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#14950 - 06/09/11 08:21 AM Whitney West
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1559
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
After planning my High Sierra Trail hike for the past 6 months, it occurs to me that there may be a need for more discussion of the western alternatives to the MT and MR. Although the Eastern routes over the Crest will also have a lot to do with this I am primarily interested in the Western Slope approaches such as HST, JMT SoBo section/through- hikes , Mineral King, Cedar Grove, etc. PCT from the south (Walker Pass) and Kern Canyon from the south would also definitely be of interest.

My first observation is that for what is considered a classic through-hike, the HST is one mother bear to set up a shuttle for. Its an old New England joke that "You can't get there from here", but I have never come as close to applying it seriously as between the Portal and SEKI. I learned that I can get back to the JMT TH in Yosemite, 223 miles away cheap and easy , Portal to Crest to YARTS, same day, under 30 bucks plus a hitch Portal to Lone Pine. Same trip to SEKI? Maybe 40 miles as the raven flies? FUggeddabouddit. $300 bucks for one or two, 800 bucks up for any more or Multi-day, multiconnection through Ridgecrest, Tehachapi, Lancaster, Bikersfield, Visalia SEKI shuttle yada yada.

SO how about that easy way to Yosemite, and then to SEKI? There must be good transportation between these crown jewels of the NPS, right? No deal. The proposed Fresno shuttle to both Yosemite and SEKI could close that gap some day, but at the moment there isn't even public transit from -- I love this -- "Fresno Yosemite International" to Yosemite. There is nothing even approaching the CREST/YARTS systems on the Western slope, where all the NP main entrances, gentle climbs and population centers are.

OK, enough of the worst of the logistics. We are going for it, Whitney from the West. Anyone else into a Western approach?


Edited by saltydog (06/09/11 08:25 AM)
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#14969 - 06/09/11 08:32 PM Re: Whitney West [Re: saltydog]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7583
Loc: Fresno, CA
Dude! It can't be THAT bad! YARTS Yosemite to Merced is $25, and Amtrak Merced to L.A. is $58. Visalia to Sequoia shuttle is $15.

Granted, there may be an overnight required someplace, which could make it far more expensive, but at least there IS transportation available.

Calif is a biig state, and it is a long way from the Central Valley to the sweet spots in the National Parks.

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#14972 - 06/10/11 02:25 AM Re: Whitney West [Re: Steve C]
KevinR Offline


Registered: 11/03/09
Posts: 592
Loc: Manchester, NH
Something to keep in mind when lamenting public transportation issues in the Eastern Sierra - population density. For example, Inyo County, in which much of the Eastern Sierra resides, as well as Death Valley, is the size of the State of New Hampshire, yet has a population of 18,000. That's a tiny number to justify/support public transporation models.

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#14974 - 06/10/11 03:37 AM Re: Whitney West [Re: KevinR]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1559
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
Steve:

True, and good to know for travel between YNP and SEKI, but check it out, the Visalia SEKI shuttle runs one way in the AM and the other way in the PM (Visalia C of C are no dummies!) SO you have to be in Visalia no later than 10 AM to get to SEKI same day. Not happening from YNP, much less the Portal, so add in the Holiday Inn rate and about 12 hours. Same Story the southern rout;, btw.

Kevin:

I am praising, not lamenting the Eastern Sierra transport system. Its [expletive gerund] awesome. Are you kidding me? less than 30 bucks and a few hours to get from Lone Pine to Yosemite Valley? That's so 21st century!

But more than 3 times that and over night to get YNP to Three Rivers. Its the West side, where literally millions live and millions enter the Parks every year, that is behind the times.

But enough. It is what it is; probably shouldn't have started on such a bummer, but now its out of the way, and Fresno is going to fix it, right?.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the West approach to Whitney is a beautiful thing, for so many reasons. Let's talk about acclimatization.

HST is a typical West-side approach.

The HST starts at about 6800 ft at Giant Forest. First camps are at about 5 miles in around 7200 ft. 11 miles in at Bear Paw, elevation is 7800. At 16 miles is Hamilton Lake at about 8300, followed by a climb to Kaweah Gap at 10700 and a gentle descent into Big Arroyo at about 9600. A similar elevation profile later in the trip, and a little higher, ends with the ascent of Whitney from the West, making this, for me, a self-acclimitizing hike. Apart from the shuttle, I could drive from the Bay Area, hit the TH before noon, and camp at about 7200 feet that night. During the same time I would spend at the Portal, with a round tripper to LPL, I am 24 miles into the back country, having climbed high and slept low, looking at the next couple of days between 9500 and 11000 ft. Lots of people do the whole 70 miles in 6 days, 5 nights which is not a lot more than what I would spend doing Whitney alone my way (2 nights at Portal, two on the trail).


Edited by saltydog (06/10/11 08:36 AM)
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#14981 - 06/10/11 07:10 AM Re: Whitney West [Re: saltydog]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7583
Loc: Fresno, CA
Yes, it is too bad we don't have better connections here. I did mention the possible need to spend the night, though, right?

I'm not sure this part is correct...
> Apart from the shuttle, I could drive from the Bay Area, hit the TH before noon, and camp at about 7200 feet that night.

It would take 4-5 hours from a Bay Area airport to Giant Forest, and with all the logistics involved, it would be a very long day. That night in Visalia (or near the trail head at least) isn't such a bad idea. And with that, you don't have the cost of a rental car parked someplace while you are out on the trail.

The "natural acclimatization" features of the HST are nice. I keep eyeing that trip. ...hoping for next summer, with a climb of Black Kaweah included.

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#14983 - 06/10/11 08:35 AM Re: Whitney West [Re: Steve C]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1559
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
Yep, you mentioned the overnight, alright which is why I added in the time and $$.

I actually have a base in Palo Alto, so I would not be coming right off the redeye. Leaving at a leisurely 6 AM, Lodgepole by 11 (10:31 according to google maps) an hour or so to pick up the permit, Marmot-proof the ignition wires, hop the shuttle to Crescent Meadow from wherever I have to park. Even if that last bit takes 3 hours, I'm still at Mehrten Creek before dark.

Its all a fantasy of course, since I do have to set up the shuttle this trip. I'll be doing that while the crew is at Crystal Cave and Muir Grove.

Been trying to figure ways to avoid the rental and/or ease the pain on the shuttle. I suppose if I knew somebody in, say Fresno, who might want to grab the three empty spots on my July 11 permit, which happens to include plenty of extra peak-bagging time, (July 23 Portal exit) and two days/two campsites, prep/sightseeing at Dorst Creek, who knows . . .
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#14984 - 06/10/11 09:34 AM Re: Whitney West [Re: saltydog]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7583
Loc: Fresno, CA
Whoa, tempting!

Unfortunately +@ti2d has gone and booked a Powerpoint Whitney presentation repeat at Fresno REI on 7/11 so I am tied to that.

...what nights are you at Dorst? cool

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#14985 - 06/10/11 10:38 AM Re: Whitney West [Re: Steve C]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1559
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
We are playing Turista at Dorst the 9th and 10th, hitting the trail the 11th. Four or five of us, but we have two sites, plenty of room if you want to hang. I'd love to catch your REI presentation, but the trail calls (not to mention the permit date).

At this point, I am seriously considering bagging the car shuttle and paying the $$ to ride back from Lone Pine in comparative luxury, full of Portal Burgers and great tales. WTH, its a bucket list trip, right?


Edited by saltydog (06/10/11 10:47 AM)
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#15345 - 06/20/11 01:26 PM Re: Whitney West [Re: saltydog]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1559
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
I am in touch with two other parties planning the HST in a few weeks. One leaving Crescent Meadow the same week as me (7/11) and one the week following. The crux of the trip now appears to be the lower half of the switchbacks on the west approach (JMT) to Trail Crest. Any observations or reports on this section now through July 10 will be very much appreciated. This stretch is 1000 to 2000 ft higher than Kaweah Gap, the second highest pass on the trail, and at last report, is very difficult, even though the switchbacks higher up are clear.

Thanks for any info from three grateful July HST parties
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#15367 - 06/20/11 06:33 PM Re: Whitney West [Re: saltydog]
Norcalhiker67 Offline


Registered: 02/12/11
Posts: 46
Loc: placerville, california
well, for what it's worth, my group is leaving two vehicles @ whitney portal, and 1 vehicle @ cottonwood lakes TH. We are through hiking from cottonwood lakes on through to whitney portal july 22-27. This is more like a southern approach rather than western, but the two trailheads we are using are only about 20+ miles apart.
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#15377 - 06/21/11 02:26 AM Re: Whitney West [Re: Norcalhiker67]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1559
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
NorCal: It is the western approach because that's the side you'l be climbing Whitney on. Same trail from around Crabtree up, same er switchback. SOme good recent info on a similar thread over at the Portal Store. DOn't know whether I'll be able to post before you leave, but I'll try on the 20th.
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#15417 - 06/21/11 06:05 PM Re: Whitney West [Re: saltydog]
Norcalhiker67 Offline


Registered: 02/12/11
Posts: 46
Loc: placerville, california
hey, i would really appreciate it salty dog, with this year's very excessive snow pack, i am starting to get a little concerned on the exact conditions we will encounter on my trip. i plan on heading up to cottonwood lakes, then tackle mt langley, over guyot pass , crabtree and mt whitney and down to the portal. what am seeing in these posts, is that there will be substantial melt in the next 4 wks, right???....maybe not complete melt, but enough to clear most of the trail....
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#15872 - 06/30/11 05:48 AM Re: Whitney West [Re: Norcalhiker67]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1559
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
Norcal; there has been a bunch of melt since the last posts here. So much so that crossings are probably now a bigger deal than snow pack, although Guitar lake to about halfway up JMT switches is pretty unknown. For anyone summiting in the next week, beta and photos of the west side would really be appreciated.
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#15892 - 06/30/11 12:19 PM Re: Whitney West [Re: saltydog]
lesper4 Offline


Registered: 04/28/11
Posts: 15
Loc: Fontana (Socal)
No doubt, I am taking a group up July 14th and with the way snow is melting I think a rope might be better used then crampons. We are going out of Horseshoe Meadows to the Portal. Considering Cottonwood pass (clear) instead of New Army Pass. But I woudl really enjoy it if the switchbacks are clear (West and East) and Guitar lake is somewhat clear of snow?

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#15902 - 06/30/11 02:09 PM Re: Whitney West [Re: saltydog]
dethMarch Offline


Registered: 06/30/11
Posts: 18
Loc: SLO
Saltydog;
I have been reading some of your posts - I can't seem to get "in" to the Whitney Portal Store site to post a reply there, so I registered here... :P

... anyway, I am planning a group trip from Crescent Meadows to Lone Pine; July 13-24. (We are also summitting Eagle Scout Peak, which overlooks Precipice Lake, adjacent to Kahweah Gap - if the snowpack permits us...)

We're a BSA troop, 6 boys, 4 adults. Most of us have been backpacking before (Philmont, etc), but for some of the boys, this is going to be a new-level of experience.

I hiked through this area via Mineral King->Monarch->Glacier Pass->Blackrock->5-lakes->Big Arroyo last year. In early August. So, no snow to speak of, really, (other than a nasty bit off the shadowed northeast side of Glacier Pass) - but I had heard of a lot of other groups whose July trips were canceled due to late snow in 2010... and the situation seems even worse this summer.

You had asked, in another posting, about food storage, and bear boxes . . . the NPS said that the bear boxes at Hamilton lakes campground were damaged, so I wouldn't rely on those. I've done hikes where we carried two bearvaults per person, (and inevitably, we ate less than half of what we thought we were going to!). There's no easy answer for this, other than, probably, go on a few long trips, bring too much food, and figure out how much food you're really going to need for the next time.

I'd really like to have up-to-the-minute info on snow/trail/creek conditions on HST - especially Kahweah Gap, and west approach to Whitney, and I'll keep scanning this board, I guess. When I come back from the trip, I'll post any info I have - but July 24... I'm certain it will be a moot point by then. laugh

I do really appreciate the information that I have heard so far, so thank you to the dedicated and helpful folks who have posted their reports.

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#15911 - 06/30/11 03:01 PM Re: Whitney West [Re: lesper4]
Giant Sequoia Offline


Registered: 06/24/11
Posts: 4
Loc: Arnold
Lesper,

I am doing the same trip, leaving the 15th. I too am hoping for clear switchbacks on both sides. I spoke with Sequoia Nat. Park yesterday and they said most of the snow around rock creek and crabtree is now melted and that rangers recently headed out to the posts there. I am hoping for news out of there soon regarding guitar lake and the switchbacks. I will have several beginners with me and would like to avoid snow gear if possible. Let me know if you find out anymore info the next few weeks.

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#15920 - 06/30/11 05:14 PM Re: Whitney West [Re: Giant Sequoia]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1559
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
Official SEKI beta is here . SCroll down to find separate entries for HST/Kaweah, Whitney and Kern areas. HST/Kaweah is currently the most recent.

dethMarch:

First I have to ask: are the troop/parents aware of your trail name? I won't tell. cool

Second: I am in touch on the other site with a HST party that is scheduled to summit on the 8th. WIll try to get his beta here ASAP, but no promises .

GS: I really think the crossings will be much more serious concern with beginners than the snow. That said, I would be prepared to follow SEKI advice on snow gear, and make the effort to teach/learn basics as the easier fields are encountered. Most REIs rent axes and crampons, and there is an REI in Fresno.

I would really concentrate on prudence in crossings. As snow improves, crossings may get worse. There have been several incidents this year that urge real caution. One indicator will be whether Bearpaw High Sierra Camp actually opens tomorrow as scheduled. One of the toughest crossings -- Mehrten Creek -- is halfway to Bearpaw and has to be passable to get there. I will be watching this one closely.


Edited by saltydog (06/30/11 05:16 PM)
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#15933 - 06/30/11 08:39 PM Re: Whitney West [Re: saltydog]
Norcalhiker67 Offline


Registered: 02/12/11
Posts: 46
Loc: placerville, california
thanks salty and others, i guess at this point, the concern and safety precautions shifts to river crossings as you said. i guess it really would not be too bad an idea to bring rope. i had initially planned on bringing my ice axe and crampons....i will ad to that rope. thanks.
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#15935 - 06/30/11 09:17 PM Re: Whitney West [Re: saltydog]
dethMarch Offline


Registered: 06/30/11
Posts: 18
Loc: SLO
First: Oh, no they are not. smile It's kind of a tribute to my son. I did the Mineral King hike with him last year - he's a teenager (and a Scout) - but he wanted to get back to his girlfriend in a hurry, so he pushed and pushed the schedule, and we covered over 50 miles (including an attempt on Eagle Scout Peak) in 4 days, instead of our original 7 day plan - we hiked until 10pm two of those days. (and he also likes this cartoon rock band called "dethklok" - so the screen name is kind of a sarcastic tribute. He's not joining us on this trip, because he's pursuing educational goals).

Second: appreciate the trip info - hope it's available before we depart.

And also - thanks for the info on the Fresno REI store. We are coming from San Luis Obispo, so Fresno is a tad out of the way for us; but we're going to consider this as we get closer to the depart. date, and if we don't get any clear betas telling us that the gear is *not* needed.

We know that we can probably bypass the Whitney summit if the switchbacks are not clear by the 22nd/23rd. We could even re-route to Army Pass, right? We could re-route along Timber Gap+Blackrock to get into Big Arroyo, if Kahweah Gap is blocked. But if Mehrton is impassable, I guess we're really bunched-up; and on the first day.

I remember from last year, that up Hamilton Gorge, along the cliffs, there was a waterfall that just crossed the trail. Straight over sheer sloping granite. Then, down hundreds of feet into the valley. If there was ice, or significant water flow, I couldn't imagine how anyone could ever get past that. The trail up by Hamilton lake and above is pretty mind-blowing. In my opinion, it is easily as impressive as the trail up to Half Dome in Yosemite - both by engineering, and vistas. But I think it's got to be very fragile in winter conditions. There was one creek where I saw an old steel bridge, smashed down in the gorge by a boulder, further upstream, was another stone bridge, also collapsed, only about 1/3 of the way across. There was a complete wooden bridge. Last year. Hope that one is still intact.

Our scouts are all 15 or 16, (so we're not talking about 12 year olds fresh out of Webelos), all Life Scout rank, and they're all athletes; track team, swim team, the one who isn't, is our most experienced backpacker. They've all showshoed. I think they're all even experienced snowboarders too. But none of them have ever used an ice-axe.

I have a lot of faith in these boys - I am actually more interested in trying to make their parents comfortable (the ones who aren't hiking with us) than anything else. I'm pretty sure we'll contend with whatever we encounter, or prudently step back, where necessary.

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#15936 - 06/30/11 09:46 PM Re: Whitney West [Re: dethMarch]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1559
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
dM: I am not so worried about the west side of Whitney. PCT hikers have been doing it for a couple of weeks and it is really melting fast. The chute from trail Crest is easy and soft if early enough, so I would not even be sweating the 97, especially if you decide to pick up axes. We are carrying them if only to do the Trail Crest glissade.

If necessary, however, Cottonwood might be better than Army: its only 11200, and army I think has way more snow. New Army I think still has a hairy cornice.

Lots of beta here on HST up to K gap, nothing mentioning the waterfall/crossing specifically, but a call to SEKI wilderness office might be in order.

Best wishes on your trip, and I will post what I can up to the 9th.


Edited by saltydog (06/30/11 09:47 PM)
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