My son and I summited on 7/1. I have been researching this trip for a long time and this board has been very helpful so wanted to get a prompt report out to others, which might be updated later. The key questions I had as the trip approached was do I need crampons and ice axe, answer is yes. A few folks used microspikes which could work if you didn’t take the Chute, but most wished they had crampons. Is there water all the way up to Trail Camp, yes.
Should we take the Chute of the Switchback from Trail Camp? The Rangers at the permit office said the Switchbacks are not safe, but we talked to people who handled them just fine. There are basically a few sections that are still covered in snow and dicey once they start to turn slushy later in the day.
We took the Chute on the way up, it was challenging for us since we are new to using crampons and ice axes, but we got the hang of it. You have to hit the Chute early while its still firm, it starts getting soft in the late morning, most people are getting there from 3:30 am to 6am. We left Trail Camp at 4am and made Trail Crest via the Chute without incident. It is really a game time decision and you will get lots of feedback from people on the way down when you are on the way up and/or at the Portal.
Once at Trail Crest, no crampons are needed until you get to the last climb on Whitney itself. There are a few sections that snowed over that require intense focus, but you can manage with poles. There are such amazing views from Trail Crest all around. Due to the exertion on getting up the Chute and despite our best laid plans, we struggled with the elevation from time to time, but were able to take breaks, rehydrate/eat and do some deep breathing and get back on track to make it to the Summit, but it was after 2pm when we left the Summit, which is later than we had planned.
Once we got back to Trail Crest, there was really only a handful of us left to descend for the day, and the decision once again was Glissade down the Chute or take the Switchbacks. The Glissade was our original plan, but it looked so steep and icy we thought we should take the switchbacks. We got to the first switchback (which is right there) and it was a super long slushy mess, so we changed our mind and decided to Glissade. Also it was late, so the time savings was a factor, not to mention the reduced effort level. The “track” that is molded into the Chute is almost like a luge run, and its super steep at the top, so we opted to traverse over a ways past any spots with rocks below and made our own runs. Of course we were soaked but aside from a few small snow scrapes no problem, and our gear and packs were in good shape. It was fun.
Now that we were all wet and with limited other clothes at camp, we decided to break camp and head down but it was nearly 9pm when we ended up leaving, and the hike down with our packs in the dark was difficult from Trail Camp to about half way to Outpost since a lot of the trial is covered with snow, its easy to lose the trail if you are not familiar with it, but there are tree markers you can look for which really help. Once back at Portal we went to Lone Pine to wait for the McDonalds to open, which was supposed to be 4am but it really is 5am, got some food, and made the drive back to the Bay Area, probably should have stayed another day.
The short time we were in the Whitney Zone for our trip (2 days), we observed 3 helicopter evacuation attempts. The first time we saw a helicopter coming in was in the early afternoon on our way to Trail Camp. Later that evening, while at trail Camp, another helicopter came in and landed practically at the camp, which was an awesome thing to see from close up (got great video). According to the Ranger we talked to, a couple stayed the night in the Smithsonian Hut on the Summit with no gear (no idea why)and became hypothermic (no idea why). They evacuated the woman in the afternoon (the first copter we saw), and the Ranger was trying to help the other gentleman down, but his condition worsened, so they decided to get him too (which was what we saw). The 3rd attempted evacuation was the day we summited and we saw on our way down the glissade, but the copter couldn’t land due to wind. Not sure the eventual outcome. I was chatting with the Ranger and asked him how often this happens, and he said “too often recently.” I asked what it costs to airlift someone out, he said if it’s the CHP (like the one we saw), they consider it a training mission and no charge, but you can't pick who is coming to get you, sometimes it's the CHP, sometimes not. There is a Ranger camp located at the Trail Camp, which I didn't know about before the trip.
We live in the Bay Area, not much high altitude stuff nearby. We did several 3,500 elevation hikes locally (the most we have) and a couple in the Tahoe area. My son is 19 and in good shape, I’m 52 and a runner in decent shape (not marathon, just a 5-6 mile a day guy). We got to Lone Pine a few days early to acclimate. First Day we hiked from Portal to Lone Pine Lake (far as you can go without permit). Great acclimation hike, gets you to 10,000, and you learn first part of the trail. Day 2 drove to Horseshoe Meadows, highest elevation trailhead in the region, took a 6 mile hike with just a 600-700 ft elevation gain, but got to about 10,500 and hung out there for a while, stayed night in Lone Pine, stayed at the Portal Campground the night before we left.
Both my son and I battled the elevation at times, but were able to overcome. We drank a huge amount of water and ate as much as we could even when we weren't hungry, and used deep breathing. Any time one of us started to "fade" we stopped pushing, drank more water, ate more food and rested for 10-15 minutes. Downside was made our hike take a long time, but we did make it. I would say the success ratio for Summit from all the folks we saw was about 50%. 75% of those people got AMS, the others were mostly related to the snow and ice conditions or just not enough endurance. We brought 5 liters of water each on the Summit hike and drank 90% of it. The extra weight was worth it to us.
Making the Summit was even more special that I had hoped and was even better that I got to do it with one of my son's, who also very proud of himself for making it. This had been a bucket list thing for me for years, and my first attempt after some years not getting a permit, friends backing out etc. I had always planned to take the main trail late in the Summer so no mountaineering skills would be needed, I'm an accomplished hiker, but not a Mountaineer. Due to the big snow pack and when my permit was awarded, employing the use of Crampons and Ice Axe in my opinion was really necessary. I appreciate all the posters who emphasized they were needed. You can't control the conditions, you can only control how prepared you are. Overall the trip was even more special than I had hoped for.