The original line up the Portal buttress, tackling the proud left skyline. First established @ 5.8 A3. Put up by none other than North America's oldest living dirtbag, the Whitney Portal Buttress was described by Fred in the AAJ as "one of the last great unclimbed problems of the Sierra." The route goes almost entirely free at a reasonable grade, but has never seen a FFA. False rumors circulated that Bob Harrington had done it at 5.10+, but he denied those allegations. In reality it will be more like 5.11+ or 12, but the protection is not great for those sections. Great positioning and an obvious line. Rock quality is variable, with many pitches being dirty, vegetated and grainy. A nut tool is essential for the leader to clean/excavate/mine out gear placements. The topo and route description in Fred's 100 Favorites book is bunk. Use instead the Craig Peer topo posted here.
Begin at the far west (left) toe of the buttress. Scramble 50' up a loose gully to the start of the route.
P1) Jam up the left side of a white pillar with a small pine at the base to a bolted belay. 5.8
P2) Up the corner to the roof. A few-three moves of clean aid on small/tiny cams to get out around the right side of the roof. Continue up the crack for 100' or so until you can make an escape left onto a flake, then up easy ground to a belay at a tree on low-angle terrain. 5.9 C2. Long one - use lots of slings.
P3) Climb up a detached pillar, then step right onto a flake and continue up past a small rotten roof and horizontal dike to a belay on a good stance w/horn. 5.8
P4) Follow cracks up, stepping right to another crack which leads to a nice, steep, right-facing lieback flake. Go left up a groove at the top of a flake, past a bolt, to an awkward belay at a block with a bolt. 5.10b
P5) Follow the crack up and left until it peters out, sling a knob, past a bolt to the awesome Quartz Cave. Fixed pins/gear belay. 5.8
P6) Stem straight up out the Quartz Cave past a few fixed pins, navigate a small jungle, then a short squeeze chimney and jamcrack to a great bolted belay perch atop the tower. An excellent sandy bivy spot is down and left about 10 feet from here if you are into that sorta thing. 5.8
P7) The GOODS. Airy, exposed, and beautiful Tuolumne-style knob climbing past 4 or 5 bolts to a tricky water groove with some funky body english. Easy terrain up the gully leads to a belay at a large chockstone. 5.10c
P8) Blue-collar chimney leads to a ledge. Up a thin crack with tricky pro, left to another crack and up to a small stance above a bush at the base of the headwall. 5.9+?
P9) Up the steep and airy headwall crack to a bolt/fixed pin/gear hanging belay. 5.10 (vegetated & dirty!)
P10) Continue up the crack, stepping right to another when it peters out. Belay on a ledge atop the headwall. This is the only other pitch where we aided - 3 moves or so. About 6 fixed pins were present, mostly angles, but more than half of them fell out. This pitch went mostly free at 5.10+/11-, but the gear is challenging. Some clean aid placements might be available in the absence of the pins, but a hammer and a couple small-med angles would be a good insurance policy. 5.10 A2 (C2+?).
P11) Up and right following the path of least resistance to the summit. 5.6
Scramble/downclimb/rappel into the notch, then up a few hundred feet of 3rd/4th class to the East Summit. Locate the northernost notch behind the buttress and descend down the gully to the east.
A full rack with doubles from 00 TCU to #3 Camalot, set of nuts. Some extras in the TCU range might be handy if you plan to aid more than we did. Fixed pitons on the headwall were not "fixed", so maybe consider bringing a hammer and a few pins or get creative with the clean aid. ALL BOLTS ON THIS ROUTE ARE NEARLY 50 YEARS OLD! 1/4 buttonhead or stud variety with Leeper hangers, some sticking 1/4" to 1/2" out of the rock. Do not attempt this route if you think you might fall on the fixed gear. Be solid. Enough said.
Amy Ness finishing up the groove atop P4.
Amy Ness finishing P6, B-C route.
Amy Ness leading P7, 5.10.
Looking down into the Quartz Cave, Amy at the bela...
BETA PHOTO: Topo by Craig Peer