While the majority of South Side climbers head to Avalanche Gulch, the West Face offers a similarly difficult alternative. It’s a little bit longer of an approach, hence the less traffic. If you have two full days, and reasonable conditioning, it is a great option.
From the Sierra Club Hut you’ll climb/traverse along the lower ramparts of Casaval Ridge into Hidden Valley/Cascade Gulch. At an elevation of 9,200 feet there are lots of bivy site options. Keep in mind potential rock fall and snow slides when choosing a site. The climb from here is a straight shot up along the shallow West Face gulley. An alternate route ascends to the climber’s right of the West Face gulley following lower angle terrain up to about 11,000 feet through a short gap in the rocks onto the upper West Face gulley. The crux is the top of the West Face but can easily be passed on the climber’s right.
The best part of this route isn’t necessarily the ascent, but the return via ski, board, or glissade. The descent is spectacular in good conditions. The best time for this route is early to mid-season. The more snow the better. Running snow melt water can be found in lower Hidden Valley/Cascade Gulch by mid-season, but runs dry by late season.
The West Face via Hidden Valley (HV) is currently in decent shape for climbing. An ice axe, crampons and helmet are strongly advised. A slip and fall without immediate self arrest will result in a long slide for life. Do not take this lightly.
It can get VERY windy in Hidden Valley. Anchor your tent well. Smooth and firm conditions exist on the mountain and the West Face gets hammered by the wind. Icy conditions are not uncommon and strong ice axe and crampons skills are mandatory for safe travel. Watch out for falling rime ice.
Shastina is also accessed from Hidden Valley. Numerous options exist for climbing Shastina and the same hazards apply.
The West Face Route tops out near the bottom of Misery Hill, commonly referred to as the "Upper Mountain." During white out conditions it can be very difficult to find the descent route to the top of the West Face. This has caused numerous search and rescue incidents. It's very easy to wander off the WRONG side of the mountain. The Whitney Glacier and many other routes all converge near Misery Hill and the Summit Plateau. You may quickly find yourself in glaciered terrain which is not a good situation if you are not prepared. Pay attention, don't climb into a white out, know your route, and turn around before conditions worsen.
If you have more questions, give us a call or stop by the ranger station.