KL Day 1: Whitney Portal to Crabtree Meadow; Hitchcock, Newcomb, Chamberlin

Endless ridge toward Hitchcock

Endless ridge toward Hitchcock

Racing down to Lone Pine after tagging Red and White Mountain, I made it to the visitor center late and was happy to snag the last Whitney entry permit. After stuffing various foodstuffs into my rented bear canister in the McDonalds parking lot, I crashed in the Alabama Hills, having already packed my sleeping bag, then drove up to the Portal in the morning. Just for the heck of it, I hung my pack from the trailhead scale, which reported 37 lbs. (including 1-2 liters of water) — not bad for 7 days.

Putting on some music, I took the old Whitney trail to the new one, then cruised up the endless switchbacks. I started passing wag bags below the switchbacks, and Whitney hikers shortly thereafter. I reached Trail Crest in about 3h30, poked my head into the wind blasting through the gap, then retreated to leave the trail and pick my way around the sheltered side of Discovery Pinnacle.

Somewhat suboptimally, I chose to tag Hitchcock first. Traversing south of the ridge, I followed a line of ducks, then left them as they descended toward Crabtree Lakes. This side of ridge is easy but endless, an obstacle course of boulders and sand common to this part of the Sierra. I eventually reached a chute dropping to Hitchcock Lakes, where I dropped my pack before scrambling to the summit, which sees regular traffic from the Crabtree ranger. Returning to my pack, I dropped southwest down sand to the big Crabtree Lake, then took out my daypack for an extended excursion to Newcomb and Chamberlin.

I knew nothing about routes on these peaks, but I spied a chute that appeared to lead to the ridge near Newcomb. It worked, though there were some utterly horrid loose sections, and I soon found myself on the easy side of the peak a short distance west of the summit. I turned west toward Chamberlin, and was surprised to find that the easy side became non-easy in the middle. Dropping down to easier terrain was too painful to contemplate. This section turned out to include some fun class 3, with a bit of block maze and some tunnels and catwalks.

Passing over Chamberlin’s summit, I continued to a chute I had seen across Crabtree Lake, and found encouraging footprints leading down. The chute worked, but was not as nice as I had hoped, with far less skiable sand and scree than I had thought to find.

Once again carrying my heavy pack, I picked up increasingly well-established bits of trail leading down along the lakes. I met a group of backpackers at one who had come in via Meysan Lake and the hideous death-chute between Irvine and Mallory, having failed to acquire a Whitney Permit to come in over the slightly less hideous Arc Pass. We chatted for awhile, and I gave them a few pointers on coming out Russell-Carillon Col. Anticipating a long next day, I did the extra miles to Lower Crabtree Meadow, found a maintained trail, and hiked upstream to the Crabtree bear box (not all my food fit in my bear can yet). I stowed my trail mix, cooked dinner and, after reading until my hand was too cold to hold the book (about 10 minutes), turned in embarrassingly early.

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