Depart: 7/7/19 @ 00:10 via Old Trail
Summited: 09:15 via Chute
Total trip time: 15hrs 48min
Group: 2 guys (36 and 39)
Experience: avid hikers and backcountry skiers. Some experience with use of crampons and ice ax.
Preparation & Acclimatization:
7/5: practiced using ice ax, crampons and self arrest at Saddlebag Lake off Tioga Pass (10,000'). Slept at Mammoth Mountain Inn (9,000').
7/6: Skied at Mammoth in the morning (10,000 - 11,000) then drove to the Portal and scoped out the Old Trail.
Weather & Gear:
Approx. 55 deg when we set out from the Portal w/ no wind. Wore shorts with thermal tights on the bottom. Silk weight, smartwool thermal, and flannel on top. Approaching Consultation Lake, the temp dropped to somewhere slightly below freezing (frozen puddles), still no wind. Added lightweight down jacket and beanie. On the Chute by sunrise, slightly above freezing w/ no wind. Backside to the summit, 40s w/ slight westerly breeze. Lost the beanie and down jacket at Trail Crest.
Snow & Trail Conditions:
First encountered snow at approx. just after Trailside Meadow @ 02:30. There was one traverse just before approaching Consultation Lake (11,600') where we used micro spikes and an ax due to the slope exposure. Other than that, the snow was not an issue with respect to traction.
Arrived at the Trail Camp @ 04:45 and chose to take the Chute due to firm snow condition. We noted that the Switchbacks are fully snowed in up to approx. 12,240'. From speaking with people who took this route, the use microspikes to go straight up the slope until encountering the clear trail. The lower cable section was said to be sketchy, requiring to go below the cables and side step. This seems to jive with what past trip reports were saying.
We were on the chute from 05:00 - 07:15. The snow was very very. The freeze/thaw cycles have left the surface with deep runnels (12" - 18") and sun cupped. We found it to be easiest to place out feet within adjacent runnels to work uphill. We used crampons with an ice ax and a hiking pole in each hand for the best uphill assist.
On the backside, the only significant snow is on the final false summit approach (14,000' - 14,300'). We hit this area at approx 08:30 and snow was beginning to thaw. We used microspikes but at this time, it would have been fine to go without traction as there are decent book packs.
On the way down, the Chute has softened considerably. We glissaded down the primary track; lookers left from Trail Crest. The entry was carved down approx 4' - 5' and looked a bit steep so we tracked down about 40' and started in the main track from there. This was great fun and the best part was not having to walk down the switchbacks! Like i said, the snow was soft. It would have been quite difficult to use the chute at this time.
The rest of the descent was fairly uneventful. We did chose deviate slightly from the main trail, following the creek drainage as we passed Consultation Lake. The snow was soft but doable. We linked back up with the trail half down Trailside Meadow from the scree slope to the south. We recon this saved us some time (45 min?).
Couple main take-aways:
1. Do you homework: this blog and the facebook group are incredibly helpful. We followed them everyday on the last month for trip reports and conditions.
2. Snow: if you are not familiar with traveling over snow and having an understanding of freeze/thaw, you are at a disadvantage in a big snow year. Practice with snow equipment. Our time on Saddlebag Lake was invaluable for practice and as a bit of altitude training.
3. Water: we hiked with 4L and had a filter to replenish supplies, which we did at Trail Camp on the way up and down. Seemed to work out fine.
4. Acclimate: i wouldn't suggest driving from the coast. Spend a night plus high but also get active at altitude the day before.
5. GPS: we used Gaia on our phones (non-subscription) and preloaded gpx tracks. We kept the phone in airplane mode. The app worked excellently and we had battery life the whole trip. I would not suggest going without a GPS, especially while travelling at night and during snow conditions. At times, the trail was difficult to follow with the snow.
5. Spend time at the Portal the day before and talk to folks coming down the trail. This is first hand info and conditions will be primarily the same the day of your trip. HOWEVER be sure to ask the right Q's; for example, if you ask if they summited and they say no, followup with, "what time did you leave?" and "what caused you to progress slower than expected?". We asked these Q's which led us to depart at midnight vs the original 2am plan. Secondly, on your way down, hook people up. We were now a wealth of info which we shared with many groups. Pay it back!
All in all, this was an awesome hike. With the right prep and focus it's there to accomplish.
Some photos on my Instagram for ya'll to check out:https://www.instagram.com/p/BzrTMQTAfjM/?hl=en