We started as a group of 3 at about 6:30 AM on 5.30 at Whitney Portal. The trail was clean and clear unto somewhere below lone pine lake after which the trail was completely snowed in. Fortunately we had sunlight so we just followed the foot tracks and came up to lone pine lake easily.
We met a bunch of hikers along the way some who were day hiking up and some that were coming back from the trail crest that started really early that morning. We got a good idea of what to expect ahead thanks to those who were coming down. We didn't get a sighting of lone pine lake on the way up but we did see it coming down and it appeared mostly frozen although some sections were appearing to be thawing.
Beyond Lone Pine lake the trail was somewhat slushy in spots since the sun had started to shine down and you could see the top layers slowly melting away. Right below lone pine lake we got our crampons on because the snow was starting to slip in sections because of the sun induced melt. We did see others who were in day hiking shoes.
As we got to outpost camp we found a little stream to refill water from and get a little rest before pushing ahead. At this spot we met a solo hiker who was in amazing shape and was trailblazing with snowshoes with a 55 pound pack ( if you are reading this, WOW! ). He helped us filter water and sped away very shortly.
After outpost we followed the foot tracks through the trees and easily got to mirror lake. Mirror lake was surprisingly completely unfrozen and may have a been a good spot to fish? On the way down we would meet two groups going up with fishing poles to lone pine lake. I realize now that I forgot to mention to them that mirror lake was joyous with all water. We also stopped by the water for lunch and some pictures.
Shortly after mirror lake we made our first mistake which we would not realize until we came back down. We followed foot tracks along the left side ridge of the lake which then veered to the right. We should have infact kept to the left side tracks which was not very clearly visible at the time - the left side tracks would take us through the snow switchbacks to get to consultation lake. The right side tracks would take us through a very steep and long cut at say about 45 degrees that would get us to the same spot with a greater level difficult and effort. We spent quite some time negotiating this chute with sunlight beating down our backs, gasping for breath at each step and holding on with the ice axe for a two point contact. This was strenuous but not dangerous. We just spent more time on this route which is not even the main trail.
As we got the top of the hill we had go up a slight incline to come to consultation lake. Words cannot capture the beauty of this completely frozen over lake nestled with mountains on three sides.
From consultation lake we made it trail camp relatively easily and it was about 3:30 by the time we hit the camp. The signpost that said trail camp was completely covered in snow and we could see only the top 2 inches or snow. Later on someone dug out some snow around it so a little more of the board is visible.
There was only 1 tent pitched at trail camp as we got there and it was the hiker that helped us refill water at outpost camp. He was such a good hearted joyous fellow that he helped us pick out a tent spot, helped compact the snow and also helped setup our tents ( we had to setup 2 ). The snow at trail camp was soft and we were post holing about half way to the knee. The snow from consultation to outpost was also very soft and we were post holing there as well. We were only helped with the previously hiked snow holes which helped minimize some of our effort.
We were blessed with some of the best weather at trail camp. As we came into trail camp we had some snow that started to fall down but it stopped about an hour later. There were hardly any winds either. The forecast for 5/31 could not better in the AM - 5 mph winds, clear skies and no snow until noon. So the plan was really to wake up and start for the chute by 3/4 in the AM.
After setting up tent, I packed in my day pack for the summit, melted snow and filled water. I had a burner failure due my accidental water spill over it. So the hiker that helped us setup tent and another group that had come in by then allowed me to borrow their gear to complete melting water for the summit push.
We woke up at 3:30 AM and had a bunch of issues due to which we decided not to summit. We had some gear failure ( shoe water proofing gave away ) and didnt manage to get good sleep so we didn't think it was a good idea to go up the chute exhausted.
We woke up again by about 6:00 to a beautiful sunrise. When we stepped out all the snow around trail camp had hardened and I needed crampons to walk around. We could see a bunch of about 8 hikers on the chute by say 7 AM. As we stated to pack up and fold our tents, a bunch of people were starting to come down the chute all turning back at about the half way point. The key issue they were all stating was that it was firm until the sun came out but started becoming slushy soon. By the time we were fully packed everyone had come down except for the one hiker that helped us setup tent. As we were following him, we could tell that he got to the trail crest and must have likely pushed along to the summit. If you are reading I hope you are well and are back safe.
Key notes on the chute / switch back and gear :
1. The hiker that helped us setup tent came up to trail camp in snow shoes. While it may have been easier with soft snow I think its a pain to hike in those.
2. We met a hiker who tried to go up the chute in snowshoes and was unsuccessful because it was too much effort to manage the snow shoes with post holing.
3. Almost everyone we met were complaining of snow becoming slushy on the chute after sun coming out
4. There were two guys that went about 75% of the chute in microspikes ( kudos guys ) but I am not sure that's everybody's thing.
5. Almost everyone that went up to trail crest went slightly ahead on the trail and turned back because the snow was unstable after that.
Not much of a story to report on the trip back. Was a whole lot of fun glissading around. When we were at the section about mirror lake we were staring down at the steep section that we struggled coming up. There was no way we could hike down that section so we had made up our mind to glissade. Fortunately another hiker came there with a GPS and pointed us to the trail which was slightly to the right of that section "through" the rocks and then into the snow covered switch backs. We didn't think that "through" the rocks was the trail and were told by another hiker that people had died trying to glissade down the section to the right side of the rocks. SO if you in that spot looking down at mirror lake:
1. To the left - Steep glissade with rocks in between. Do not try until you know you can steer away from rocks
2. To the middle and through the rocks - This is the trail
3. To the right - Snow covered and looks great for a glissade but do not try since we heard other people had died trying it.
Other than that section above, all other glissades were just fun!
Last edited by sierrahiker; 06/01/19 07:08 AM.