You should be able to comfortably follow 5.6 and have experience at altitudes above 12,000 feet. Done with a high bivvy it requires carry an overnight pack over 5.6 terrain. This is a physically demanding trip and you should be in good condition and have the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with a moderate pack.
Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not. Local accommodation is not included.
A superb classic ridge climb. If you have never done a multi day route with an en-route bivouac this is an ideal start. The ridge is only rated 5.7 in difficulty, but carrying a pack makes all the difference. Over a mile in length this ridge involves continuously interesting climbing on impeccable Sierra granite with exhilarating exposure and fantastic views of the Whitney region. It can be done with a low bivvy or a high en-route on. The en-route bivouac is worth the trip in itself: from the sleeping bag at night one can gaze the length of Highway 395, all the way past Bishop, 60 miles to the north. This makes for a great weekend climb with a straightforward approach and an easy, non-technical descent.
Options The Low Bivvy Option - Here we camp in the Meysan drainage and do the ridge in a day, pick up camp and hike to the roadhead. This is a very long day, but involves less pack carrying over technical ground.
The High Bivvy Option - This splits the climb over two days and gives one the opportunity for an incredible high bivvy. But then you have to carry that pack!
Both options are great and we will talk with you to decide which one will be your best option
Itinerary The approach is via the Meysan Lake Trailhead, literally just down the street from the Mt. Whitney Trailhead. (Only the Whitney trail sees hundreds of people a day and we'll be lucky to see another group on this trip.) We leave the trail around 10,000', several hours after leaving the cars. If we are making the climb with the low bivvy this is where we stop.
Gaining the Northeast Ridge proper takes several more hours and is via steep second and third class terrain. Early season ascents will encounter significant snow on the approach, which can make for tough going. Eventually the terrain becomes predominantly third and fourth class and we rope up, usually where we join the main ridge. The un-roping point is the summit. The difficulties are generally towers that must be either climbed and descended, or traversed around. Some of these offer short sections of easy fifth class. Shortly before the bivvy two solid fifth class pitches are encountered: one often wonders just what the guide book author was taking when he rated these as 5.4, we've always been happy to call both pitches solid 5.6, especially with the weight of an overnight pack. The first pitch is the more difficult with a tough layback and the second has several hard wide-crack moves. If spending the night here the bivvy is the reward for climbing these pitches though and one of the highlights of the day is watching the afternoon shadow of the Sierra creep across the Owens Valley. The bivvy has room for three people and is small enough that we usually remain tied into the rope for safety. Snow is our water source on early season trips (pre mid July) and on mid or late season trips we carry all our water up the route.
From here the ridge continues on around more towers and pinnacles. There is a couple of hard moves out of the final notch and then the last ridge section is five pitches long and we pop up over the final block and the summit register is about ten feet away. Happy to be off the rope for the first time in a while we descend into the Meysan Creek drainage and back to the roadhead.
We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000') just prior to the trip. Sites can be reserved at the Whitney Portal Campground (8,400') through the National Forest Reservation System (800) 280 2267. Nearby Cottonwood Lakes offers a walk-in campground at almost 10,000'. Reservations are not necessary here. Ideally, two days would be spent in the Cottonwood Lakes area immediately prior to starting your climb. It is a 45-minute drive from Cottonwood to the Portal. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.
Bears are also a major problem at the Portal Trailhead. Do not leave any food, scented items (deodorant, soap etc.) in your vehicle. Clean up all trash and put extra food in a locker at the trailhead. Failure to take precautions can cause the vehicle to be ripped apart by a bear and the added insult of a fine from the Forest Service.