Mount Whitney, Keeler Needle, and Mount Muir "run"
When I first moved to California I didn't have any friends so I would just go into the Sierra and hike up 14ers on the weekend. I hiked and scrambled Sill, the Middle Palisade, mount Whitney, Split Mountain, mount Tyndall, Mount Williamson, Mount Shasta, and Mount Langley before I made friends (I'm looking at you Matt Shaner). After meeting Matt and others we climbed the Mithral Dihedral on Russel, we traversed from Thunderbolt peak's boulder problem summit, past Starlihgt buttress's Milk bottle, to North Palisade and Polemonium in a single push from the car. Nafeesa and I then hiked up White Mountain peak. This only left Mount Muir, Keeler Needle which I did not know about next to Mount Whitney and of course the Milk Bottle on Starlight Peak.
Now that Nafeesa has moved across the country, I thought I might as well finish up my goal. So, as a move in the right direction, Vito and I decided to run and hike a loop up the Mountaineer's route on Whitney and down the trail back to the portal scrambling up Keeler Needle and Mount Muir on the way down.
The route is only about 15 miles and 7000 vertical feet, but due to the big snow year, we understood that was still a lot of snow in the Mountaineer's Couloir which forced us to bring crampons, an ice axe, and a helmet as well as hiking poles. (In retrospect the ice axe was maybe optional as long as we had hiking poles).
We started from the portal at 5:20am to give us enough time for error. The mountaineer's route is too steep for us to run and so we hiked. Our timing was perfect, we got to the ledges at first light and and made good time past lower and upper boyscout. At Iceberg Lake we had been hiking for just under 3 hours. We stopped to refill our water bottles at the lake which had completely frozen over the night before! We used our ice axes to break the ice.
The mountaineer's couloir looked steep, although we knew that it wasn't and it was full of snow. We hiked up the furthest tongue of rock and saw that it was only about 10 feet of snow to the wall on the right side of the couloir. We decided that it would be nicer to scramble on hiker's right of the couloir for as long as we could. We were able to scramble third class on the right side of the couloir almost until the snow ended. At the top of the scramble we only had about 100 feet of snow, so we transitioned to crampons and made quick work of the couloir.
At the top of the couloir we decided to traverse to the plateau and managed to easily avoid the snow and ice patches that were up there. We topped out in about five and a half hours which was a lot slower than we wanted, but still fine. This was my fourth time on top of mount Whitney and my first time up the mountianeer's route. I had come from the west side 2 times and climbed the east buttress before. We took several pictures on top and then started running down. At Keeler Needle we stepped off the trail and quickly walked second class to the top of the Needle. The last few steps were pretty scary as you could look straight down to the basin below iceberg lake. Vito and I were both very impressed by the views of Whitney from Keeler, not to be missed. We spent almost half an hour enjoying the view from Keeler before descending to the trail and continuing to run. At the junction with the JMT we left the trail again and headed up mount Muir. Muir was the steepest we had scrambled that day although still third class. The scrambling was fun and we probably spent an hour enjoying our time scrambling on Muir before heading back down.
The run down was a blast. Strict permit regulations kept too many people from being on the trail and the trail was well graded and wide, perfect for running. It felt like we were flying on the way down, especially because I had my hiking poles and I was vaulting myself off all of the steps. We had our permit checked twice as we were running down which was a little annoying but also, totally fine, and I do appreciate that the Whitney zone is not covered in human waste.
Palas, Vito's wife who had done her own run in the Whitney Zone that day met us at the bottom 10 hours and 10 minutes after starting and fed us some delicious lentils made by Vito the day before. We ended our day with a swim in lone pine creek, amazing run!!!