Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

People

A Tour of Magic and Mystery

In October, Doug Robinson, 61, perhaps the only pioneer from Yosemite's Golden Age who remains active, established, with Michael Thomas, 39, a 20-pitch alpine rock route on the southwest face of Mount Whitney (14,497 feet) in California's Sierra Nevada.

Lock Icon

Unlock this article and unwrap savings this holiday season.

Already have an Outside Account? Sign in

Outside+ Logo

Now 30% Off.
$4.99/month $3.49/month*

Get the one subscription to fuel all your adventures.


  • Map your next adventure with our premium GPS apps: Gaia GPS Premium and Trailforks Pro.
  • Read unlimited digital content from 15+ brands, including Outside Magazine, Triathlete, Ski, Trail Runner, and VeloNews.
  • Watch 600+ hours of endurance challenges, cycling and skiing action, and travel documentaries.
  • Learn from the pros with expert-led online courses.
Join Outside+

*Outside memberships are billed annually. Print subscriptions available to U.S. residents only. You may cancel your membership at anytime, but no refunds will be issued for payments already made. Upon cancellation, you will have access to your membership through the end of your paid year. More Details

In October, Doug Robinson, 61, perhaps the only pioneer from Yosemite’s Golden Age who remains active, established, with Michael Thomas, 39, a 20-pitch alpine rock route on the southwest face of Mount Whitney (14,497 feet) in California’s Sierra Nevada.

Their route, Lost (IV 5.9), is the first known line on the massive face. Until now, climbing on Whitney had been limited to the East Face, home to towering granite monoliths such as the popular Keeler Needle.

Beginning at 8 a.m., Robinson and Thomas climbed nine pitches they had reconnoitered two years earlier, finding mostly 5.9 with some likely 5.10 on steep and delicate terrain. Climbing 11 more pitches into the night and under the glow of a full moon, the duo summited at 4 a.m. in a biting 30-mile-per-hour wind.

Robinson and Thomas said they had expected a half-dozen pitches of 5.6, but found the route surprisingly long, difficult and intricate.

“We mostly couldn’t tell,” says Robinson, “which of the ridges we saw in front of us connected to what we were on until we got there. [It was like] a magical mystery tour.”

The route, notes Robinson, is classic alpine, with sections of fourth-class that involve straddling knife-edge ridges and climbing up towers only to rap or downclimb the other sides.

In the early 1970s, Robinson, with fellow climbers Yvon Chouinard and Tom Frost, largely invented clean climbing by developing and popularizing the first usable nut, the Stopper. In 1973, Robinson propelled hammerless climbing into the spotlight by making, with Galen Rowell and Dennis Hennek, the first clean ascent of Half Dome’s Regular Route, a precedent-setting climb that made the cover of National Geographic. Robinson was also a founding member and first president of the American Mountain Guides Association, one of Outside magazine’s first writers and the producer of the best-selling Moving Over Stone instructional video. In the Sierra, where Robinson began climbing in 1958, perhaps his most notable achievement was the first ascent, in 1975, of Dark Star, a 30-pitch 5.10 on Temple Crag.

Whitney’s southwest side, home to Robinson’s latest Sierra addition, is a broad expanse of alpine granite defended by nearly infinite rows of saw-tooth ridges.

It’s difficult to understand why a full quarter of Mount Whitney remained unexplored, says Robinson. There are going to be six major lines, at least but you gotta walk two days to where [the face] is visible, and most climbers don’t hike.

Robinson also notes that there are literally thousands of unclimbed walls in the Sierra, but the pace of exploration has slowed to a trickle compared to the 1960s and 1970s.

Fashion, muses Robinson, has shifted to roadside crags and boulder gardens.