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#23809 - 05/09/12 04:58 PM Late May Summit via John Muir Trail
Connor Offline


Registered: 05/09/12
Posts: 18
Loc: California (CA)
Hi there,

This may be a redundant question but I want to double check to be safe. I am planning on traversing the High Sierra Trail in late May, and I will be finishing the trip by summiting Whitney via the John Muir Trail (west to east).

I will be planning on using microspikes, ice axe, gaiters, and trekking poles and climbing from Guitar Lake up the switchbacks to the trail crest and then the summit. I will be returning by either glissading the chute (if it has not gotten icy), or descending the switchbacks on the main Mt. Whitney Trail, depending on the snowmelt.

However, I am worried that the switchbacks on the way up may be too covered in snow to proceed, like they have been reported to be on the main Mt. Whitney Trail (east to west).

Does anyone have any thoughts/ideas?

Thanks,
Connor

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#23811 - 05/09/12 05:28 PM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: Connor]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1499
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
Connor: Strange as it seems, crossing Kaweah Gap is likely to be much trickier than the west side ascent to Trail Crest, and you need to get good beta on it. Although it is 2500 feet lower, it seems to hold snow much longer than the exposed west flank of MW.

Last July, after the Whitney MT had been clear for at least a couple weeks (and the West Side before that) Kaweah Gap was socked in from the tunnel above Hamilton to KG, till around July 15, when the first HST hikers pushed to Whitney. Beyond that, it was clear sailing all the way to the Portal. So the long and short of it is, if Kaweah Gap goes, the JMT side switchbacks will be fine.

If Kaweah Gap is socked in, you will need all your snow gear and very good route-finding, including a probe. Snow gets bridged and undercut wicked from Precipice Lake to Kaweah gap, on and off the trail.

So your critical beta will be from either the SekI Trail Conditions Report the wilderness office at SEKI or High Sierra Topix. There is nothing posted yet either at SEKI or HST, so I would call the SEKI wilderness office ((559) 565-3766) and start a thread at High Sierra Topix. HST

Not a lot of snow this year, but what there is will be running, at its highest, so you will need good beta on the creek crossings, and there are several. I can give you details on each one as you get beta on general conditions.
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#23813 - 05/09/12 06:05 PM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: saltydog]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
When I crossed Mt. Whitney in Mid-May 2007, there was angled ice across where the trail should be. I know I was extremely happy to have 12 pt. crampons and an axe.

I used Microspikes a lot this past winter for trail walking but if there were any kind of angle or exposure they were put away and the fangs were affixed to the boots.


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#23816 - 05/09/12 06:27 PM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: saltydog]
Ken Offline


Registered: 10/29/09
Posts: 742
Loc: Los Angeles
I think if you want to hike in snow on the west side of Whitney, you better get up there ASAP.

Looking around at snow survey stations, Crabtree is dry. Best I can find is Charlotte Lake, which went snow-free on the 2nd. Of note, when the max day temps were in the low 40's, it was melting at better than an average of an inch a day, and that's the temp now at trail camp.

But the west side is blasted by the sun. In ten days, I'd be surprised if you find snow except the summit snowfield on the west.

East will be different.

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#23820 - 05/09/12 07:58 PM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: Ken]
Connor Offline


Registered: 05/09/12
Posts: 18
Loc: California (CA)
Great. Thank you all. I'm hearing some mixed stuff. While this season has had an unusually low snowpack, I hear that there is still ~100% cover above 8000'. I'm hoping this will melt in time for late May.

Now I'm worried about Kaweah Gap. Uff....



Edited by Connor (05/09/12 08:00 PM)

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#23826 - 05/09/12 09:37 PM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: Connor]
MooseTracks Offline


Registered: 11/02/09
Posts: 582
Loc: Bishop, CA, United States


When did "low snow year" become "NO snow year"???

I may post a rant about this tomorrow... :eek:

As for Kaweah Gap, I'd actually be more concerned about the descent to Hamilton Lake on the west side of KG. While south and west facing, it's one HELL of a drop.

And, just to be clear, you seem to be talking about the High Sierra Trail, not the JMT, correct?
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#23827 - 05/09/12 10:36 PM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: MooseTracks]
Ken Offline


Registered: 10/29/09
Posts: 742
Loc: Los Angeles
That's a GREAT picture, Laura!

When did you take up gliding????? smile

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#23828 - 05/09/12 10:44 PM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: Connor]
Ken Offline


Registered: 10/29/09
Posts: 742
Loc: Los Angeles
you may find it helpful to look at the remote snow stations. Start here, and move around the so. Sierra:

http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/mapper?level=2&map=32&quad=6

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#23835 - 05/10/12 06:28 AM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: MooseTracks]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1499
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
I am looking at KG as an ascent, because I think Connor is going W to E, so the stretch I am talking about is the same as Laura's: whichever direction you are going, its the section between Hamilton and KG that you need to be looking at. The clear sailing, if there is any, will be on the east side of KG, not the west. Exposures are in the 1000s. "100% above 8,000" translates as "socked in for 2500' from Hamilton Lakes to KG."

I would be concentrating my research on that section, beginning with the SEKI wilderness office in Three Rivers. i notice you are from Cal. If not too far from SEKI, I would be up there the weekend before your trip, checking at the WO, the permit desk at Lodgepole, if its open yet (the rangers there rotate in and out of backcountry duty) and backpackers coming off the trail at Crescent Meadow . Conditions change fast in this area and the only reliable beta I got last year was less than a day old from other hikers who had just backed off. Even folks coming from Bearpaw, including rangers, did not know what was going on above Hamilton .

If you go ahead, let me know. there's a another whole skill set involved in dealing with the animal population at Hamilton.
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#23836 - 05/10/12 07:00 AM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: saltydog]
MooseTracks Offline


Registered: 11/02/09
Posts: 582
Loc: Bishop, CA, United States
Yeah, like turning that damn marmot into stew... :mad:
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#23838 - 05/10/12 07:21 AM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: MooseTracks]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1063
Loc: NorCal
Originally Posted By: MooseTracks
Yeah, like turning that damn marmot into stew... mad

Moose vs Marmot - this should be pitched to Warner Brothers for a new cartoon idea.

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#23839 - 05/10/12 07:42 AM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: SierraNevada]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1063
Loc: NorCal
Here's a pretty cool tool from postholer.com for looking at snow depths on a topo map.

To change the date, just modify the URL in the same 8-digit format. You can go back a few weeks and see how fast it's melting or go back to any year and compare to this today.

This dataset is a low-resolution overlaid so I wouldn't rely on it for a specific location, but you can gain some good insight with it by combining it with beta from other seasons or times of year with similar coverage.

Snow Depth Overlay on Topo

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#23847 - 05/10/12 09:02 AM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: SierraNevada]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1499
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
Originally Posted By: MooseTracks
Yeah, like turning that damn marmot into stew... mad

Moose vs Marmot - this should be pitched to Warner Brothers for a new cartoon idea.


At Hamilton, it would be Moose vs Deer, too. Can't leave anything with any trace of salt or sweat around. I loved going back to my son's employer with him to hear him explain "the deer ate my paycheck" and back it up with photo evidence. I woke early and found a 100 ft trail leading from his pants (hung on a shrub) of bills, student ID, drivers license, receipts, etc to a nearby clearing where Bambi the Marauder was calmly munching on what was left of his leather wallet. T-shirts, trekking poles, bandannas, socks, nothing is safe.
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#23857 - 05/10/12 11:54 AM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: saltydog]
Connor Offline


Registered: 05/09/12
Posts: 18
Loc: California (CA)
You guys have been phenomenally helpful. Thank you. I've been in contact with various SEKI rangers and I'm going to be driving up a few days prior to our trip to double check the conditions.

As of now, I'll be bringing snowshoes, and hopefully a lot of good luck.

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#23879 - 05/11/12 06:44 AM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: Connor]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1499
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
What have the rangers told you? Keep us posted ok?
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#23919 - 05/12/12 11:22 PM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: saltydog]
Connor Offline


Registered: 05/09/12
Posts: 18
Loc: California (CA)
I'll get an update on Monday and post it here when that happens.

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#24007 - 05/15/12 10:22 PM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: Connor]
Connor Offline


Registered: 05/09/12
Posts: 18
Loc: California (CA)
So no new updates... Rangers still saying there's snow above 8,000'. They haven't been out there to check firsthand. Guess I'll be one of the first of the season to be taking the High Sierra Trail and heading up Whitney via Crabtree Meadows. Ooh la la!

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#24019 - 05/16/12 07:22 AM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: Connor]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
I really doubt there is snow about at 8,000'. We went to 9,000' Saturday in the San Gabriels and there were a few patches plus some solid snow in the collection areas.

My guess is you will see snow 10,000', possibly higher.

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#24023 - 05/16/12 08:04 AM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: wbtravis]
Connor Offline


Registered: 05/09/12
Posts: 18
Loc: California (CA)
I agree. I was up San Gorgonio on Saturday, and even going up to 11,500' didn't pull out the crampons once.

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#24033 - 05/16/12 09:52 AM Re: Late May Summit via John Muir Trail [Re: Connor]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1499
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
Connor:

As Laura showed in her post on snow conditions, you cannot go by what you find in any other location, especially when dealing with the HST to and through Kaweah Gap. Critical sections are deep in ValHalla, and in the shadow of Eagle Scout Peak. Valhalla hold clouds and therefore snow like crazy. Last year-mid July, when much higher passes were finally clear, Valhalla was clouding up solid every afternoon, and holding snow that turned strong teams back at about 9000 - 9500. If you want a rough comparison, last years WZ trip reports show first use of the MWMT switchbacks from 12,000 up to 13,500 around July 2, but the first HST hikers to push Kaweah Gap (except for two experienced winter climbers) 10,500 were about 2 weeks later. And the MW switchbacks are not clear as of this writing. That tells me that it is probably not solid snow above 8000 below Kaweah Gap, but its probably a lot lower than 10,000. This is not to say that KG is reliably 2 weeks behind the switchbacks, but its one piece of good beta you should consider.

Finally the route to KG above Precipice Lake is a lot harder to find than Trail Crest, even though the actual climbing is easier. No clear chute, and lots of it gets bridged and undercut.

In any event, good luck. If you want the skinny on individual creek crossings, camps etc up to Hamilton, let me know

The rangers tend to report second hand and very conservatively about snowmelt: your only really reliable info is from someone coming off the trail. I would still make that recon trip a couple of days ahead of your permit date, and hang out at Crescent Meadow in the mid afternoon to catch hikers actually coming off the trail


Edited by saltydog (05/16/12 09:58 AM)
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