Larry Baugher and I left San Jose about 3 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 8 and drove to Lone Pine the long way -- 5 to 58 to 14 to 395. We stopped at the Lone Pine ranger station to get a self-issue permit and read about trail conditions. There was a notice warning climbers to beware of the mountaineer's route, recommending the use of an ice axe and warning about gravel on ice. We arrived at Whitney Portal (8,400 feet) a little before midnight.
Our hike up the Whitney trail began at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday. Right from the beginning, there were patches of fresh snow on the trail a fraction of an inch deep. There were a few large patches of ice on the trail that required care to cross. Mirror Lake was already frozen. In fact all the high lakes were at least mostly frozen. We arrived at the high camp (12,040 feet) near Consultation Lake in the early afternoon. We moved slowly because our heavy packs contained full winter and rock climbing gear.
At 7 a.m. on Sunday we began our climb of Mt. Muir. We had gotten several reports about this peak -- some people said it was a piece of cake and some said it was class four. We took no chances and carried slings, carabiners, harnesses and a 160 foot 11 mm rope, which proved to be too much gear! A few minutes from camp, we started our march up the seemingly endless switchbacks. One of my guide books says there are 95. A few minutes later we crossed the dynamited section found that the wire fence provided needed security since this entire section was covered with slippery ice.
A fraction of a mile beyond the trail crest, we spotted the cairn which marks the spot to begin the ascent of Muir. Muir appears as the tallest of the pinnacles en route to Whitney, making this cairn unnecessary. Most of the climb was a very short and easy class 2 scramble. The final hundred feet or so were more nearly vertical and required three difficult and exposed class 3 moves. On the way down, there was one move in which I needed Larry's help to mantle down and find the proper hold for my boot. It took us about an hour to make the climb from the trail and back. In order to insure an early return, we avoided the temptation to finish the trail, which ends on the top of Mt. Whitney.
After returning to camp, we quickly packed and hiked out, making it back to our van after dark. We slept at Whitney Portal and woke up early Monday morning to a light rain. The Sierras were covered with clouds by then and we were convinced that we had barely beaten out the winter storms. This was my second climb with Larry and our second successful ascent of a 14'er (last summer we climbed Split).