Snowfall in the western United States for the 2021-2022 season was not great, and temperatures were staring to rise in the region. So, a great friend of mine, Tony Scarponi, and I made a last-minute decision to take on the first event of the BBBC ASAP. Our goal was to skin, climb, alpine ascend, and then ski down both Mt. Whitney and Mt. Shasta back-to-back. I had originally hoped and planned that we would tackle these two in June or even July, which would provide another couple of months of training. However, the weather dictates these things so we decided to make a run of it.
For background, I previously summited Whitney about 17 years ago. It was FULL SNOW conditions at that time as the Sierras received 14′ of snow in 10 days right before we started the ascent. At the time, I was a lot younger, dumber, and much less risk-adverse! I lived in Boston at sea level at the time and flew out with a friend of mine as we were trying to summit some of the tallest mountains in a handful of states in the U.S. Up until this point, if I remember correctly, the only 14’ers (14,000 foot or taller mountain) that I had climbed were Mt. Rainier in Washington state and Mt. Elbert in Colorado. The majority of my alpine ascent experience (snow, wind, elements, ice axe, crampons, etc.) was in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where the tallest mountain is Mt. Washington at 6,288’.
As part of this series of adventures back then, we had also summited Wheeler Peak in New Mexico at 13,167’; Mt. Elbert in Colorado at 14,440’; Humphreys Peak in Arizona at 12,637’; and some smaller ones like Baldy, San Gorgonio, and San Jacinto (that was a crazy one!).
My first Whitney summit adventure was admittedly foolish! We did not have the right/enough experience; the mountain was basically shut down because of the amount of snow, and we ended up climbing for up to 20 hours a day for 3.5 days straight. The amount of snow on the mountain was difficult to conceive! It eliminated all routes to the summit, and the wind was fierce.
This effort was by far the greatest of my life up until that point. It was the most life-threatening. It was the most terrifying. There was a complete avalanche four feet from us, and we had to traverse snow crests with 3,000’ of vertical air underneath us multiple times. The ascent STILL claims two of the top six scariest moments of my life! We were able to summit Whitney on a bluebird day and then the certainly eventful (to say the least!) descent began. We got down safely on the night of Halloween, way after sunset.
My previous experiences on Mt. Shasta were FAR less eventful. I successfully summited the mountain three times. I was 3 for 3 making the top, which is RARE in mountaineering. For example, Capitol Peak in Colorado and both the Matterhorn and Eiger in Switzerland took three attempts each. I did Shasta the first time with a guide, the second time SOLO, and the third time was just three years before with two friends of mine.
Back to 2022…We decided to attempt Whitney for an April Fools’ Day summit. Tony and I drove my van up the road that leads from Lone Pine called Whitney Portal and parked on the side of the road. It was a really awesome start. The road is unique, steep, and one of the most elevated drives in the Sierras. Lone Pine sits at 3,727’ and the road climbs quickly to about 7,000’ in 24 miles or so. Then a gate stops the drive and you have to rely upon your own power to get up Whitney.
We started at 4 a.m. with a unique approach—we pedaled the first couple of miles with skis strapped to our backs. This was primarily so that at the end of the day, we wouldn’t have to hike down the road after a long effort. We locked the bikes at the trailhead and started the hike shortly after 4. We hiked with skis on our backs till about 8 a.m., then skinned for a couple of hours. We summited by 1:30 p.m. after shooting for noon. Then we skied and hiked down to the trailhead by 6 p.m., then rolled down the hill (gratefully!), finishing just over 14 hours after we started.
Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the continental United States at 14,505’. It is typically not a great skiing mountain, but I thought for the first event it would be cool to ski down the tallest mountain in the U.S. followed by Shasta. We LUCKED out with the weather—it was as perfect as I could ask for. I was thrilled with the completion and a successful summit. Leading up to the event, I was definitely concerned that it would be a tough one to check off the list.