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#55547 - 06/26/19 07:58 PM Trip Report - Main Trail 24 June
Caleb Offline

Registered: 06/26/19
Posts: 6
Loc: Texas USA
Party of 4 went up the main route on Monday, 24 June, 3 successfully summited. Probably set close to a new speed record - for slowness - over 24 hours!

We stepped off on the trail at 2AM, taking some switchbacks right off the main trail that avoided the first stream crossing. A very nice couple that started at the same time as us and happened to be our next door neighbors at the Best Western in Lone Pine showed us that trick. Thanks!

We trekked our way along the main route, encountering snow for the first time maybe 2.5 to 3 miles or so down the trail. There were various patches of snow that sometimes required navigation to pick back up the trail on the other side.

The trip up to the chute was largely uneventful. We were definitely one of the slower parties, and didn't start ascending the chute until 9:30AM or so if I recall correctly. The previous reports we read were correct - you really want to be at least on your way up it by 8 or so, as it was getting quite slushy and hard to ascend. It was a lot of work, and we saw many people glissading down (with relative ease it appeared!) while we were on our way up. The switchbacks are unusable, and ***I would not attempt the chute now without crampons and an ice axe!!!*** We actually met up with the couple from the Best Western who made much better time than us and were in great shape, but wisely didn't attempt the chute because they didn't have ice axes. You probably could do it, but I think it'd be extremely risky to yourself and those below you!

Also at the base of the chute we finally caught up to a 74-year-old woman who was in great shape and a serious trooper! She didn't go up the chute, but she had kept up with us (a group of guys in their 20s and 30s) until that point - super impressive! Apparently she had summited Mount Rainier the weekend before, too!

After the long slow trip through the slush of the chute, we went along trail crest. Altitude was starting to get to some of us, and the journey was slow. Luckily a lot of the snow along that section had melted since a trip report I read/saw pics from a trip about 10 days prior to ours, and the trail wasn't nearly as sketchy. There were a few slightly sketchy parts, but overall pretty safe and straightforward.

One of our party made the smart choice to turn back about a mile from the summit along with another kind fellow who joined our group along the way - with wobbly legs and altitude sickness getting to his head he didn't feel safe.

We finally got to the summit around 3:30PM, the last people to make it up there by a little over an hour. After taking pics and signing the book with our attempts at humorous comments, we headed back down the trail to meet up with our friend who turned back, who was waiting for us at trail camp. We had brought two-way radios that we used to keep in touch while we were separated. They came in handy!

Finally made it back to Trail Crest probably by around 6PM ish. The friend now at trail camp had warned us that the glissade was pretty scary! Indeed, we slid down the same path everyone before us had that day - only while the first people in the morning we saw slide down easily and gleefully, the path we took was now a deep rut of packed ice. In hindsight we probably should have slid down fresh snow besides that route, instead of whisking down like an amateur bobsled team, equipped only with one-day old ice axes and a couple youtube videos on how to glissade. Indeed, two of our party lost their ice axes on the way down, stuck in the ice as the person slid by them. The first guy lost his ice axe only 50 feet or so below the top, but met with great fortune and happened upon a stick as he slid down, which he used to slow and control his descent! I looked on with horror as I saw my buddy lying at the bottom of the chute, out of range to hear or answer my yelling, until he finally stood up and hiked toward trail camp. I put on crampons, hiked down and back up retrieving the ice axe so we didn't slide into it. The next person also lost their ice axe about halfway down but stopped only about 15 feet below it. I was able to glissade down slowly above him, retrieve his ice axe and pass it to him, and we glissaded down the rest of the way. ***Important note! Make sure if you're glissading down in the self-arrest position to have pants that won't ride up past your knees!*** One of our party has very bloody knees from the ice grinding into his knees for the entirety of the chute. Luckily we were so late in the day our follies didn't impact other parties, as they were long gone by then.

By the time we were back down to trail camp it was almost 9PM, pretty much dark. I didn't realize all the people in the tents around me were already going to sleep and pretty sure I kept them up with my loud talking for a bit - apologies folks! In addition to my buddy, we met back up with a fearless solo hiker who had hiked up part of the way with us. She had lost another party she was hiking with at some point along the way, and equipped only with the dinky paper map given at the permit office, lost the trail. She made it back to trail camp and recognized our friend who was waiting there for us from our previous hiking together, and decided to come back with us.

The trek back was long and exhausting. We ended up walking miles down a snow bank until we found a cairn and got back on the trail, though it did turn out to be a shortcut! I was so exhausted I ate most of a pack of beef ravioli and promptly puked it back up before finishing it. We pushed on, frequently losing the trail between the darkness and the snow over parts of the trail. Some good phone app maps (we used gaia gps) make quite a difference though! My buddy who turned back before summiting saved me on the way back, and carried my pack in addition to his own for the last 2 or 3 miles, as I was extremely exhausted and struggling to keep up. Eventually, around 2:20 or 2:30AM - over 24 hours from when we began - we finally made it back to the parking lot, parted ways with our new friend (I believe her plan was to camp out at the portal with just a tarp and sleeping bag!), and drove back to the Best Western. On our car the next morning we found a kind note from our neighbors we met on the trail, telling us they hope we had a good journey.

Finally, thank you to all who posted timely trip reports before us! They were super useful in staying updated on the conditions of the trail and what to expect. Also good to note, at the permit office there are papers on the trail conditions that some people fill out. They were quite useful as well, so please fill those out too! Y'all are a great community, and I hope others can learn from our experience and mistakes!

Edited by Caleb (06/26/19 08:14 PM)

#55549 - 06/26/19 09:12 PM Re: Trip Report - Main Trail 24 June [Re: Caleb]
Steve C Offline

Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7872
Loc: Fresno, CA
Caleb, thanks for the report! It will help others in the next couple of weeks.

On your start up from Whitney Portal, you took the {url=]Old Trail[/url]. Really helps until the stream flow slows down.

A question about this: We actually met up with the couple from the Best Western who made much better time than us and were in great shape, but wisely didn't attempt the chute because they didn't have ice axes.
Did they turn back, or go for the switchbacks?

Your tale of trying to glissade the chute at 6 PM is good information. People need to know that it ices up starting about 4 pm when the sun drops behind the crest to the west. It can be really dangerous when it's icy!!!

#55552 - 06/26/19 09:45 PM Re: Trip Report - Main Trail 24 June [Re: Steve C]
Caleb Offline

Registered: 06/26/19
Posts: 6
Loc: Texas USA
Thanks Steve, and thanks for all your posts! We were reading them religiously in the days leading up to our trip.

Ah, I didn't realize that was the old trail until I got on the forum again today and saw so many other people mentioning it and put two and two together. Really liked not getting my feet wet so early in the hike, though on the way back down I was thinking this portion of trail was much rougher than other switchbacks along the way.

They went up the shallower bottom part of the chute and then cutover to the switchbacks. They got a little ways up the first portion of exposed cabling or so I think before deciding that portion was too dicey as well without ice axes, and turned back.

And about the sun dropping behind the crest and the chute icing up, that makes a lot of sense! It looked so easy in the morning we assumed it would be similar when we got there. Lesson learned!

#55555 - 06/27/19 06:21 AM Re: Trip Report - Main Trail 24 June [Re: Caleb]
Bensta Offline

Registered: 06/17/19
Posts: 5
Loc: Georgia, USA
@ Caleb

Great trip report, Thank you! I am impressed how quickly the Trail Crest to Summit area has improved. Do you remember what time you made it up to Trail Crest on your ascent? Your voyage of Trail Crest to Summit back to Trail Crest is the part of the trail that surprised me the most. I don't think trip reports highlight the length of time this portion of the trip takes. For us it was six hours round trip Trail Crest to Trail Crest.

As it relates to the glissade and ice axes, your story highlights an important note for future hikers on Whitney and other mountains: An ice axe leash is nearly an essential on these climbs. If you lose it on the way up you may not be able to continue. If you lose on the way down you may be severely injured or someone else may be injured below you.

I made my own leash so as to have a little extra length and flexibility and I strap to my belt instead of my wrist. As someone who works in the field of risk management, as I think about climbing, I am always thinking about situations that would cost me the summit or safe descent. Losing the ice axe is one of the top on the list, right next to forgetting sunglasses, wet socks early in climb without backup, and running out of hydration.

Great report, glad you all made it back safely!

Edited by Bensta (06/27/19 06:26 AM)

#55574 - 06/28/19 08:01 AM Re: Trip Report - Main Trail 24 June [Re: Caleb]
IanS Offline

Registered: 06/14/19
Posts: 12
Loc: Northern CA
Great trip report! Thanks for posting. We are headed up on the 30th. Did you use Crampons once you got to trail Crest on the way to the Summit or just up the Chute. Also, given that there is no water at trail camp, where was the last possible fill up spot you recall? Finally, how were the weather conditions in terms of wind and temps on the Crest and Summit?

Edited by IanS (06/28/19 08:05 AM)

#55575 - 06/28/19 03:43 PM Re: Trip Report - Main Trail 24 June [Re: IanS]
sumptimwong Offline

Registered: 03/15/19
Posts: 17
Loc: Bay Area, CA
Caleb - thanks for sharing your trip report with us, and congratulations on a successful summit after a very long day! Was this your first 14er?

One thing stood out to me - that you weren't able to keep your ravioli down. I scanned the rest of your report and only saw mention of your stays in Lone Pine, with no mention of any high-altitude camping or other attempts at acclimatization. Do you think Acute Mountain Sickness played a role in you getting sick, as well as your reported exhaustion? Did you suffer from headaches or other symptoms?

Other than weather, AMS is reportedly one of the most common factors that prevent successful summits. As such, it's always at the forefront of my mind as I read these reports in advance of my first attempt later this summer wink Thanks again for sharing your insights with us.

#55606 - 07/02/19 07:10 AM Re: Trip Report - Main Trail 24 June [Re: IanS]
Caleb Offline

Registered: 06/26/19
Posts: 6
Loc: Texas USA
Woops, little late on this one, but will reply anyway in case other people read it. There is indeed water at trail camp. I saw someone else on a similar day say the lake was frozen over - there were a couple frozen lakes near trail camp, but there was also a smaller body of water, I guess you could call it a pond, of non-frozen fresh water where we and lots of others were filtering water and refilling their water supplies. It's between a bunch of rocks near trail camp, so I could see how one could miss it if they walked to the outside of it. But look around, and there is indeed water!

Wind was pretty calm - we checked mountain forecast for Mount Whitney which suggested 5-10mph winds, which seemed pretty spot on. The weather was supposedly mid to upper 30's at the summit, but with all the hiking I was pretty warm - didn't even don my jacket until the way down after the chute, just had a long sleeve shirt on with long johns and waterproof hiking pants that I had put on to keep my pants from getting wet.

#55607 - 07/02/19 07:19 AM Re: Trip Report - Main Trail 24 June [Re: sumptimwong]
Caleb Offline

Registered: 06/26/19
Posts: 6
Loc: Texas USA
Yes it was my first 14er (and my first hiking over 10k feet at all) - thanks!

Right, about 12 hours at Lone Pine (which is maybe 4k feet?) was the closest we got a acclimatization, lol. Not exactly ideal.

I did experience a mild headache starting around the chute from AMS, but it wasn't too bad most of the way. There were a few times on Trail Crest where the headache got closer to moderate strength and I had to focus just a little bit harder to make sure I was thinking straight. At those points I got pretty close to turning around just to be on the safe side, but after a few five minute rests it just went back to a very mild headache and we continued on. The rest of the party also experienced more or less the same (we're all lowlanders who live close to sea level.) We were taking Ibuprofen every 4 hours or so since the morning to help combat that, as we read that helps.

I'm no expert, but I don't think that made me puke up my food, as the headache completely dissipated by the time we made it back to the bottom of the chute, and when we ate it wasn't until nearly a couple hours hike from the bottom of the chute, so I was probably below altitude for that to have an impact. Also I don't think I mentioned the beef ravioli was from an MRE left over from Hurricane Katrina (I'm originally from Louisiana), so it's like 14-year-old beef ravioli. That being said I was eating some of those MRE's at Big Bend last fall and they were just fine.

#55608 - 07/02/19 07:21 AM Re: Trip Report - Main Trail 24 June [Re: Bensta]
Caleb Offline

Registered: 06/26/19
Posts: 6
Loc: Texas USA
We made it to Trail Crest around 11:45, then stepped off around noon, made it to the summit at 3:30ish, made it back to the start of Trail Crest around 6. Yeah, I was also pleasantly surprised to see it melt that quickly!

Indeed, lesson learned, I'm definitely buying/making an ice axe leash before I ever need to use an ice axe again! Very important note!