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#53432 - 06/12/18 11:59 AM Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week
SWriverstone Offline


Registered: 06/12/18
Posts: 9
Loc: Oregon
Hi All: as it stands now, I'm starting a hike on Monday next week (June 18) from Onion Valley/Kearsarge Pass south to Mt. Whitney (exiting at Whitney Portal).

This would put me climbing Mt. Whitney on either Thursday June 21 or Friday June 22.

I've been monitoring conditions—as of today, it sounds like west side switchbacks are now/should be mostly snow-free; sounds like the eastside is still snow-packed down to Trail Camp—but not sure if that will still be the case in 10 days?

I'm in good shape for the hike, very level-headed, and conservative by nature (not prone to taking risks). I have ZERO experience using an ice axe and don't plan to bring one (though I could if I'm told I should have one). I will definitely have trekking poles (I use them all the time).

I do have Kahtoola microspikes, but not sure whether to bring them or not? I'm also hiking alone—though also assuming there will be plenty of other hikers around.

I'd really appreciate any opinions (understanding that everyone is different and "your mileage may vary") on whether it's reasonable for me to think...
a) I'll make it up and over Trail Crest and down to Whitney Portal, and
b) I can summit Whitney (e.g. footing will be fine without crampons and ice axe)

Keep in mind that I'm coming from Kearsarge Pass, so will already have climbed Forester Pass (and be pretty well-acclimated by the time I get to Whitney).

ALSO: if I don't have an ice axe, is glissading down the east side even an option? (Is it reasonable to hike down if there is still lots of snow coverage?)

Thanks!
Scott


Edited by SWriverstone (06/12/18 12:02 PM)

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#53438 - 06/12/18 01:16 PM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: SWriverstone]
SWriverstone Offline


Registered: 06/12/18
Posts: 9
Loc: Oregon
Replying to my previous post above: clearly the big hazard is The Chute (with which I'm not familiar since I've never been there). Just finished reading this thread:

http://www.whitneyzone.com/wz/ubbthreads.php/topics/53410/Mt_Whitney_multiple_injuries_o#Post53410

Doesn't exactly inspire confidence! So now I'm wondering, in 10 days (e.g. June 21-22) will The Chute be the only way up/down (I think this is on the east side)?

If so, will the only safe way to cross it be with real crampons and ice axe? (And of course actually knowing what to do with the ice axe)?

I'm no fool and don't take unnecessary risks. I've been thinking I'd be happy to skip summiting Whitney...but summiting doesn't really seem like an issue so much as just getting up to Trail Crest (from the west) and back down to Trail Camp.

So right now, I'm wondering if I just blow off Whitney entirely and continue south on the PCT/JMT to Cottonwood Pass?

If you're knowledgable about this area and have been known to curse at unprepared fools on Whitney before, here's your chance to enlighten one of them before he gets on the mountain! :-)

Thanks,
Scott

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#53439 - 06/12/18 02:48 PM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: SWriverstone]
SWriverstone Offline


Registered: 06/12/18
Posts: 9
Loc: Oregon
Eh what the heck—just continuing to talk with myself here. :-)

Since I'm coming from the west, my impression is that the trail from Guitar Lake to Trail Crest is now snow free (if anyone nows differently, please let me know!)

As for descending the east side, my big question is...are the switchbacks fully open?

If the switchbacks are NOT open, then the best advice seems to be to time the descent down the Chute for midday/afternoon when the snow is soft.

(Part of the reason I'm talking to myself here is just for the benefit of others—so my thought process is clear. It may not be the best thought process, but I tend to be fairly analytical about this stuff, so for what it's worth!)

Scott

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#53442 - 06/12/18 06:08 PM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: SWriverstone]
Hobbes Offline


Registered: 03/28/14
Posts: 124
Loc: The OC
Even when hiking your route in mid-spring, there are only a handful of places that require an axe.

Coming from Kearsarge, the first would be the south notch on Forester. Hitting the west side switchbacks from Guitar, an axe is nice but not critical. Once you get to the MMWT junction, an axe moves to the 'better to have in hand than not' for the 4 miles round/trip to/from the peak. And then there is the Chute.

So, you lug an axe that is used maybe 3 times, yet those 3 times are critical. It's a must have item that is rarely used. By the time you go, perhaps only the Chute would still require an axe. So, here's the question: what's the difference between using an axe 3 times vs 1 time? My answer would be: not much, so suck it up and carry the axe just like (almost) everybody else does earlier in the season. (Unless you hear the cables are open on your start date.)

I would say that you won't need spikes, primarily because at this point, there are so many boot tracks on the PCT/JMT. If the only time you use an axe is on the Chute, then you don't wear crampons/spikes on the descent anyway. Btw, this is true for either glissading or plunge stepping.

The last issue is learning how to use an axe. Waiting for the eye rolls here, but watch some videos. Then, while you're on your trip, make sure you practice self-belay, self-arrest (and maybe some glissading) on snow patches/fields each day (if possible). Getting in some practice should give you some sense of handling.

Actually, this is where spikes could be useful, because they will help you gain a few hundred feet before you descend. There are great snow fields on both sides of Forester that start right above some of the higher camp spots (eg the northside 11.2k meadow).

The thing about an axe and snow travel in general is: you have to learn sometime if you want to move in snow. Once you become more comfortable, you might actually find you prefer spring conditions and begin to search out other ways to apply those skills.

PS It's critical to have an axe with the proper shaft length. Too often, you'll see people with short handled ice climbing axes. That's not what's in play here - the axe you need is for self belay and arrest.

Basically, the rule of thumb is your hand - while hanging loosely by your side, should be able to cup the head/adze/axe, with the tip resting on the ground. Generally, this turns out to be 60-80cm - mine is 75cm.


Edited by Hobbes (06/12/18 06:13 PM)

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#53449 - 06/13/18 08:21 AM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: SWriverstone]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1249
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
9 people have died in SoCal the last 3 winters...8 were utilizing light traction devices and poles.

If the trail is not an option on the north side of Forester Pass or at the Chute. Skills, helmet, crampons and axe are required. You cannot self belay with a collapsible trekking pole.

Cottonwood Pass is an easy over even in big winters; both the pass and its backdoor.

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#53450 - 06/13/18 08:58 AM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: wbtravis]
SWriverstone Offline


Registered: 06/12/18
Posts: 9
Loc: Oregon
Thanks Hobbes and wbtravis—great points and advice.

Based on your experience wbtravis, would you say Hobbes' suggestion isn't wise? (Get an ice axe and take some time to practice self-arrests on some snow slopes on my way to Forester Pass.)

Obviously having a bombproof self-arrest is far beyond what I could achieve on this hike with a little practice. So it seems like more a question of on-the-ground conditions (e.g. at the Forester Pass south notch) versus newbie ice axe abilities: if snow is minimal/patchy and soft, with a good boot track, maybe the chance of falling is significantly lessened?

I know—a fall is a fall, and being able to stop yourself is the same no matter what. <thumbs up>

I'm not blind and bullheaded—in the sense that I could always choose to just blow off the whole southbound hike entirely, and instead just hike over Kearsarge Pass, then maybe hike north or south a day or two (as far as the trail is clear in either direction) and just come back to Kearsarge and hike out. (I don't HAVE to hike south to Whitney.)

This will be my first-ever backpack in the Sierras...so honestly, just BEING THERE will be a transcendental experience, LOL.

FINALLY: it seems like the critical factor will be getting accurate intel—the day before I start—on precise conditions at Forester and Whitney (maybe in 10 days the snow will be all but gone and the trail 100% snow-free?).

If anyone has suggestions on the best places/sources to get that kind of up-to-the-minute intel, please let me know!

Scott

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#53454 - 06/13/18 09:57 AM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: SWriverstone]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1249
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
No experience, no go, period, is my advice. You don't put someone on San Diego Fwy. for the first time out with a learners permit.

I don't play this game. I have seen too many people hurt in the mountains in winter. All of whom were unprepared for what they were doing.


Edited by wbtravis (06/13/18 09:58 AM)

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#53457 - 06/13/18 10:55 AM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: wbtravis]
SWriverstone Offline


Registered: 06/12/18
Posts: 9
Loc: Oregon
Understood and agreed! I know well how easy it is to go down the "path of lame rationalization" and minimize risks, convincing yourself that "It'll be fine."

I think for my hike (as I mentioned above) it'll come down to...will the snow be entirely gone from the trails and switchbacks by June 21? My guess is "no." But I don't know for certain (I think it's been very warm at altitude recently...)

I'd still appreciate any suggestions for best sources of up-to-the-minute, on-the-mountain conditions.

Scott

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#53470 - 06/13/18 03:02 PM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: SWriverstone]
Hobbes Offline


Registered: 03/28/14
Posts: 124
Loc: The OC
To put some numbers in perspective, on average, 9 motorcyclists die every 7 days in California.

https://www.motorcycleaccidentcaselaw.com/california-statistics/

There are many enthusiast forums and discussion boards covering every possible activity under the sun, some mundane, some interesting, others possibly dangerous. For example, there are countless devoted to motorcycles, with perhaps most threads focused on basic information about makes, models and rides.

For motorcyclists, most know/are aware of the stats I posted above. And I'm positive there are nags who enjoy positioning themselves as experts in order to lecture others. It's just human nature to find a venue where self esteem can be elevated at the expense of others. And the best part of being an interwebs expert? The moral authority that flows like wine by taking the side of "safety".

It's a problem with all social media platforms, and admins/mods have to walk a fine line between being overly aggressive vs unduly permissive. The permissive side can eventually morph into some users dominating discussions. It's actually a form of theft, because rather than create their own FB page or website in which to launch various lectures, they simply use someone else's property to achieve the same objective.

Secondly, even in heavy snow conditions, there are only a few places where ice axes are actually needed. (On the PCT, that would be Forester, Glen, Mather and Sonora. On Whitney, that would be the Chute/crest on the MMWT and the Gully + final 400 on the MR.) Ned Tibbits has written extensively on this topic, and is an advocate of using a whippet since it's always in your hand. What he emphasizes is how to recognize when an axe is necessary (degree of slope, length of runout, etc), and when to stow your whippet/poles and take out the axe. The other issue is how to actually use one when its required.

So, since there's only a few places where an ice axe is actually necessary, how do you prepare and/or train for the experience? This is where the 405 analogy fails - badly. If you're going to have to drive the 405, then you need to know how to actually do it. Driving surface streets isn't a substitute - that would be akin to hiking with your axe when it's not needed.

There is only one way to learn how to use an axe, and that is to actually use it. You can find bunny slopes, but if they aren't at least 20-25 degrees, you'll never get the feel for how to self-arrest, traverse or self-belay.

I apologize for using your thread to hash out some internal issues at WZ, but IMO Steve is going to have to address this sooner or later. To me, the objective of this board is to actually climb Whitney - planning, doing and reporting back. People who have experience, some in different conditions, can provide input, advice, tips and encouragement. While there are warnings and common sense recommendations eg don't hike in a T or snow storm, take the right gear for the conditions, etc, the emphasis should be on helping people interested in **doing**, not armchair lecturing.


Edited by Hobbes (06/13/18 03:09 PM)

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#53471 - 06/13/18 03:19 PM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: Hobbes]
Brad Calvin Offline


Registered: 05/27/18
Posts: 5
Loc: Huntington Beach, CA
Hobbes,

I agree w/ much of what you are saying.

However, I infer that you are saying that the danger of dying on Whitney is small compared to the dangers of riding a motorcycle in CA. If so, I do not agree. Assuming that there are 9 motorcycle deaths/7 days in CA, but how many people are riding motorcycles every day? I suspect it's in the tens of thousands. And, for how many miles or hours at a time does each person ride?

That death rate is probably very low when you compare it to the # of people that attempt to summit Whitney or compare it to the # of people that attempt to summit Whitney while attempting to ascend parts of the mountain or trail that are covered in snow or ice.

You'd really have to compare apples to apples before concluding that riding a motorcycle is more dangerous.

Anyway, it seems to me that quite a few people have been injured this year (at least since I have been reading this forum). Hopefully, more people will read these posts before attempting to engage in activity where they are ignorant of the skill required and risks involved.

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#53474 - 06/13/18 03:45 PM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: Brad Calvin]
dtothewiese Offline


Registered: 06/13/18
Posts: 2
Loc: Los Angeles
I summited from the East on 6/9/18.

Coming from the West, your switchbacks looked snow free from trail crest. There may be patches of ice/snow in the shade, but I didn't go down to inspect.

Descending the chute might be your only option on those dates, it's hard to say. Since that's the case, I would definitely bring your microspikes at the very least. With those and your trekking poles, you'll still want to carefully step onto the snow, then walk out to a safe slide path where nobody is coming up, and where you won't crash into any rocks. Maneuvering to that position will be a lot easier with the microspikes.

Once you get there, sit yourself down, take them off, and glissade down! Go slowly since you don't have an ice axe to self-arrest. Dig your heels into the snow hard.

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#53475 - 06/13/18 04:59 PM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: SWriverstone]
SWriverstone Offline


Registered: 06/12/18
Posts: 9
Loc: Oregon
More good comments. Hobbes, I get where you're coming from, so no worries from my end. And I agree—another good analogy (with which I'm intimately familiar) is learning to roll a kayak in whitewater. Everyone learns how to roll in a swimming pool or calm lake first—but knowing how to do it there doesn't even remotely guarantee you can do it in the middle of a big rapid while getting thrashed by the current.

The only way you learn how to do a "combat roll" as they're called, unfortunately, is by flipping (usually by accident) in a big rapid, and then you either bail out and swim like hell (possibly getting beat up in the process) or you succeed in rolling up. There's no middle ground.

We all wonder sometimes how people get into trouble? I can tell you easily—by being in the situation I'm in: which is, feeling a fairly high degree of self-confidence and good judgment, and being told by enough people that if you're careful, the risk is low (or that the people who fall were probably careless or didn't take it seriously).

Compound that with the fact that this will be my only chance to climb Whitney this year. If I decide to pass on it, my next earliest opportunity will be summer of 2019—which sucks. And tempts to me to rationalize doing it now. Though I have no experience with an ice axe or self-arrests, I've watched many YouTube vids repeatedly and feel like I thoroughly understand the elements of a self-arrest and can rehearse them in my mind repeatedly.

Lame rationalization? Possibly, and there you have it! LOL Thankfully, I'm mature enough at 55 to be able to swallow my pride and make the safest choice...but that little voice that says "C'mon man, DO IT! You'll be FINE!" keeps buzzing in my head...

Scott

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#53487 - 06/13/18 11:13 PM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: dtothewiese]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7445
Loc: Fresno, CA
Originally Posted By: dtothewiese
Go slowly since you don't have an ice axe to self-arrest. Dig your heels into the snow hard.


This is extremely bad advice! If you don't have an ice axe for a brake (and learn how to use it that way), you are at nature's mercy. If that snow is the least bit solid, there is NO WAY a person can dig their heels in to slow their descent. (Been there, done that!)

People who do this successfully succeed because the temperature was warm enough that the snow was slushy. At some unknown temperature, it hardens, and you're toast.

As for the uber-warnings: We all get tired of them. A few are good, but the incessant drum-beat will get you blocked.

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#53509 - 06/15/18 09:00 AM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: Hobbes]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1249
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
I guess rescuing people in over there heads in winter makes you an armchair mountaineer. Thanks for let me know what qualifies me for that title. There hasn't been a winter that haven't seen or prevented carnage in the last 5 to 10 years...all this as a private citizen.

All you need is a bunny slope...nope. Things happen too fast and most will shortcut things. I don't see too many practicing on their back head first. Not everything is on your ass and rolling over but that isn't even the biggest problem. That is, not knowing what you do not know. Like traveling up a slope a few feet a part in a direct line...which was most likely the cause of the last accident in the Chute. Then, there is that cool glissade when the shade is covering the Chute in the late afternoon.

There are 9 people dead in last 3 SoCal winters...8 did not what they were doing and the other made a fundamental bad mistake, if you want statistics.

The time to learn this stuff was last winter. Something I have been says for God knows how long. It's not like spring conditions are an unknown factor.

Finally, I do not give a rip if you go or don't go...I just offer an option based on doing this stuff for 15 years and taking care of increasing carnage in the last 4 or 5 years.

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#53510 - 06/15/18 09:04 AM Re: Whitney reality check: hike planned for late next week [Re: dtothewiese]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1249
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Originally Posted By: dtothewiese
I summited from the East on 6/9/18.

Coming from the West, your switchbacks looked snow free from trail crest. There may be patches of ice/snow in the shade, but I didn't go down to inspect.

Descending the chute might be your only option on those dates, it's hard to say. Since that's the case, I would definitely bring your microspikes at the very least. With those and your trekking poles, you'll still want to carefully step onto the snow, then walk out to a safe slide path where nobody is coming up, and where you won't crash into any rocks. Maneuvering to that position will be a lot easier with the microspikes.

Once you get there, sit yourself down, take them off, and glissade down! Go slowly since you don't have an ice axe to self-arrest. Dig your heels into the snow hard.


How do you dig your heels in when you hit ice and your speed goes from about 12 MPH to 30 MPH? I have seen this happen. You can neither belay nor arrest with trekking poles. People have died on this Chute utilizing trekking poles as their brake.

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