one leader and one follower.

When the numbers get bigger, all bets are off. An excellent climber is one thing; a climber who has the knowledge, skills, experience, and maturity to lead several novices safely up and back down is quite another. The operative word in this case is leadership; climbing ability is secondary.

If you're a novice thinking of signing on with a person of unknown leadership qualifications, you need to make sure your life insurance is up to date. And if you have experience and are thinking of taking on the responsibility for several strangers on a potentially deadly climb, you need to make sure your liability insurance is sufficient.

The Mountaineer's Route, especially in winter, is not a forgiving place. People, who are new to this type of climbing and must depend on others, need to choose those others very carefully.


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#2361 - 02/17/10 07:23 PM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: Steve C]
+ @ti2d Offline


Registered: 10/22/09
Posts: 801
Loc: Oh Cursed, USA
Heed the need...

Know before you go...

Have fun.
_________________________
Have fun and enjoy the Gr8 Yd Opn.

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#2363 - 02/17/10 08:17 PM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer’s Route in winter? [Re: MooseTracks]
Rod Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 660
Loc: Santa Clarita, Ca. USA
First of all I want to thank Bob R for posting what is absolutely right on.I agree that if you have to even ask some of the questions asked re. the MR then you probably have no business going up it. ESPECIALLY in winter conditions where technical knowledge,experience,and equipment(assuming the knowledge of what to use, when, and where) are essential for survival.
Thanks Steve for reposting it.You know it won't be long before the stupid questions (stupid as in they don't know enough to ask the right questions or technical ability to understand the answer) start being asked repetitively).

Bee since you are so buff I may have you rope me up.Don't mind if I don't pull my own weight.

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#2368 - 02/18/10 08:26 AM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: Rod]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
This all goes back to our MMWT discussions. I want what I want when I want it.

I'm all for folks going up the MR in the winter as far as their skills take them. My guess is my skills would allow me to reach UBSL, which I would find more than interesting.

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#2369 - 02/18/10 09:49 AM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: Steve C]
Bulldog34 Offline


Registered: 11/12/09
Posts: 1254
Loc: Atlanta
Steve, just so you know - I read this entire thing before I noticed the sentence at the very top about it being a BobR reprint. I assumed you wrote it, and I'm thinking, "Damn - 30 MR ascents! That Steve is a beast - I wonder if BobR has been up that many times?" . . .

And it's excellent advice. I've been watching some of the recent questions on WPSMB and here, and can only shake my head. Statistics just waiting to be tallied. Takes a helluva lot more than a shiny new ice axe and a desire to do something big. In so many ways I think we're witnessing the demise of common sense in the 21st Century.

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#2370 - 02/18/10 09:53 AM Re: So, you want to climb the MR in winter? [Re: wbtravis]
Bulldog34 Offline


Registered: 11/12/09
Posts: 1254
Loc: Atlanta
Originally Posted By: wbtravis
I'm all for folks going up the MR in the winter as far as their skills take them. My guess is my skills would allow me to reach UBSL, which I would find more than interesting.


Assuming winter, I'd wave bye-bye to you somewhere around LBSL. Or possibly even lower on the North Fork . . .

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#2375 - 02/18/10 10:06 PM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: wagga]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
Well, contrary to popular opinion: Magical Crocodile Gaiters and Desire are not enough to keep you alive on Class 3/4 @ 14k in the winter.....Damn...click-click-click "There is no place like Whitney summit via Mountaineers Route".....
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#2376 - 02/18/10 10:21 PM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: Bulldog34]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Originally Posted By: Bulldog34
Originally Posted By: wbtravis
I'm all for folks going up the MR in the winter as far as their skills take them. My guess is my skills would allow me to reach UBSL, which I would find more than interesting.


Assuming winter, I'd wave bye-bye to you somewhere around LBSL. Or possibly even lower on the North Fork . . .


LBSL ain't all that hard with a day pack and the view to USBL told me it was well within my skill set...which has increased over the last 4 years.

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#2377 - 02/18/10 10:22 PM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: Bee]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Originally Posted By: Bee
Well, contrary to popular opinion: Magical Crocodile Gaiters and Desire are not enough to keep you alive on Class 3/4 @ 14k in the winter.....Damn...click-click-click "There is no place like Whitney summit via Mountaineers Route".....


Do they have a separate Smithsonian Hut for the MR? Is that where Starbucks moved?

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#2378 - 02/18/10 10:43 PM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: wbtravis]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7209
Loc: Fresno, CA
wbtravis wrote:
> LBSL ain't all that hard with a day pack and the view to USBL told me it was well within my skill set...which has increased over the last 4 years.

For that matter, I wouldn't hesitate taking beginners all the way to Iceberg Lake. It's just a walk, (except for the weather, altitude and snow issues) especially in winter when people can go over the snow instead of climbing the Ebersbacher Ledges.

However, one group did get into avalanche trouble when they camped in the low area below Iceberg during or shortly after a storm. They got out ok, but the avalanche semi-buried them in their tents.

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#2379 - 02/18/10 10:57 PM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: Steve C]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7209
Loc: Fresno, CA
Here's the avalanche report that Ken posted several years ago. His source was the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center, but I can't find it now.

Quote:
Here's one from 2006, on the Mountaineer's Route:

Brief Account from 4 Climbers Who Survived Whitney Avalanche:

Four climbers survived an avalanche below Iceberg Lake on April 4th. Climbers began ascent of Mt. Whitney on April 2nd in good weather. Climbers checked forecast which predicted snow before departing. Climbers were not aware of a severe winter storm warning if in fact one had been issued by then. Climbers ascended the Mountaineers Route, camping in the drainage on the first night. Climbers ascended to below Iceberg Lake on April 3rd. Weather conditions deteriorated during the afternoon and early evening, with light snow and winds, sometimes gusting. Camp was set on one side of a small gully, providing some protection from the wind.

Weather conditions worsened during the night of April 3rd with constant snow and increasing winds. Upon awaking on the morning of April 4th, climbers were confronted with high winds and near white-out conditions.. Climbers decided to descend. Upon dressing, climbers ate and made water inside the tent because of the wind. As climbers were preparing to leave the tent, there was a tremendous gust of wind and, within seconds, the entire tent was buried in an avalanche.

When the avalanche ended, Climber 1 was nearest the surface, approximately 2.5 feet from it, and able to move his arms above his head. Climber 2 was beneath Climber 1, under several feet of snow and unable to move much. Climbers 3 and 4 were pinned together beneath Climber 2. Climber 1 punched through to the surface, climbed out, and began excavating the hole from which he emerged with his hands (shovels and other gear were buried). Climber 2 was able to talk and provided direction. After many minutes of digging by Climber 1, Climber 2 was able to free himself and move up out of the hole.

Once freed, Climber 2 did not exit the hole right away, though, concerned that the hole would collapse and suffocate the climbers below. Climber 2 communicated with Climber 3, and immediately began excavating the hole further with assistance from Climber 1. The excavation freed Climber 3, and Climbers 2 and 3 then climbed out. Climber 4 then climbed out following Climber 3. During the entire self rescue, climbers attempted to control their breathing and remain calm. Climbers believe that the tent structure may have created small air pockets and that the loose snow may have played a role in allowing enough oxygen to the climbers below.

Once all four climbers were on the surface, they recovered two sets of snow shoes and began their descent. Climbers descended in white out conditions. Heavy winds with gusts they estimate at 70 mph or more frequently pinned them to the slopes. Snow was heavy, and climbers without snowshoes post-holed often. Climbers rotated lead and attempted to descend through rocky areas to avoid triggering more avalanches. Climbers crossed avalanche prone slopes one at a time when crossing them was unavoidable. Climbers nonetheless triggered a small avalanche on the descent, from the top of a small chute, which the lead climber rode down.

Climbers hope this account helps others and are grateful to be alive.


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#2380 - 02/19/10 07:30 AM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: Steve C]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Originally Posted By: Steve C
For that matter, I wouldn't hesitate taking beginners all the way to Iceberg Lake. It's just a walk, (except for the weather, altitude and snow issues) especially in winter when people can go over the snow instead of climbing the Ebersbacher Ledges.


If your plan is to do the MR in the summer, the winter is a great time to go up and take a peak a ledges and to ascertain their location. That was one of the purposes of our trip up there.

My guess is getting to LBSL is a lot easier and safer in the winter than in the summer

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#2381 - 02/19/10 01:42 PM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: Steve C]
KevinR Offline


Registered: 11/03/09
Posts: 578
Loc: Manchester, NH
Quote:
Here's one from 2006, on the Mountaineer's Route:
... Climbers checked forecast which predicted snow before departing. Climbers were not aware of a severe winter storm warning if in fact one had been issued by then.


Some of the small hand-held Motorola radios have a weather radio feature. Pressing the "+" for 3 seconds switches it to weather mode, and then pressing the + or - buttons moves up down the dial after pressing the Menu key.

While you can't depend upon this feature working in every location, knowing how to use it and checking it from time-to-time may help keep you informed.

Also - winter storms don't "sneak up" on you like a summer thunderstorm. They're often predicted several days ahead of time as they move off the Pacific. The intensity and track of each storm is better known a day or two before it moves onshore, but with a bit of planning there shouldn't be too many surprises on a trip lasting 3 or 4 days.

When at elevation - assume that any winter storm will produce large amounts of snow.

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#3344 - 03/31/10 10:21 PM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: KevinR]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7209
Loc: Fresno, CA
The original post by Bob R has been enhanced due to this spring's hiking plans by some.

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#3365 - 04/01/10 07:20 PM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: Steve C]
Rod Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 660
Loc: Santa Clarita, Ca. USA
There is just so much experience and wisdom in BobR's post.Thanks again BobR and Steve for keeping it alive.

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#29319 - 12/05/12 01:43 PM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer [Re: wbtravis]
Bob West Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 775
Loc: Bishop, CA, USA
Sounds like you are encouraging winter MR trips...? I hope not; too many wannabe climbers are reading this thread.

One snow February, four of us were just about to LBSL when the snow slope we were on suddenly, with a loud crack, slid down about three feet and stopped. We retreated from the area and went to Telescope Peak instead...a lot wiser and safer.

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#29320 - 12/05/12 01:50 PM Re: So, you want to climb the Mountaineer's Route in winter? [Re: Steve C]
Bob West Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 775
Loc: Bishop, CA, USA
Thanks for re-posting Bob R's caution, Steve. (As I read it, a local SAR helicopter flew over our house, headig for the Bishop Creek area.)

Unfortunately, there will be posters who appear to encourage climbing the MR in winter. Question is, do the readers (whose qualifications we do not know) know the qualifications and leadship abilities of those posters who encourage winter ascents in our local mountains?






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