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East Face

5.7, Trad, Alpine, 1000 ft, 10 pitches, Grade III,  Avg: 3.5 from 167 votes
FA: Underhill, Eichorn, Dawson, Clyde. 1931.
California > High Sierra > 14 - Whitney &… > Mt Whitney
Access Issue: Certain Peaks: Access limited from May to October every year Details


From Iceberg Lake, scramble up to the notch just above the First Tower. Gear up.

Make the Tower Traverse across the south face of the Second Tower, and climb a short chimney (5.4-5.5) to the first belay.

Scramble or simul climb up three pitches of 4th - easy 5th to the top of the Washboard. Climb left up and over a tower/chimney (5.2-5.5) to a large ledge, and traverse to the base of the Fresh Air Traverse.

The Fresh Air Traverse pitch (5.5) climbs easy ground up then left to three fixed pitons. Enter and belay in a chimney. The traverse is exposed and fun. From the ledge, do not traverse directly left. Climb up blocky ground first.

Once in the chimney, climb up the Grand Staircase for 3 pitches, to the 5.6-5.7 offwidth pitch(es). This is the crux, then its easy ground up and right to the summit.

Be quick, efficient, and be careful of your rope - watch rockfall, for your team and others.


One set of cams, 1-2 sets of nuts. Helmet!!!

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Early morning alpenglow
[Hide Photo] Early morning alpenglow
At the end of the FAT. Kats first alpine climb, first multi pitch, first 14r, first car to car, first time climbing with a pack, first big-time exposure, and one of her first days on the rock in general. A real trial by fire, and proudly sent clean, excepting the dirty words emitted.
[Hide Photo] At the end of the FAT. Kats first alpine climb, first multi pitch, first 14r, first car to car, first time climbing with a pack, first big-time exposure, and one of her first days on the rock in ge…
Tower Traverse!
[Hide Photo] Tower Traverse!
View from Iceberg Lake of the route, w/ line drawn of East Face.
[Hide Photo] View from Iceberg Lake of the route, w/ line drawn of East Face.
East Face of Whitney
[Hide Photo] East Face of Whitney
The beginning of the fresh air traverse
[Hide Photo] The beginning of the fresh air traverse
Harz following the Fresh Air Traverse
[Hide Photo] Harz following the Fresh Air Traverse
View from the Fresh Air Traverse.  Exposed, but easy going.
[Hide Photo] View from the Fresh Air Traverse. Exposed, but easy going.
Tom Slater topping out above the "washboard", leaving the snow behind but going into the cold shadows.<br>
Photo Doug Englekirk.
[Hide Photo] Tom Slater topping out above the "washboard", leaving the snow behind but going into the cold shadows. Photo Doug Englekirk.
lost on the Fresh Air Traverse. Super easy when you find the correct line
[Hide Photo] lost on the Fresh Air Traverse. Super easy when you find the correct line
Looking down from the start of the Fresh Air Traverse
[Hide Photo] Looking down from the start of the Fresh Air Traverse
nearing the summit
[Hide Photo] nearing the summit

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

George Bell
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] Climbed this last September and enjoyed it. Check out our trip report

The first pitch traverses, and it could be difficult to reverse if it rains. This gives the route a greater feeling of commitment. After the Washboard, you can also go up a crack on the right (shown on SuperTopo) which is about 5.7 and good fun.

The "crux offwidth" section is protectable with smaller grear, but a #3 Camalot may be appreciated. It's a pumpy section and can be liebacked, probably the easiest technique if you don't run out of gas. This section, and the entire climb, was originally rated 5.4!

One good thing about doing it in a day (we did not) is that you can go down the trail rather than the Mtneers Route. This route is no cakewalk and has resulted in many accidents by unprepared hikers. I think 2 people were killed or seriously injured in 2005 alone. The problem with doing it in a day is that the approach is non-trivial in the dark. Jan 30, 2006
[Hide Comment] I did this route with Doug Englekirk in October of 2005. We did the Mountaineer's approach (not too bad). Nice sunny day. When we started my thermo said 57 degrees. The Washboard was covered in snow but we made it by OK. Some of the other pitches were iced up in the cracks. By the time we reached the last pitch my thermo read 34 degrees. Spidrift was pelting me in the face and my fingers were completely numb. With windchill (30+ mph winds) it was way into the 20's. We topped out to find the summit under 1-2' of snow. Nobody else had made a climbing ascent up the east face that day. We were alone on the summit. On our walk down we found the 96 switchbacks completely in the shadows and covered in snow/ice. We made it down the switchbacks (very delicately) by dark without crampons or ice axe but I'd bring an axe next time. Others that day were not so lucky. One pair slid down the steep slope above the switchbacks and one man died. The other was stranded and had to be rescued. They too had no ice axe or crampons but decided to glissade down. Bad choice. Feb 15, 2006
Oakland Park, Florida
[Hide Comment] This route is a good canidate for a car to car adventure. However, if you have never hiked the N fork of Lone pine creek do not take this approach for granted. For Pro we carried 1 set of stoppers, a few cams and many slings. The opportunity to sling natural protection is unbelievable. I thought the crux was the exit from the grand staircase. Be careful if desending the Mountaineers route, especially in the dark (you better have a headlamp.) Aug 21, 2006
Concord, CA
[Hide Comment] The "Washboard" can be done in 2 pitches with a 70m rope. However, if you do rope up on the washboard, it brings the total pitches to 13 or so.
I would also recommend an overnight at Iceberg Lake. Why rush this classic climb? From Iceberg one get's a great view of the East Face route.
Start early as sun only hits from sunrise to about 2PM in the summer months and belaying in the shade gets pretty chilly. Jul 3, 2007
Mike Dudley
[Hide Comment] Just climbed this last weekend. Awesome classic route. Bring lots of slings because there are tons of stuff you can sling for pro. Watch out for the thunderstorms, they tend to come from the West and being on the east face you can't see them untill they are on top of you. Enjoy! Jul 21, 2009
Brian Hench
Costa Mesa, CA
[Hide Comment] I thought the Tower Traverse and Fresh Air Traverse were memorable, but the rest of the pitches were not, except for the short crux chimney.

It's not as hard as it looks. There are many features inside the crack near the bottom and then outside near the top. Haul your packs using a bight of rope and it will be easy. Oct 6, 2009
Taylor Morgan
Draper, UT
[Hide Comment] A friend and I climbed the East Face last week. Classic, fun route - more route finding and 4th class than actual climbing, but a must-do in the Sierra.

We started late in the day and didn't top out until after dark. There was still snow at the Notch and on the Mountaineer's Route, so we spent a cold night in the summit hut. I would certainly recommend starting earlier in the day - there's no sunshine on the route after 2:00 PM.

Take one set of cams, one set of stoppers, and a dozen slings. Don't forget your headlamp and a lightweight down jacket! Jul 30, 2010
[Hide Comment] If you continue traversing past the "loose chimney with a good belay stance" which marks the end of the Fresh Air Traverse in the Supertopo, things get even more exciting... some of the best moves of the day. Initially move slightly up and left out onto a small ledge. These moves are probably more like 5.8 and the exposure is unmatched. Just like any moutain in the Sierra, lots of options... choose your own adventure. Aug 10, 2010
camtron Summers
Huntington Beach, Ca
[Hide Comment] The East Face is more of a Mountaineer's Route than the Mountaineer's Route. The route is mostly 4th and 3th with a coupe 10-15ft sections of real climbing. The "crux Chimney" was easy but very loose! The Mountaineer's Route was scary to go down and way more dangerous than the climb (maybe beacuse it rained the 4 days before). I brought 2sets of nuts maybe used 3, mostly super parallel alpine cracks. A Single set of cams will be fine, no need for any thin gear. Oct 18, 2011
Los Alamos, NM
[Hide Comment] Read up on the history of this route before you do it and think about it while you climb-- it will give a greater sense of presence and ambiance to your mission.

The traverse pitches are spicy and incredible (for being so "easy") and really make the route memorable. Jul 11, 2012
Chris Blanchard
Anacortes, WA
[Hide Comment] It's not talked about so I'm assuming it doesn't happen much .. How is the run out factor? May 3, 2013
Euan Cameron
Mammoth Lakes
[Hide Comment] There is no real run out factor. The only pitch that may grab your attention is the very first one since you step onto the route and have immediate exposure (lots of exposure) for a balancy traverse. May 4, 2013
Carlsbad CA
[Hide Comment] For a true ascent, only take 6-8 nuts. ;) the chimney/OW after the Fresh Air Traverse is very loose. Party above us almost killed us with rock fall. Needless to say we passed them as fast as we could on the grand staircase. be safe! Jun 26, 2014
[Hide Comment] Is this a good route for an intermediate climber? Always wanted to do this climb! Jul 17, 2014
leeds, ut
[Hide Comment] From a historical perspective it's an interesting route. The climbing, rock quality, and views, however, are better on the E Buttress. Sep 13, 2014
[Hide Comment] Hey guys! Getting ready to do this route soon. My climbing partner and I are on the extremely conservative side when it comes to pro. We like to be excessively safe. That being said, can anyone advise as to specific gear quantities and/or sizes that we'd need to safely execute this climb?

The ambiguity of "Full Rack and a set of nuts" isn't exactly a recipe for posterity.

Any pictures or lists are hugely appreciated! Aug 8, 2015
Phil Esra
[Hide Comment] The gear would completely depend on your own specific approach to "excessively safe." The route is very low angle, with lots of ledges, so there are many places where a piece will only protect you for a very short distance before you are theoretically at risk of hitting a ledge if you fall. I think you'd have to be an extremely fast climber to be able to really sew this route up and still top out before dark.

There are lots of features and cracks, so you don't need a really specific rack--there are a lot of options. But by my definition of excessive, you would want double Camalots from #.5 through #3. Then add a double set of Mastercams from blue/yellow through orange/red. Throw in a single yellow non-offset Mastercam too. Add a full set of regular nuts, BD #4-#13, plus a full set of DMM offsets. If starting your rack from scratch, get double DMMs instead and skip some of the middle BD nuts. You can probably get by with only single #4 and #13 nuts.

Then lay out a 16-week training plan leading up to the climb. (Hal Higdon's marathon training website can provide a good basic structure.) Prior to starting the plan, you should have decent baseline fitness, and should not be more than 15 lbs above your ideal weight and no more than 12% body fat (assuming an average build/frame and height).

Week 1 should end with a short hike on a well maintained surface with a 20-lb pack. Gradually increase the steepness, amount of scrambling, and pack weight. Ratchet everything up for 2 weeks and fall back slightly on the third week in each micro-cycle, then repeat. Do your longest hike on week 14: a gnarly 20-hour off-trail hike with a 50 lb pack. The third-week fall-back hikes should be at night, using only available light (no headlamp except in emergency). On week 9, replace the hike with an ascent of Steck-Salathe. Your goal time is 20 hours car to car. On week 12, replace the hike with Half Dome In a Day, with a goal time of 20 hours* from the base to the top (*20 hours plus however much extra time is needed to deal with the newly missing section of the route). Spend 2 days of weeks 14 and 15 above 8,000' to help acclimate to the elevation. Your midweek activities are less critical, but should obviously involve hiking and climbing. Week 15 should be your "taper'--reduce your activity and concentrate on good nutrition and lots of rest. No alcohol.

Taken together, that all seems pretty excessively safe to me. The obvious wildcard is the weather, but being a fast hiker and climber will maximize your chances of success and your likelihood of avoiding a catastrophe. Sep 25, 2015
John Robinson
Elk Grove, ca
[Hide Comment] I have free soloed this route a couple of times alone. I will give you a little beta that I wish I'd had. At the start, between the 1st and 2nd tower go up the first ramp from left to right. The fresh air traverse (FAT) can be a little tricky to find. When I last did it a couple of weeks ago, you could see webbing that someone had placed on three pitons on the FAT and you can see them before starting up to get on the FAT. (before going up to the FAT you will have come down to a flatter area). To get up to the FAT you will go up and left about 75' or so. You can also identify the FAT because the bottom part of the rock that forms the FAT is overhanging and quite flat, probably about 5' x 5'. Immediately after the FAT, probably where you will belay, you go up and right to get into the Grand Staircase. To climb the Grand Staircase use diagonalizing ramps closer to the left side of the staircase. At the end of the staircase you will come to the last obstacle about a 30' long chimney. I did this with a small pack on and it made it interesting. I would suggest taking a 40' piece of thin rope you could use to pull your pack up. Jul 18, 2016
[Hide Comment] For those thinking of descending the hiking trail vs the mountaineers route, you can plan on spending three times longer going down the Whitney trail than up the mountaineers route: it's a pretty trail, but a marathon slog. The mountaineers route can be spicy if you've gone slow and nighttime has fallen and the snow is iced up, but it's still doable without crampons if you don't mind a bit of sketchiness.

Also, to the above comment about lie backing the crux, ugh, maybe if you don't have basic crack/chimney technique, you shouldn't be on this route. Jul 16, 2017
[Hide Comment] Just climbed this on Sunday 7/30 and wanted to give an updated condition report. Very mild snow on the approach between upper boyscout and iceberg lake. Simple approach shoes were all that were needed. Complete East Face approach from Iceberg lake and climb are free of any snow. Did the mountaineers descent around 3 pm and found that the top section from the summit to the notch had a steep snow patch on the skiers left side but you could completely descend down to the notch without getting on any snow on the skiers right side. This just required some 3rd class down climbing. From the notch, about half way down to the start of the east face/east buttress approach there was a snow field that you had to descend. That being said, it was pretty mild and the snow was very soft at that time. I ended up glissading down the entire thing in approach shoes without an ice axe. If you are comfortable on snow, this should not be hard. + or - micro spikes. If attempting it in the morning or late night, would be careful that the snow has not frozen, making it much dicier. Awesome climb, great exposure but man that altitude gets ya!! Jul 31, 2017
Truckee, CA
[Hide Comment] No offense Derek, but what's your experience in the alpine? Have you ever had to bail (i.e., rappel) off of a very long route? I'd bring the 70. Mar 26, 2018
William Thiry
Las Vegas
[Hide Comment] This is a fabulous classic mountaineering adventure with lots of fun 4th-class scrambling, non-trivial route-finding, airy ledges, a spectacular traverse, and a few technical cruxes. For full value consider leaving the rope in the backpack for most (or all) of the route. Those expecting standard technical rock-climbing for the entire course made a poor decision. The East Buttress or Fishkook Arete (Mt. Russell) would be better alternatives for more sustained straightforward rock climbing. This route is for those seeking a classic and highly enjoyable mountaineering adventure that is more spicy and exciting than the 3rd-class slog up the mountaineers route. Jun 4, 2018
Griffin Ash
Birmingham, AL
[Hide Comment] Would a 40m rope work for this route? Trying to keep things lite. Jun 18, 2018
Sean Post
Laguna Beach, CA
[Hide Comment] Climbed this Sunday 6/26/18. Conditions on the ascent were perfectly fine--no snow to deal with on the approach to the notch before the Tower Traverse pitch. No snow on the climb itself. Climbing was pretty easy/intuitive, routefinding crux was just finding the beginning of the Fresh Air pitch. Everything after the Grand Staircase pitches was a true choose-your-own adventure to the summit. The descent via the Mountaineer's route is still pretty covered with snow/ice. The highest 400 feet of the Mountaineer's route (the north facing side) has 4 sets of rap rings going down to the Notch (where the couloir that comprises most of MR meets ridgeline). Rap rings are new (this season) and are in fine condition. We used those to avoid the steepest snow. Rest of the MR descent has a sizeable amount of snow; for the most part you can choose to ascend/descend either in the snow or via the very sandy/unstable talus field. We did it with Gore-Tex hiking boots and ice axes; low-cut approach shoes would be a mistake at this point in the season.

As for your question Griffin, a 40m wouldn't be ok if you wanted to descend via Mountaineer's Route since it would be too short for those rap stations near the summit; if you wanted to descend that way you'd have to bring ice axes/crampons. 40m would be doable if you were descending via Whitney Trail, I think. Jun 26, 2018