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Seeking Advice: Climbing Mt. Whitney on May 7th
#58487 04/18/21 10:07 AM
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Hello,

I'm very excited that I won the lottery and got 6 overnight permits for Mt. Whitney on May 7th. I'm a 32 yo female and a fit hiker- I regularly hike and do overnight backpacking trips but I have not hiked at altitude for a decade. I live at sea level so I am going to be spending at least one night before sleeping at altitude before heading up the trail. Because of the altitude and not wanting to push it, it's our plan to take it slow up the mtn and do the following:

Day one: hike to outpost camp, camp at outpost (10,400 Ft)
Day two: hike to consultation lake, camp at consultation (11,686 feet)
Day three: leave gear/tents set up at consultation lake, hike to summit, come back down and camp at consultation lake again
Day four: hike all the way down

I've been trying to get input on what the conditions will be like in May, and from reading the threads around here and some other online searching, I've learned that the switchbacks will be closed so we're going to need to ascend the chute and snow should start at around 9000 feet. I've never used an ice pick or crampons before but I'm planning on doing some research online and grabbing gear early. I recognize that doing the trek in May is no joke so want to make sure I am best prepared.

I'm feeling a little nervous about chute conditions in May and the fact that we're likely to be in snow the entire trip. I'd love anyone's feedback on our itinerary and any suggestions on a preferred more safe approach.

Thank you in advance for any words of advice.

Cheers!
Allison

Re: Seeking Advice: Climbing Mt. Whitney on May 7th
Alliefite #58488 04/18/21 12:40 PM
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The fact that you are nervous about this is the best evidence that you're not ready. Why not tackle some steep snow with crampons beforehand to build your confidence?

Also the multi-day itinerary you posted seems like a bad idea. It's much better to hit the mountain in a day with good fitness than suffer for multiple days with altitude sickness.

Re: Seeking Advice: Climbing Mt. Whitney on May 7th
Alliefite #58489 04/18/21 01:42 PM
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Hi Allison,

I suggest reviewing the post by Kurt Wedberg on the Whitney Portal message board: http://www.mountwhitneyforum.com/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=104341#Post104341
Pay special attention to his cautions about hiking in crampons, and self arrest using an Ice Axe. These skills both require practice, and could be life saving skills (self arrest in particular).

You can check out his references at: http://www.sierramountaineering.com Click on "About"

I personally like your agenda, provided you do not freeze to death while overnighting 😱 This "slow and steady" pace should help to minimize the chance of Altitude sickness. It should also provide opportunities to practice your crampon/IceAxe skills. If you cannot get comfortable (with confidence) with these skills, you can always turn back. And, if you do develop Altitude Sickness symptoms, you can also always turn back.

Best of luck.

John

Re: Seeking Advice: Climbing Mt. Whitney on May 7th
Alliefite #58490 04/18/21 02:34 PM
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Welcome, Alliefite. I'll post a slightly different approach: Get the proper equipment, read up on everything you can, and go -- with the idea that you can go as far as you feel comfortable, and turn around if you feel you are getting into something that is over your experience and comfort level.

There are many people who successfully climb Whitney in May and early June who go up (and down) the snow slope west of the 99 switchbacks and for many, it is their first and only experience using an ice axe and crampons. For the great majority, they do it all successfully without problems or injury. Other than the usual random hiking injuries, the biggest problems occur with conditions icing up due to cold (early mornings and late afternoons), with people without the crampons and ice axes. The Main Whitney Trail area at this time with the snow coverage is not the extreme conditions where only the most well-trained and experienced would go. It is definitely takes care and concentration, but you won't be perched on ice at the edge of a cliff.

When you go, there will be others on the trail, others coming down, who can tell you about conditions higher up. Learn from them what works (or doesn't). You can make decisions to proceed or not based on how you feel, and what you learn and see. Note that by the time you get to the steeper slope by the 99 switchbacks, you will already have walked a significant distance with those crampons, and you will know by then whether you are comfortable using them. You can even experiment on steeper slopes lower down to see what climbing (AND descending) is like. You might even practice a few self-arrest situations, since you are planning to go slow enough that you will have time to spare.

One comment on your Consultation Lake plan: This early, consider staying in Trail Camp, so you can talk to other hikers about their experiences. You will be pretty well isolated at CL, and maybe this early in the season, that wouldn't be so necessary or ideal.

Be sure to take a marmot-proof food canister. They will be searching everyone for goodies!

Re: Seeking Advice: Climbing Mt. Whitney on May 7th
Alliefite #58492 04/19/21 10:09 AM
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Hi Alliefite... Your itinerary looks good. Maybe a bit too long on the mountain but otherwise a good acclimation schedule.

My friend and I were on Whitney last weekend (4/10-4/11). Stayed the night at Trail Camp and went up the chute the following morning. We talked to several ppl at trail camp who had ascended and descended the switchbacks. They told us the cable section was sketchy along with a few other sections higher up, but otherwise the switchbacks are doable. Sunday morning when we were climbing the chute I saw several parties opting to ascend via the switchbacks. Although we did not use the switchbacks, from what I could see I would high recommend having crampons, ice axe and crampon compatible boots for this section. The back side 1.9 also had sketchy sections where crampons and ice axe came in handy as well. I would not recommend using microspikes as they are not long enough the for sections that have snow on top of the ice/frozen snow.

The snow from Lone Pine Lake to Trail Camp is well packed down and easy to walk on. There is a traverse just before Consulation Lake that can be tricky but with crampons you will be fine.

As for camping at Trail Camp/Consulation lake... expect cold temperatures once the sun has dropped behind the ridge. We had our water freeze in our tent overnight.

One thing I cannot stress enough. Learn how to use an ice axe and how to walk in crampons. Just because you have an ice axe and are wearing crampons does not mean you know how to use them. Should you get into a slide for life scenario, how to self arrest should be instinctual, trying to remember what you watched on a YouTube video as you are sliding is too late. There are several guide services in the Bishop area that offer weekend mountaineering course that cover self arrest along with other helpful topics. It is a good skill to know, especially if you continue to adventure in winter conditions.


Instagram: MuffenMan_Mountaineering

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt” – John Muir
Re: Seeking Advice: Climbing Mt. Whitney on May 7th
Alliefite #58494 04/19/21 02:05 PM
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Hi everyone,

Thanks so much for the advice. I’ll take some time to digest and make a plan. We’re going to try it but will definitely be checking in to make sure that we’re all feeling safe and able to ascend.

Double noted on practicing with crampons and ice ax before getting to troublesome spots up top.

Thanks again,
Allison

Re: Seeking Advice: Climbing Mt. Whitney on May 7th
Alliefite #58500 04/19/21 10:40 PM
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I just saw an amazing post from a Kaitlin Musser on Facebook... She's hiking the PCT, and part of the way, she's accompanied by an exceptional 8-year-old kid, foster son. I see from her public FB posts that he's been hiking some of the distances with her -- she posted on 4/13:

Quote
day 21 : 566 miles
these babe did a 31 mile day with me
soaking in these days of peace with him
and a picture of the kid.

Then on 4/19, she's posted two pics on the Mt Whitney fb page, one of him climbing the slope (chute) west of the 99 switchbacks, and one of him lying by the metal summit sign. The post doesn't give much detail about the climb, but writes:

Quote
started at 3a
summit at 8:15a
took the chute unassisted with his own ice axe and crampons
turned 8 just 14 days ago....
...oh and he did mount Muir on the way down
Monday April 19th
Whitney Portal Trail up the chute and to Muir

Kaitlin and her son could run circles around most of us!!!

Re: Seeking Advice: Climbing Mt. Whitney on May 7th
Steve C #58509 04/21/21 08:31 AM
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Hah! This gives me a little faith that I can do it, too smile

Re: Seeking Advice: Climbing Mt. Whitney on May 7th
Alliefite #58605 05/08/21 08:07 AM
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You are probably at Consultation Lake now, I am looking forward to a trip report, I'd like to see how it was for someone who has done overnight trips but lives at sea level like myself!

Re: Seeking Advice: Climbing Mt. Whitney on May 7th
HikingPerson #58611 05/08/21 02:39 PM
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Hi HP, I live at 300' elevation, here's what I do that works for me:

Drive to Horseshoe Meadows and spend a night inside my car, or on the ground at the walk-in campground. Do whichever is easier. Take half a 125 mg Diamox (Rx required) tablet that morning, and again at night. Makes you pee more, so expect that. Continue taking it for at least 3 days.

Next morning, drive down to Lone Pine and get breakfast. Take another half-tablet of Diamox. Drive up to Whitney Portal and haul the overnight pack up to Trail Camp, 12000'. More sensitive people could and camp at Outpost Camp, 10,000'.

Third day actually climb to the summit. Return to camp, spend another night, unless you have enough time and strength to hike out.

If you're day-hiking, spend the first night at Horseshoe Meadows (and maybe more time that day). The second night at the Whitney Portal walk-in campground, wake up at 3 AM and go for it. But make noon your turn-around time. I saw too many people forgetting that rule, and looking at hiking down in the dark for hours.


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