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Re: Winter on Whitney

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Winter on Whitney
January 25, 2009 11:45AM
Hi Everyone,

I took everyone's advice regarding winter camping, and went on a winter camping training trip with the Sierra Club before wandering off into the Yosemite winter alone, and without any experience. In retrospect, i think I would've bit off more than I could chew if I had pursued my original intent. I'm actually signed up for two more trips with them. Our first trip last week was near Carson Pass at 8000 ft. and it got down to 15 degrees. Stayed in a snow trench. Too much work for a snow cave at that altitude. Learned a lot, like don't breath into your bag. Woke up with a thin layer of ice on it. It was great fun with a lot of people who do this every year (29 of us). One of the other trips with the Sierra club will be out to Crocker Point.

Anyway, I want to do Mt. Whitney this year, but it looks like there's actually a lottery for getting a permit. At least between may 1 and nov 1, so I'm considering an april hike (the trail is a class 1). I can't find any good forums like this one, for sequoia or inyo so I can get some info on how the trail looks that time of year. Does anyone know of any good forums for this area? I've gotten some info from Summitpost, but there's nothing like multiple opinions from those who've done it.

Thanks for all the good advice.
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 25, 2009 11:57AM
There is a message board/forum on the Whitney Portal Store website:
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 25, 2009 03:00PM
If you have the time you do not need a special permit if you hike it from
the West... That is what I did last year (08)... from Roads End in Kings
Canyon to Whitney and back...
IMO Forester Pass was more difficult than Whitney... (prob cause I
dayhiked Whitney from above Timerline Lake..)
Anyway, another option is the High Sierra Trail from Crescent Meadow
in Sequoia.

avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 25, 2009 03:04PM
And he did it in one day!

Old Dude
Re: Winter on Whitney
January 25, 2009 04:07PM
Thanks Bill,

But I think I'll need quite a bit more experience in the backcountry before attempting a hike that long, or that remote. Looking at the topo, forrester pass does look formidable. I have a friend who used to do whitney from mineral king, but according to him that was twenty years ago or more. He said the hike down and back up kern canyon was tough. Apparently, he used to camp on the summit. Can you still do that?
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 25, 2009 05:25PM
Actually, a much more challenging climb than Whitney is Shasta.

If you do Shasta, be sure to bring your ice axe and crampons... although as you can see from this link that not all "climbers" have used them:
Re: Winter on Whitney
January 25, 2009 07:27PM
I would think you'd need the crampons for the Whitney trail in April unless it's an unusually warm season. The Whitney board will have current info on conditions though, as there are several there that go up in any season. Unless you're well experienced in winter mountaineering, I'd be really cautious about going in April unless there's an unusually warm early season, and you still need to be ready for ice.

If you decide to go later, just be sure to send your lottery request in early in the month so you have the best chance. Giving multiple dates, not depending on weekends, and keeping the number to a legitimate number helps (a lot of people get 'generous' and book for 8 or 10 "just in case" and cause others to miss out...then they go with 2). Permits aren't transferable, and everyone on the permit has to go with the permit holder. Unused permits for persons not going can be turned back in, but there's no money returned (but it makes the permit available to someone else). Day trips are easier to get than overnight, but it's a long day hike up the main trail.

Even if you don't use the lottery, or don't get your permit (it happens), it's very likely that you can go up the day before you want to leave and get a permit from a cancellation or one not picked up. Aside from holidays, the success rate of this is very good, almost a sure thing.

There's also a different route, called the mountaneer's route, which currently doesn't need a lottery permit, just the wilderness permit. It's a lot shorter, but sort of hard to track unless you go with someone who knows it. Less crowded too. There's info on that route available at the Whitney board also. The main trail may be a safer bet for a first time.

While it's technically "wilderness" it's far from a wilderness hike up the main trail during the season.

Yosemite Photo Galleries: http://www.pbase.com/roberthouse/yo
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 25, 2009 08:19PM
Whitney is sorta like Half Dome....
Not the trail to take if you want to "avoid the crowds"...

However, from the Inyo website:
"Maximum group size is 15 people. This is to protect the wilderness and other visitors experience."

So don't worry... there won't be toooo many people... (I'm kidding)
(I was sooo happy to get off the JMT at Wallace Creek back to Roads End!)
(I prefer to see no one)

Here's the website with all the gory details:

Looks like this from the west:
- Roads End (Bubbs to JMT) : 45 miles
- Mineral King : 50 miles
- High Sierra Trail (Sequoia - Crescent Meadow) : 55 miles
(all one way).. (guess I took the easy way) smiling smiley
(although I did hike back the same way... not out the Portal) smiling smiley

By the way... the hike up is spectacular (must be from Portal too)
... but the "summit"... well... let's just say... you won't feel like you
are "summitting"... it's kinda like alot of mountains... gentle on one side...
sheer cliff on the other...
But... you should do it... definitely
Re: Winter on Whitney
January 25, 2009 10:07PM
You're right sierrafan. I did check summitpost, and they said for spring conditions that snowshoes probably for the approach and possibly crampons and ice axe later on, though most of the time not needed. Because of the non-lottery requirement, I also checked out the "Mountaineers" route. It sounds like a much more rewarding way to go, and one gentleman at a local sports store claimed that camping by Iceberg lake is well worth the trip even if you don't go all the way. A number of posts did cite issues with getting lost on the trail, but they usually found their way, after a short time. It would be great to go with someone who knows the way, but that's unlikely. I'd like to do the main trail first, in April if possible, just to get familiar with the area, and than go back in the summer and do the mountaineers trail.

As far as the lottery, I saw that last week and relayed it to the gentleman who got out for my first backpacking trip in october. He's very excited about whitney, but had no idea about the lottery, so he's handling that. I told him it's in Feb. do reservations at Yosemite start Feb. 5?

I still want to get out obelisk lake too. Now that i've hiked around in snowshoes this last weekend, I can see that the daily mileage will go way down, and getting to merced lake will take a little longer if I have to wear them. Do you think the trail there is worn in at all, or would it most likely be knee-deep.

By the way, how many days did it take you Bill to hike 90 miles? Can't be any way to get food along the way.
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 26, 2009 02:14PM
Reservations for Yosemite are already open but the exact date for each person depends on your trailhead date. I just made a reservation today for July 13th. The maximum early reservation you can make is 168 days (24 weeks) prior to your trailhead date.


avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 26, 2009 07:01AM
In '07 the wifie and I went to Echo Valley (just short of Merced Lake),
back the high trail and up to Quarter Domes and then out...
That was APRIL 6!
In '06 the lakes above 8K were still frozen over in July...
So, the answer about snow is... it depends... I would just go with the
mindset that it is going to be a trudge...

I originally planned on 7 days for Whitney and back... but ended up with this:
day 1) San Jose to Roads End - Up Bubbs Creek to JMT to below Forester
day 2) JMT to just above Timberline Lake
day 3) up Whitney - checked out Hitchcock - down Wallace Creek to Kern River
day 4) up Kern River ... over Harrison Pass to Lake Reflection
day 5) hike out... drive home

The Upper Kern River Basin is just spectacular. And since it is off the JMT
there is next to noone there. The area with Lake Jessica and from
Harrison Pass to Lake Reflection were my favorite...
Ah... what am I saying? It's all spectacular...
Re: Winter on Whitney
January 26, 2009 07:27AM
Wow, that's a helluva hike. For me anyway. How did you find Harrison Pass. I don't see any trails near there, and the kern river looks like it just splits into a number of lakes before you get to the pass. Also, how much did you rely on compass readings, or did you have GPS?
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 26, 2009 08:18AM
There used to be a maintained trail up Kern River to Lake South America.
I followed that... by the time you get to Lake SA you are above tree line
so the xcountry is really simple...
Believe it or not... there used to be trail over Harrison Pass... wah!?!?
You know you are at Harrison Pass due to the "pile o rocks" duck.
If you decide to try this... say so... and I will try to dissuade you from it...

Anyway, I AM a tech junkie... so I carry a GPS (love maps too)..
Ever since Garmin put out the 7.5 National Parks w/ routable trails...
I don't leave home without it.
I say.. if the technology exists... use it... (which is why I also carry a
Archos Video player...)

View from Harrison looking south:

Post Edited (01-26-09 08:29)

Everything I know I learned from Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: Winter on Whitney
January 26, 2009 04:22PM
I registered for the whitney portal forum and asked about april conditions. got some pretty good feedback. also, got a permit for the "muntaineers trail" for june, though the ranger said you might still need crampons and ice axe. i'll bring them, but hopefully I won't need them.

Is the climb from the west side (JMT) hard?
Re: Winter on Whitney
January 27, 2009 12:11PM
Hey bill,

i mentioned doing the main trail to whitney in april on the whitney portal forum. Very nice response, and very concerned that I have no crampon/ice axe experience. Actually, one of them is looking up someone he thinks could offer some instruction on the subject. Did you need crampons for your trip to whitney? Are they that hard to use?
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 27, 2009 02:46PM
I wouldn't tell anyone that climbing to 14K feet is easy...
The trail has plenty of switchbacks so it is not very steep (from west).

I did the trail in Sept. so the snow was long gone. IMO if you can use snowshoes you can use crampons.
However, the Whitney response is similar to the response when you asked
about hoofing it to Obelisk by yourself very late in the season.
They are just looking out for you...
I'd ask the guys on the whitney portal forum all your questions. I read a bunch of their stuff...

If you fail on the lottery I'd just do what Gary said above...

I have some pictures of my Whitney Trip here if you want to look:

It may give you some more insight. ???
Re: Winter on Whitney
January 27, 2009 09:52PM
The pictures are outstanding. The East Lake and Reflection Lake ones in particular. Must've been quite exhilarating standing there to take them. Can't wait to get out there.

The people on the whitney portal have been very helpful. From a blog they suggested I chekc out (one of several), it was stated that the peak time for permits is july 4 and after, and on the weekends. Much easier to get permits in may because most people don't like the cold. This is in line with what Gary said about being creative with the permit lottery. Tues. and Wed. permits much easier as well. I'll probably submit a lottery entry, but if it's anything like how I do with the California lottery, I'm sunk.

May might work for me, rather than going up in april. someone at the sierra club suggested an intro mountaineering class at shasta in april. One day kind of thing. Crampon, ice axe, self-arresting skills. Don't know if it's as much value-add as just finding a hillside with some snow on it and walking around in them for awhile.

Have you ever had the need for that kind of equipment hiking over the higher passes, or do you just find another route around passes that require that kind of gear.
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 27, 2009 11:39PM

If you have the time/opportunity to take that class at Shasta, I would highly suggest it. I took some lessons there a million years ago, and the opportunity to ask questions and experiment with techniques with an experienced guide was invaluable. Also, the incredible changing weather of Shasta (completely incongruent to what the surrounding clime) also added a small component of drama (the mountain makes its own weather). I was amazed at the time how many less people seemed to vacation in the northern region of the state.

avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 28, 2009 07:37AM
"We don't need no stinking crampons":

(that's Mike back there...)

We don't own crampons or an ice axe. Never heard of anyone even
having crampons doing the PCT... (only ice axe).
And, some years, they are doing ALOT of passes in the snow...
(but then they are in the sierra June timeframe)

So I won't say you don't need them... I just don't know...
depends when you are going and where...

I wouldn't ever say I am a mountaineer...

"peak bagger"
"rabid/avid backpacker"

That's about it... Maybe take the class... they will know more...
Or do what I do... ... ask Mike. smiling smiley

Everything I know I learned from Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: Winter on Whitney
January 28, 2009 08:04AM
I took your advice Bee, and signed up for a one day class at Shasta Mountain Guides (crampons, ice axe, self-arrest). One of the sierra club trip leaders for the winter camping series also suggested them. My little Mazda is getting alot of mileage these days, but hey, that's what I got it for.

I agree Bill, don't know if I'll ever need these skills since I don't envision myself a "mountaineer", but the little bit of confidence it might add for someone so totally new to backpacking, and in an area as intimidating as the sierra, it might make a difference in how enjoyable the experience is. Though from what I've read about some of the mishaps on whitney, too much confidence can be a bad thing. I'll certainly cover that with the Shasta guides; i.e. what does this training prepare me for. They sort of market it for people like yourself that might run into high passes ect, and for non-technical climbs in winter-like weather.

Is that you in the picture? I haven't figured out how to get a picture in the post. Tried once according to some instructions on this site, but it didn't work.
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 28, 2009 08:48AM
The class was really fun, and the environment was a really nice change up from what I was used to (especially the lack of population density) I took that class and I took another more advanced class that dealt with rope crossing, etc., and I have never used either skill set. HOWEVER, the training allowed me to evaluation situations better, rather than having blind ignorance to push my limits over my head. You don't sound like the sort to be led astray by overconfidence, as caution seems to be your guide. There are some really interesting sites in the area (the cinder cones are reminiscent of another planet!) that are worth taking a peek at if you make a weekend of it.

avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 28, 2009 10:11AM
That's Dale's wife in the foreground. She is also a kick-ass backpacker like Dale.

I'm in the back. I think we just came over Red Peak Pass from the south.

Old Dude
Re: Winter on Whitney
January 28, 2009 01:52PM
Sorry Bill,

Should've figured you were the one taking the picture. One question I have is when you're hiking through snow, with or without snowshoes, do you wear your regular boots, winter boots, or an overboot; i.e. Neos?

The winter storm in lone pine looks pretty menacing. I'm starting to figure out; especially from some of the chilling accounts of problems on whitney that are listed on their website (What Can Go Wrong On Whitney), that my greatest asset might be the mindset that "expect to turn around and go back, and that's alright". It's kind of ironic that when I was younger, and had alot of time and alot of life ahead of me, I would have acted as if I had no time left and it's "now or never". Now that I'm older, and don't have as much time, it's the exact opposite, as if i have all the time in the world, "Well damn, the weather sucks, but hey what the heck, I'll come back next month".

I'm guessing that most of you have turned around one time or another. Like some of my older pilot buddies used to say, "there are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots".
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 28, 2009 01:32PM
Just remember that you may get a day like this:

Bigger version:


avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 28, 2009 02:11PM
I've tried Shasta twice and turned back both times. Once in February when it was butt cold, high wind, ice chunks screaming down, and we found a dead guy. Then again some years later when I just couldn't get past Helen Lake. The time I stopped at Helen Lake there was a guy there on his ninth try. He made it that day.

I worked with a guy that would drive up to Shasta with a couple of buddies, climb to who knows how high up Avalanche Gulch, ski down, get in the car and drive back to San Jose.

There is no shame in prudence.

Old Dude
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 28, 2009 06:04PM
I never made it to the top of Shasta; the weather was worse at each attempt, but I'm glad I tried.

Re: Winter on Whitney
January 28, 2009 07:57PM
I'm glad to hear you signed up for the class. Going up Whitney in April might be springlike weather, but just as well could leave you in a blinding snowstorm, and there will almost certainly be snow and icy spots on the trail. People die there every year, and it's often experienced hikers who maybe let their guard down for a second.

Picture yourself sliding down an ice chute, of which there are several, and having no way to control where you're going or stop. The ice axe and knowing how to use it quickly can save you. Same goes for crampons; they may let you avoid the slide down the chute to begin with, and while it seems like you'd just clip them on and go, they're fairly dangerous so a lesson or two helps a lot. (picture yourself sliding down that ice chute with very sharp spikes pointing every which way out of your feet, snagging on rocks and hearing things crack that sound like they may be something you need, like bones 8^).

But the folks at the Whitney board are very helpful and can tell you all you need to know; unfortunately the store may not be open in April, which means no burger at the end of the hike 8^)

If you do try the mountaineer's route without someone who knows it, be sure to take a GPS so you can retrace your steps if necessary...either because you can't figure out the rest of the route, or approaching weather. It's a great route, but not so obvious as the main trail.

Yosemite Photo Galleries: http://www.pbase.com/roberthouse/yo
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 28, 2009 09:26PM

I have a bunch of photos (yup -- the real thingy before digital) that I took of Shasta in May, and all around is perfectly clear while a huge mass of clouds were storming over Shasta. Something they repeat a million times during the seminar is that those big mountains generate their own weather patterns, so a "clear forcast" for the local area can be totally irrelevent for the mountain. I guess that might be true for any of the big peaks.

avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 28, 2009 09:35PM
Mars: Good choices in going out with the Sierra Club group and in taking Bee’s advice on getting some basic mountaineering instruction at Shasta.

As I mentioned in a previous post on this topic, Shasta is a bit more challenging than the Whitney walk-up – I wouldn’t even recommend that you think about doing it solo, even once you get some experience. About half of the backpacks and climbs that I have done over the last forty years have been solo so I have no qualms about going out alone, but the only way that I would do Shasta solo is if I needed to do it to save someone’s life. It’s not suicide country, but you can see it from there. Whitney, on the other hand, fine; still, for a first-timer, it would be better if you went with someone.

In searching for a digital file that had the routes up Shasta, I came across the following website (which you may have already discovered yourself):
The guy has some nice route descriptions and photos in it. The PDF file “ So You Want To Climb Mt. Shasta” near the bottom of the page has a map which shows the main routes and has a lot of good information and sage advice. The Avalanche Gulch route is a really nice non-technical climb.

Mike and Bee: After reading your posts, I don’t feel so bad that it took me three attempts before making it to the top. First two times, we tried to make it in one day, starting out from the old Shasta Ski Bowl and over the ridge into Avalanche Gulch; got driven back by weather both times. Bee’s comment about about Shasta making its own weather is relevant here. Both days were clear and beautiful (mid-June is generally a good time to climb the mountain since it is easier if you do the steep parts on snow - there is an area below the Red Banks where the slope is ~40°) with no clouds to be seen anywhere… until midday. Within 20-30 minutes, the peak became enveloped in thunderheads (sort of like that scene from Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” where one appears, than another… suddenly they are everywhere) which then proceed to have a wild party, lightning and hail, for another 20 minutes, and then scatter to parts unknown. On the third try, we camped at Helen Lake overnight so that we could summit and then be on the way back down before noon.

In case anyone is wondering why they call it Avalanche Gulch, check out this link to Google Maps:
You can see the Red Banks in the upper portion of the image; the avalanche appears to be about 100 ft. wide.
avatar Re: Winter on Whitney
January 28, 2009 10:31PM
szalkowski: >>Within 20-30 minutes, the peak became enveloped in thunderheads (sort of like that scene from Hitchcock’s “The Birds,”<<

yup, YUP -- sounds familiar!! I actually had a buddy lined up to do that one with me, but she started hearing some of the weather stories and bailed on me that morning (beware when five minutes planned departure, yer buddy still does not have her pack loaded!) The temperature PLUMMENTS in what seems like seconds and the visibility was zilch when the clouds start decending the peak (a fair amount of paranoia is thown in after ignoring all cautions against doing this one alone) I was on Avalanche Gulch and just like everywhere else on the peaks in afternoon...BAM!!!

Camping is the best defense against the afternoon pyrotechnics.

Re: Winter on Whitney
January 29, 2009 07:46AM

I'm excited about the class. Just one day, but I can get a lot of info in a day, plus one of the Sierra club trip leaders is also taking the class. He's very interested in climbing shasta. Maybe I'll try it with him. As far as whitney, someone from their portal sent me a web post listing the unused permits for 2008. Many unused permits in may and even june. I filled out a lottery app. for May 30 with various alternatives in may and june. I don't know that there'll be much snow and ice at that time, but a first time on the mountain and at any altitude over ten thousand feet, it might be wise to have as few distractions as possible. Plus maybe it'll give me some time in between to get out to merced lake before the crowds start showing up.
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