Whitney Main trail trip report
Main Trail Conditions:
Hey everyone, thanks for this forum and for the info you kindly share. I posted this on the Mt Whitney Facebook page but also wanted to share it here for anyone else. My wife and I attempted Whitney via the Whitney Trail on Tuesday-Thursday, 2/25-27. I will give a quick highlight and then some in depth info.
Very snowy, steep at the end, and had to turn around on the ridge near Mt Muir. Slow up, fast down.
We planned to do the MR but after seeing a post on here about avy conditions, we thought we may have a better chance via the MWT. We met two other groups that attempted the MR and had to turn back because of sketchy snow in the chute. So currently I know of three groups who attempted the MR and none summited this week. Take that as you will.
We left the portal at 3pm Tues and returned 3:30pm Thurs. Add about a half hour on each for walking from the parking area at the hard closure. The soft closure was still good to go when we left on Thursday, though that could change with the snowfall this weekend.
Overall the MWT was very hard to follow and we broke trail 95% of the way. In fresh snow we just couldn't see the switchbacks. Even with snowshoes we would sink 6-18inches with each step. So if you attempt this next week after even more fresh snow, expect the track we left to be filled in. You'd be insane to do it without skis or snowshoes until at least a week has passed if the snowfall is another 12+ inches.
We camped at Outpost Camp day 1, then went up to Trail Camp on day 2, then made our summit bid and returned to the car on day 3. Not counting sleeping overnight, it took us over 10 hours to get from the portal to trail camp. Contrast that with under 3.5 hours to go down from trail camp to portal. That gives you an idea of how slow breaking trail is, and how fast it is once you have a trail. We re used our tracks but like I said, they will almost certainly get filled in this weekend.
We brought technical crampons, ascent snow shoes (MSR lightning and Tubbs flex vrt), an ice axe for each of us and poles. We used all but the crampons because the snow was so deep and often times powder.
The switchbacks up top were a no go. I forget the exact spot, but between Trail Camp and Trail Crest there is a switchback with metal poles and wire as a fence. The snow was 45 degrees across the trail there and covered the fence completely at some points. So just avoid that and use the gully next to the switchbacks.
As for the gully, the snow was extremely sketchy and honestly I wish we turned back there. However we made our way up in our snowshoes but there were many times I thought we might cause an avy. That ended up never happening, thankfully.
Let me stress that if you are scared of the chute on MR, the gully by the MWT switchbacks is hardly easier. I have not done MR, but based on the maps, the slope of the gully is almost as steep as the MR. My wife and I have climbed a lot of steep snow so we charged on, but afterwards both agreed it was risky and very sketchy.
Above trail crest, the trail behind Mt Muir was very bad. Deep slanted snow, very similar to the switchbacks with the railing I mentioned earlier, except no railing here. I went as far as I could but the snow slabs were just sliding off and I was terrified. The first photo below is of that section. With crampons and a rope it might have been doable but since we didn't bring our rope, I decided to call it there. I want to emphasize that at this spot, a fall would be very bad or fatal as there is a huge drop and tons of rocks. And not enough good snow for a self arrest with an ice axe.
I keep thinking back if we could have continued, but ultimately I'm very glad we turned back. In the photo, it seems like a relatively easy traverse to make in crampons, but the snow would just crack and slide off which was terrifying. I will be honest, after I got back to trail crest I just broke down and cried because I was just one snow slab away from falling potentially to my death. I'm not a seasoned veteran mountaineer but I've done some very steep stuff and I've never lost my cool. I'm only sharing this because I want to emphasize that part of the trail is no joke right now. Until it improves, if you think you can waltz up in microspikes and some ski poles, you're an idiot. Please think of your loved ones and don't hurt yourself or a rescue team.
OK, that was a super long write up. If you're still reading, thanks.
Once the snow firms up and tracks are down, the MWT would not be too bad. But right now, it is very tough.
Best of luck to all who do Whitney for the rest of the winter. My respect is at the utmost for anyone who does this in the winter.
I included a photo of our track down the mtn for your reference. If you want tips on how to get up the gully, let me know. We were sorry to have lost the trail but like I said, with a blanket of snow most the trail is invisible. I
(Check the Mount Whitney Facebook page for the photos as I don't know how to add them here).