07 Sep Climbing Guide – Whitney Portal Bouldering – Lone Pine, CA
When I climbed Mt. Whitney last year, I couldn’t help but notice the many beautiful granite boulders strewn about the campgrounds and lower trails of the Whitney Portal area. There definitely looked to be bouldering potential, so when I found out that I’d be spending labor day weekend in Lone Pine, I was determined to head back to the nearby Portal and do some bouldering! Before the trip I did some research online and contacted several friends and local experts, but I couldn’t find any information about bouldering at the Portal. When interrogating employees at the Elevation Climbing store and the Whitney Portal Store proved just as futile, I realized it was time for an exploratory mission! 🙂 My favorite!
In the end, our mission ended up being a great success! My crew didn’t see another climber or a smudge of chalk all day! We discovered pristine boulders, pictured the lines in our imaginations, and then sent them. It was an amazing and unique experience. In total we put up problems on five boulders, ranging from V0 to V5. For fun and easier record keeping we decided to name everything we climbed. In honor of the Alabama Hills, which are a famous filming destination nestled just below the Portal, all of the boulders and problems were given movie themed names. I would like to clarify however, that we do not claim to be the first ascentionists, and that none of this is meant to be disrespectful to any climbers who have come before. It’s simply meant as a small guide and introduction to the awesome Whitney Portal boulders.
Getting There: The Whitney Portal boulders are located up at Whitney Portal near the Family Campground and lower Whitney trail. From the 395N, turn left onto Whitney Portal Rd. and take this all the way to the top!
Approach: We started our mission from the Family Campground area, so that’s where I’ll be starting the guide as well. From the overflow parking lot, it is an approximate 10 minute walk down to the Family Campground. You can either cross the stream and take the Whitney Trail down, or hike down through the Walk-In Campground. Once you reach Family Campground, you’ll see a wooden cabin near the stream. About 100 feet up the trail from this cabin is our first boulder.
The Wild Rascal Boulder: As you can see in the picture above, this boulder will be noticeable by i’ts dark gray slab and bright, triangular shaped south face. On this boulder we found two nice warm up climbs. There is also an easy down climb on the west side of the boulder, where you can lower from the top onto a ledge and then hop to the ground. For these climbs I would recommend 1 or 2 pads and a spotter, as there are some small boulders in the fall zone. As it’s not climbed often, the rock, especially near the top is a bit crumbly, so just be wary of this while climbing.
- Darla – V0 – Climb the left arete of the triangle.
- Alfalfa – V2 – Compression climb using both aretes of the triangle.
The Highlander Boulders: After warming up on Wild Rascal, we headed back up the trail to the next large boulder, an immense gray slab. If you look at the first picture in this post, you can see it tucked away there in the trees. Adjoining this large slab, is a shorter boulder with a small vertical face and a sloping top out. We called this duo the Highlander Boulders, as we only managed to put up one route on each boulder. (There can be only one!) Both problems start in the same place, right where the two boulders meet. Both have somewhat sketchy landings due to trees, rocks, the downward slope of the land, and the two boulders’ close proximity. Because of this. I would say at least 2 pads and a spotter are necessary. The rock quality on the tall slab is pretty decent, while the shorter vertical face is a bit crumbly, so again, be aware of what you’re pulling on. The down climb for both problems would be the obvious low angle slab on the smaller Highlander Boulder.
- Sean Cornery – V2 – If looking at the large Highlander Boulder from the trail, climb the right arete of the big slab. Not a hard problem, but delicate, with a potentially bad fall between two boulders. Use well placed pads and spotters here!
- Corner McLeod – V3- On the smaller Highlander Boulder, sit start on an obvious low flake. Work your way up the flake to a jug on the arete. From there I used a poor left hand gaston, and a big cross to get my hands situated for the mantle top out, which is pretty spicy due to the crumbly rock up top and the severe lack of feet!
The Black Widow Boulder: Just up the hill from the Highlander Boulders, you’ll notice a narrow corridor between an overhung boulder and a slab. On the overhanging boulder is a slanting finger crack, which at first glance appears too thin to be climbable, but in actuality has just-big-enough holds just where you needed them! This actually ended up being my favorite problem of the day, despite the fact that I was accosted by a little spider while sending ;). Both the boulder and the problem were named in honor of that little gal. I would recommend 1 or 2 pads for this problem and a spotter to protect you from falling into the slab as you go for the top out. The down climb is just an easy walk off the opposite side of the boulder from the crack.
The Widow’s Thread – V3 (stand) V5 (sit) – Work your way up using crimps, thin hands, and a gaston, then make the dyno for the sloping lip. Like most of the other boulders, the top out here is a little crumbly and dirty. Add to that the downward slope and it’s certainly a bit daunting! The top out for me was definitely the hardest move!
Miss Doubtfire Boulder: Leaving The Black Widow boulder and heading up the hill away from the trail, you’ll come to a long, loaf like boulder with a small dihedral and a mellow looking slab. This boulder was more scrambling than actual climbing, but we found one fun little line in the dihedral, which is a great warm up or first boulder problem for the less experienced climber. In fact, the ‘FA of the day’ for this problem was put up by a first time boulderer! With a fairly flat landing, this problem requires only one pad. There is also an easy down climb/walk off the backside.
- Child Actors – V0 – Press and smear your way up the obvious dihedral and top out.
Fight Club Boulder: From the Miss Doubtfire Boulder, head straight up the hill towards a striking highball arete. Though this boulder seems to have potential for a few more lines, we had to leave Whitney Portal to meet up with friends, so we put up only the most obvious line following the arete. This can be done as a stand or sit start. You can down climb either off the backside of the boulder, or move right of the arete and lower to an intermediate ledge and then the ground. Though the top is quite easy, this problem is very high, the rock a bit crumbly, and the landing poor, so bring a few pads and make sure to spot.
The First Rule – V1 (stand) V2 (sit) – From two good hands and a decent foot down low, power through two moves to decent holds, get a high foot, and mantle onto a sloping mid-way ledge. Stand up and top out via the arete.
Though The First Rule was the last line we put up that day, it certainly wasn’t the last one we saw. Even on the short hike back to the car, we spotted dozens more boulders with what looked like climbable lines. There is certainly more to be discovered and enjoyed in the Whitney Portal area and I’m very eager to get back out there in the near future! I hope this little guide might encourage others to check it out and discover their own lines as well. If you have any questions about the area or about any of the problems listed here, please don’t hesitate to ask!
Happy Climbing Everybody.