Winter Ascent of the Complete North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak from the Owens Valley.
All we have is two maybe three days, which is pushing it for a winter climb in the Sierra. Discussing possible objectives, we talked about going up for a look at the Death Couloir, but easily came up with several reasons to cross that off the list. With only two or three days, we thought we would aim for something adjacent to the Owens Valley. Lone Pine Peak (LPP) immediately came to mind. We thought of the alpine routes on the South Face (SF), but we decided they would require more time before they come into condition. A couple years ago Scotty and I found an amazing mixed route on the SFLPP that opened our eyes to the winter potential that exists back there. On the north side, the super classic North Ridge route came to mind. We decided that if we signed up for the complete North Ridge of LPP (CNRLPP) out of the Owens Valley we might make our mothers proud. Additionally, if we could do it in a push without bivy gear, maybe our fathers would be proud too, especially if we could drag our asses back down in time for the Super Bowl!
So here we were, the weather looked great and we were on our way. There was one more thing, Nate had recently given himself a mohawk and was looking quite badass. So in an effort to up our badassness, Scotty and I decided to stop at Party City for additional equipment. The outcome was far from expected. Scotty went for a Nasa Space helmet (mainly because it looked warm) and some scissors in case he would need to cut the rope. I came across a Viking helmet that made me want to kick the shit out of anyone that gave me a cross eye and I had a sword to back that up. Nate settled for a pirate hat and sword in case his mohawk became de-spiked.
We pulled into the Lone Pine Campground which is situated near the base of the CNRLPP off Whitney Portal Road and got geared up. It was 2:00 in the afternoon and we were leaving at 10:30 pm that night. After fucking around and having sword fights we crashed out and had what I would like to call a long “nap”.
Our strategy was as follows: cruise up the easy stuff at night and brew up as soon as we reached the technical sections. Easy enough except we started hitting some problem areas around 9500 feet on the lower ridge and it was only 1:00 am. We passed obstacles on the right side for a while and then got pushed down into some nasty gullies and slabs. One previous trip report said to follow “ledges” which we found quite difficult to make out in the dark. The Viking, Pirate and Astronaut pressed on but were becoming agitated. At one point the Pirate got stuck on an icy traverse and instead of helping, the Viking and Astronaut started badgering him by throwing objects in his direction and yelling obscenities.
Upward progress led to better position and we soon were moving quickly up the ridge crest. A nice flat spot came upon us at 5:00 in the morning and without a word said we settled in for a much needed brew stop. I got a great nap in that lasted about three and half minutes before my ass fell asleep and my legs and feet became cold. The Pirate and Astronaut somehow lied there motionless as if they had been ejected off the set of a terrible movie. I slowly began the snow melting operation in an effort to generate some heat. After I was finished up we had some instant mashed potatoes, cheese and bacon. Before the trip I fried two pounds of bacon to munch on. I figured it would offer up lots of calories and divine snacking which it certainly lived up to. Morning light soon revealed the rest of the days obstacles that loomed high above and we decided to get moving. We still had quite a ways to go in order reach the beginning of the North Ridge proper route.
We made it a few hundred feet before the Astronaut radioed to Houston that he would need a belay. Interesting slab and hand-traverse pitches unfolded in front of us and we managed to wind through without too much trouble. Memorable knife edged sections went on for hundreds of feet and soon the Pirate, Astronaut and Viking reached the beginning of the North Ridge proper, it was 11:00 am. We attacked just as your imagination would expect a Viking, a Pirate and an Astronaut to do so. We found it much easier to stay on the ridge crest despite the beta calling for detours off the ridge which, in winter, were sketchy gullies and slabs covered in ice and snow. We simuled the whole route in four or five mega pitches, busting our lungs up the summit headwall in one huge pitch, and summitted at 5:30 pm. We had been going for over 19 hours.
On the summit, we ate what we thought was the rest of our food, snapped some photos and looked for the summit register which we never ended up finding. The sun sunk behind the Sierra crest and we started getting really cold and decided it was time to go. There was one problem: we were not sure which way to descend. I argued the Meysen Drainage but the Astronaut and Pirate said the Tuttle Creek descent was quicker. Fatigue prevented me from making a worthwhile case so down to Tuttle Creek we went. After moving off the summit plateau we encountered massive postholing while coming down the eastern gullies. Hours and hours later we finally left the snow behind us and started pushing down the brushy and sandy slopes.
Pirate’s comment: Scotty and I were beyond wasted at this point, lagging a few hundred feet behind Charles, who charged downward postholing in waste-deep snow. I was operating at about 20% both mind and body, splitting headache, stumbling down the deep footprints, and wanted to fall asleep in my posthole many times. Charles gets a lot of credit for keeping us moving.
At one point we found a large rock overhang and decided to have a brew stop, it was about 11:00 pm. We were all starving so we decided to see if there had been any overlooked food. When to our delight, someone produced a chunk of butter and a single serving serving of instant mashed potatoes. After gobbling down the potatoes (2-bite rule) we tried to nap but it was just too cold. Up and at it again we finally dropped out into the Owens Valley and realized we were nowhere near the car. Using my Blackberry I was able to pull up a Google map that showed the Lone Pine Campground was a LONG way off. Try five miles! After an ENDLESS desert slog we made it back to the car at 3:00 am. Some beer and combos capped off the climb and we soon crashed. The next morning we hauled ass back to San Diego and caught the end of the first quarter of the Superbowl. Mission accomplished.