Mt Whitney, June 2nd and 3rd, 2006


On Friday, June 2, 2006 our party of 8 started up the Whitney Trail from Whitney Portal.  Our plan was to camp at Trail Camp, 6 miles away, elevation 12,000’,  for the night, get an early start on Saturday so that we could summit, and return to the Portal that night.  The total mileage for the trip was 22 miles, with 6,100’ of elevation gain/loss.


The weather report was excellent – we were in the midst of a large high pressure system, so the weather would be stable if a bit warm.   We redeemed our reservation at the new Interagency Visitor Center south of Lone Pine, issued waste bags (both solar toilets are closed) and headed up to the Portal.  The morning temps at the trail head were in the high 50’s with clear skies and light breezes (no bugs yet!) 


This was a big snow year in the Sierra, but the early warm spell is melting the snow quickly.  Our permit said “Winter Conditions”, and I’d been up to Mirror Lake a week earlier on a scouting mission so knew what to expect.  We encountered the odd snow patch around 9,500’, and by Lone Pine Lake (9,850’) the trail was more snow than rock and continued that way until Trail Crest, with the exception of the large rock outcrop above Mirror Lake.


As we proceeded up the first rock outcrop above Mirror Lake (about Trailside Meadow were it visible) it became obvious a large fracture in the snow field would have to be navigated if we stayed on the summer trail, so at this point we dropped onto the well-consolidated snow pack to our left, and proceeded up the last 1.5 miles to Trail Camp on the snow, which was faster and easier on our knees, if a bit steeper.  I watched another group navigate their way on the summer trail, and was a bit concerned for their safety as the snow fracture presented a major obstacle, with serious consequences in the event of a fall.  Fortunately, they spotted us and decided our route presented a bit less excitement (and pucker factor).


I was glad to see that while Consultation Lake was frozen, enough rock at Trail Camp had melted out so that several rock windbreaks were available, and the small pond on the right was open so we could filter water.  With a light breeze we set up camp on dry ground, got our dinners and packs ready for the next day and quickly settled in for the night.  While we enjoyed our down bags, with light winds and temps in the mid-30’s, it was a quiet night.


The plan was to be on the trail at 4AM Saturday morning, but … with a rather large group, most of whom had traveled 3,000 miles + the day before, some had not been to altitude before, much less a 14-er … we were hiking by 4:45AM which was quite good all things being equal.  The climb continued on firm snow, with the switchbacks buried

and only the cable posts sticking out of the snow high on the edge.  Even with warm weather it’s likely to be another 2-3 weeks before this section of the summer route is open.  We trudged slowly up the drainage to the large snowfield, and made 3 or 4 large traverses, the final one bringing us just north of Trail Crest (13,777’).  At Trail Crest itself there was a bit of a steep cornice, so it made more sense to avoid it and clamber over the rock rumble on the other side to regain the trail.  We stopped here for a brief rest and snack, and began the final two miles around 8:15AM.


The ‘backside’ of the Whitney Trail as we headed north was intermittently snow-covered with occasional open sections.  The first .5 miles presented 3 or 4 difficult areas, and had we known would have placed fixed ropes.  Fortunately these sections were 100-200’ in length and all were able to navigate them in both directions without mishap.


The views from the summit were terrific, and after lunch some dozed as others melted/filtered water for the return to Trail Camp.  The summit marmot put in his usual appearance and looked quite svelte - by late summer he’s so fat from hiker-treats he needs to be fitted for wheels.  We made our way back slowly, conserving our strength, knowing we still had many miles with big packs once we got back to Trail Camp.  From Trail Crest we navigated a few hundred yards out to the middle of snow field to avoid the boulder field below and glissaded down, proving once again it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.


The snow was a bit soft as we made the balance of the way to Trail Camp.  We packed up and were at Lone Pine Lake as the sun was setting, coming out the rest of the way with headlamps.  Most of us wore plastic/winter boots due to the wet conditions and were most glad to remove them for the ride to Bishop, our next stop before moving on to our next peak – Mt. Shasta.


Pictures of the hike can be seen at Webshots here: