Date of Hike 7/20/17
Start Time 02:04 am
Summit time 10:05 am
Time on Summit ~1 hour
Completion Time (return to portal) 4:16pm
Size of group 3
Previous experience 0
We really had no idea what to expect from the Mt Whitney trail. We were making a trip to NV/CA for the TRT endurance runs with zero elevation training or experience and decided that since we were there we should check out Mt Whitney while relatively close.
About a week prior to our trip we discovered this forum and decided we may want to do a little more research into what we should expect from the trail conditions. We already had trekking poles packed for other activities and purchased basic inexpensive 'micro spikes' ( Yak Trax XTR) and hoped they wouldn't be needed by the time we arrived.
When we started up the trail in the dark we all quickly felt the effects of the elevation coming from our home elevation of ~2000 feet. We reduced our pace and kept it comfortable through the duration of our hike. We encountered our first snow crossing, requiring us to step off of a ledge where the trail 'disappeared', across about a 2' gap between the surface of the ~ 60 yard wide snow field and the trail tread. None of us used our micro spikes for this crossing and none of us had any issues, however this crossing was exciting enough for us that two of us decided that we would wear our spikes for any future crossings.
For the most part the trail was easy to follow as long as we stopped for a moment anywhere that seemed less than clear. Around trail camp we had to take a few extra moments to find the proper trail, but ultimately it was not difficult to continue up through this section.
On the way up, just prior to Outpost Camp we made the mistake of crossing the marsh when we found the trail submerged by 6-8" of water. With a little care one of the three of us was able to make the entire trip with dry feet, but most likely you will get wet feet at one of the early crossings.
The 'Ice Bridge' on the cables was melted enough that we could easily walk around it on either side.
The remainder of the trip was very straight forward until reaching the final set of switchbacks to the summit. Here the trail appeared to end at a snow field with the hut just out of sight up the hill. Two of us made a hard right at the snow field and simply walked up the boulder field to the summit. After climbing a short distance I was able to find a very well buffed out trail that was also marked by cairns at every switchback that I believe to be the proper trail, either way this section was easy to navigate for all of us, as the hut quickly came into view, and all three of us arrived at the summit, happy with our routes.
On our return trip, which took just over half the time of the ascent, we noticed that the snow had melted very quickly throughout the day. This did not cause us any issues and in many places where the trail had been covered in the morning there was now bare ground exposed.
Ultimately we had an amazing experience and were very excited to have had the opportunity for a successful day in the mountains. We saw several people wearing trail shoes, and some without spikes or poles. I would say that neither spikes, or poles are necessary, but I was very happy to have both with my limited experience with high elevation snow crossings.
We all used sunscreen, but we also all got burnt, the sun exposure was very significant. None of us had any significant issues with altitude, but all of us felt it was a distinct and limiting factor to our pace. I had a very minor headache at times but at no point was it any worse than I would normally expect from wearing a headlamp for 3.5 hours.
Using weather.gov and selecting the summit area on the point forecast map, seemed to be accurate enough regarding hourly temperature on this day. Had we trusted it we could have left at least one additional layer behind and still been comfortable throughout the early hours.
It seemed that the majority of the people we encountered that summited this day had camped at trail camp or came up from the JMT. As first timers to this type of experience, we were very happy with our decision to make an early start for the single day event, appreciating the additional time during the cooler hours, but it was definitely a long day in the mountains and was certainly worth every step.