A green mountaineer returns to spiller to give it a whorl

2-3 Aug 2003 - by Richard Steele

As the title implies, this was my second trip to Whorl Mountain, and I started at Green Creek, crossed Virginia Pass, traversed upper Return Creek, crossed into Spiller Creek via Twin Peaks Pass, and then up Whorl Mountain from there via the convoluted SE Face route. This was my second trip up Whorl. Readers of this board will remember that I was turned back below the chockstone two years ago due to a nasty exposed traverse I wasn't willing to attempt. This time my luck was better.

I was hiking with my friend Dave, who had not done much cross-country travel and, as I would discover, wasn't super comfortable with it. We left the Green Creek Trailhead Saturday morning for the five mile hike to Virginia Pass. I chose this approach because I had never done it, whereas I have been up Horse Creek Canyon many times in summer, fall and winter. Green Creek is a longer approach, but crosses some spectacular terrain. Green Creek itself reminds me more of Colorado with its rounded reddish summits than sharp Sierra granite. Wildflowers were aplenty all along the route.

There is a very good use trail all the way to Virginia Pass. To reach it, ignore the signs two miles in telling you to turn left towards Green Lake. Instead, turn right and head towards West Lake. About 1/4 mile after this junction, there is another fork. The sign points right to West Lake, and a trail branches left and descends towards the NW shore of Green Lake. This is the Virginia Pass trail -- easy class 1 hiking the entire way to the pass.

Stormy weather obscured our views at the pass. Shepherd Crest was socked in, as was Twin Peaks. Virginia Peak moved in and out of the clouds, but looked impressive from this vantage point nonetheless. We traversed downward into Virginia Canyon, where many deer and wildflowers were in full display. We aimed for the waterfall at the head of the canyon which drains the bowl north of Virginia Peak. Ascend the slabs to the left of the waterfall to keep the difficulty to class 2. From there, it is a talus slog to the saddle, known as "Twin Peaks Pass".

The clouds dropped down on us as we reached the pass, reducing visibility to about 30 feet. We didn't see the supposed easy class 2 route down the Spiller Creek side of the saddle, so we dropped straight down some very loose chutes. We were unavoidably kicking down rocks which catapulted off the cliffs into Spiller Canyon below. This terrified Dave, who thought he would share the rocks' fate. The rocks were quite slippery, but I talked him down from the chutes, into the unstable talus field, and ultimately into the grassy meadows near Horse Creek Pass. We made camp here during a break in the rain. The clouds never lifted, so we bagged no summits that day.

The next morning early, I left for Whorl solo. After his experience on the pass, I knew Dave wouldn't make it up this steep mountainside. Following the obvious bench from Horse Creek Pass, I angled upwards towards the three chutes discussed in virtually all other trip reports from this face, including mine from 2001. On my last trip, I found the correct chute described by Secor, and successfully found my way from there into the middle chute. But crossing from here into the chockstone chute is where I made my error last time. I crossed too early and ended up atop the nasty traverse. This time, I continued up the middle chute almost to the top, where an easy sandy ledge crossed over to the base of the chockstone.

The chockstone was free of snow, and I was able to tunnel under it quite easily. From here, one climbs up to the right to gain the ridge. Cross over to the west face and follow the unbelievable "sidewalk" along the west face up to the summit area. From here, it was an easy scramble to the summit. I couldn't find any other entries in the register from 2003, so perhaps I was the first up this year? This is a great peak with a fantastic view, and I'm surprised it isn't climbed more often.

Here's an annotated summit panorama from the top of the Whorl (Warning: this is a LARGE file to download).

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