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Failing to get a permit from the Forest Service to climb this peak during the upcoming Sierra Challenge in August (the shortest route unfortunately shares much of the approach with the ever popular Mt. Whitney Trail), Matthew and I decided to climb this following our long outing to Stanford/Ericcson rather than take a rest day as we had originally planned. This new plan had been hatched only when I woke up in the morning at the motel in Lone Pine shortly before 8a, and I wasn't even sure Matthew would go for it. I was getting ready to run out the door and see if I could get a permit when Matthew woke up and agreed to the plan, all within about 30 seconds of waking up. Gotta like quick thinkers. I had no trouble securing the dayhike permit even though it was a Saturday, early June not being a busy time. In normal years there would still be considerable snow on the Whitney Trail, but this year there was very little left to contend with.
We had one of our latest starts ever, not starting from Whitney Portal until a quarter to ten in the morning. The ranger issuing the permit had even commented, "You're not going to the top, are you?", to which I replied, "No, we're going to Mt. Hitchcock." I don't know if he didn't believe me or had no idea where Mt. Hitchcock was, but his only reply was a blank look as he handed me the permit. With light daypacks (mine was only a fanny pack), we headed up the old start of the Mt. Whitney Trail west of the Portal Store. Ten minutes late we met up with the main trail at the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, where Matthew converted his pants into shorts as the day was already growing warm.
An hour later we were at Outpost Camp where there were only three or four tents set up. I had thought we'd have passed a good number of folks by this time, but either they had left for the summit long ago or it was just a particularly light weekend. So far, we'd seen nobody heading to the summit, just a few backpackers. By noon we had reached Trail Camp, and though there were more tents here, it was still pretty light. As we began the climb up the switchbacks to Trail Crest, we finally passed a few parties on their way to Whitney. There was very little snow left on the trail, only in few places where it lingers much of the summer and the Forest Service has installed cables for handrails. At the very last switchback we left the trail at its eastern end, heading up for Discovery Pass.
It was an easy class 2 boulder hop to the pass, in fact it was pretty much class 2 all the way to Hitchcock. The ridgeline connecting Discovery Pass to Mt. Hitchcock is straightforward and easy to follow, but it is pretty long and has several intermediate highpoints along the way. It took us almost exactly an hour to cover the distance, though it seemed much longer. Much of the time was spent avoiding the intermediate points and trying to find the fastest route through the maze of rock on the south side of the ridge. Some sections had sandy ledges that would go quickly, but then would dissolve into a field of rather large blocks of granite that could not be treated lightly. Matthew was ahead of me as we finally reached the last saddle before the summit. Matthew headed directly to the summit, while I gave it a wide berth around the west side, thinking it was yet another local highpoint. I ended up spiraling around and reached the summit from the northwest side where I found Matthew lounging atop the uppermost block.
The views weren't all that great, as the backside of Whitney and the Sierra crest to the east is least impressive from this vantage. I studied the view to Mts. Hale and Young to the north that I planned to climb in August, took in the views of the Kaweahs to the west, and the Kings-Kern Divide to the northwest.
Returning the way we came, Matthew decided he'd rather get back to the Portal Store for a cheeseburger than pay a visit to Mt. Marsh, a peak that doesn't appear on the maps since it was only fairly recent that it was officially named. Located between Discovery Pinnacle and Mt. McAdie along the crest, I'd heard of the peak some years ago and was interested in seeing the old register that was reported to be found there according to the trip report I'd read. So we parted ways, Matthew heading north to the Whitney Trail, myself to the south towards Mt. Marsh. Once I reached the crest and began the traverse along it, I was surprised to find that it was both difficult and highly enjoyable. With several short class 4 sections and the rest mostly class 3, it seemed to offer a little bit of everything. There was boulder suspended between two others with nothing but air underneath, making a natural bridge to be crossed. At one pinnacle that I couldn't possibly get over, I found a tunnel at the base of it to let me get through to the other side. There was a knife-edged section and some vertical downclimbs, along with a good dose of route-finding trickery. I was surprised that I had never heard of this interesting traverse before, particularly considering its proximity to the Mt. Whitney Trail. It was certainly one of the more interesting traverses I had encountered.
The interesting part ends at Whitney Pass where it becomes mostly class 2 with a bit of class 3 as one makes the ascent from the pass up to the summit. I arrived shortly after 4:30p and was disappointed to find no register anywhere about the summit. I found the views much better than on Hitchcock, with a great view of McAdie immediately to the south, the high peaks to the west around Mt. Pickering, and of course the Sierra crest crowned by Mt. Whitney to the north. Mt Irvine dominates the view to the east.
Thinking I might still have time to join Matthew at the Portal Store, I decided to see if I couldn't make it back before the last order is taken at 7:30p. I beat a retreat back to Whitney Pass, then headed down the broad chute towards Consultation Lake. At the time I didn't know this was Whitney Pass, and I didn't know if I'd be able to get around the north side of Consultation Lake once at the bottom. It looked like there were cliffs there, but it seemed my most direct route back to the Whitney Trail, faster than reversing the route all the way back to Discovery Pass. Thankfully there was no snow in the upper part of the chute as I had no axe or crampons. The slope was sandy in some places, hard compacted dirt in others, and I had to be somewhat careful in bootskiing down. I could not charge down with abandon as I might on a sandier slope, but had to make sure I didn't get up too much momentum as I hit one of the unforgiving compacted sections. Lower on the slope there snow on the shaded south side, and I kept a path down the junction of the two where the ground was generally saturated and less compacted. Seeing that the chute funneled down to narrow, steep section at the bottom, still filled with snow, I traversed left into another chute that took me down to the lake's edge.
As I suspected, the north side of the lake was blocked by cliffs. The walk around the boulders on the south side looked long and tedious. Where the cliffs broke away from the lake and ran up one side of the chute I'd just descended, I spied a possible route through to the plateau above. I was happy to find that the route through the cliff was not a dead end, and though it was a bit spicy in places, it felt pretty safe and was even a good deal of fun. Once above the cliff, it was an easy matter of a few ups and downs across the broken plateau heading north until I reached the Whitney Trail just below Trail Camp. From here on I made excellent time, jogging down most of the trail. There were a good deal more parties that I passed on the way down than we had passed on the way up. It was 6:45p when I got back to the store, only two hours after leaving the summit of Marsh and 45 minutes before my deadline. I found Matthew inside the store, having just placed his order a few minutes earlier. We sat out on the deck eating our burgers and fries, ironically the only place all week that we were bothered by mosquitoes. They must be as smart as bears I reckoned - knowing where to hang out for a free meal...
In Jun 2014 I received an email from Craig Barlow who had recently climbed Mt. Marsh. He writes: I climbed Mt. Marsh this past weekend and found a great old register at the summit. I read your trip report where you said you didn't find one so it must have been hidden away pretty well. There is a standard Sierra Club aluminum cylinder now that contained a small metal container with the old register inside it. The old paper was in great condition from 1940 with a Chester Versteeg signature.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Hitchcock
This page last updated: Wed Jun 17 16:42:45 2015
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