(Not sure why the pictures aren't showing up in here, let me know and I will fix them)
First I'd like to give a shout out to @bobpickering for the guidance and support through this whole project. Bob has been a great mentor and had the unfortunate pleasure of answering a million questions about mountaineering and whatever else BS I wasted his time with.
I've never written one of these before but maybe someone can gain something from it.
A bit about me, I log a ton of miles a year on the trails or running in the carson range/tahoe area since 2020 when I moved to Nevada. After repeating these summits, I wanted to transition more into mountaineering and started slowly learning and doing the same mountains in the winter. I never had much of an urge to do Whitney because it was so popular, but after driving down to that area and seeing the peak from the road I was hooked. I saw that people could do it outside of normal permit times and I started creating a system for a possible first time, solo, winter, day summit, of Whitney.
I ramped up my training, and looked for a weather window paying for long range forecasts from a site called meteoblue. A window looked available from the 16-19th but there was light precipitation on the 15th, which caused some concern. But all reports showed not much happened as far as weather on that day and I started making plans for the 19th, which gave three days since the 15th if any snow actually came down. *(This weather prediction ended up being spot on and essentially exact to what was predicted)
Risk and safety are obviously huge concerns on a mountain like this, so my outlook was to always be ok turning around if needed and having a huge time window to allow slow and methodical movement. But I would not recommend this unless you know how your body responds to long hours under load. I know the time windows I can work in before the tank goes empty. I've done long range movements in one day well over marathon distances and know my body well. In saying that, I also incorporated cut off times throughout the movement so even if I had a sort of summit fever, the numbers would not lie and I would be turning around if it got too late.
I started real early and had to park at the lower gate but not the lowest one with the "road closed" sign, which added on extra miles but I knew that going in and had been to the area a few days before. Truth is, starting and getting up to probably outpost camp is kinda of a blur. I was just moving at a slow pace and following old trails. There was cars parked where I parked but not sure where they were at, maybe the mountaineers route. When I got past outpost camp the tracks essentially ended and I was making my own trail following the digital map I had saved on my phone. At one point between outpost and trail camp I took a small detour around the cliff section to stay low due to some sketchy looking parts. There were still sections that I'm guessing in the summer are a perfect trail but in the winter were just a slope of perfect white snow heading down. I had to traverse one of them using crampons and an ice axe obviously but it was good solid snow. At this point there was no real trail to follow and in most areas I was breaking trail through the snow. I just kept a good slow pace and monitored myself.
I hit trail camp and it was really a beautiful scene. The one I had seen so many times in photos, satellite images, youtube videos and other accounts but I was surprised to see no signs of life anywhere. I remember thinking it was like a painting that had just been completed. Once again I was on the map routefinding. I thought I was see a huge highway going up the chute but there was nothing. No tracks either on the switchbacks, but I shot an azimuth basically vertically west towards the switchbacks and starting seeing signs of rocks poking out; which gave me a mental picture of the route. I wasn't going to try the chute alone and did not put the research in for that. The cable section was time consuming, possibly a little overkill safety wise on my part but thats fine and I expected that. I remember seeing videos of people screwing around there where the snow is just a slope pushed against the cables and that was close to what it was when I got up there. Obviously those cables aren't stopping anything if you slide so I chopped a small seat in the snow, leaned into it, and cut small places to place my feet (in crampons) to move across while going spike down with the axe. Figured chopping some sections and doing a little work there would help me on the way down when time would really be of the essence.
I kept going and using the map; there were no trails/tracks at all at this point, maybe some light snow had covered them overnight. I made it to the top of the switchbacks and remember hearing that this was the "worst" part and that climbing up a little early on the crest may be an option. But I did see old marks at the top of the chute that traversed over the crest. I moved through there slowly with the axe and crested a bit early then scrambled over some rocks onto the normal trail. I could "see" the route but no fresh footprints. I kept going. The weather was too perfect but thats why I paid that company to forecast the weather. The sun was hot for sure but not an inch of wind or anything. If you removed the snow it could have been a spring day.
I wanted to be careful on this section due to the altitude and moved slow again. It was taking a long time but I expected that and kept a normal slow pace paying attention to rocks under the snow and what not. So that went on for a while. Finally the shelter came into place from a distance. I kept going and tried to take in the amazing scenery. Finally I hit the lower section leading up to the summit. At this point the trail had been going from snow to trail to snow but now that I was closer it was mostly trail. I walked up and saw the iconic shelter with snow filling the one "room" with the door open to the right of the register. I walked up and signed it then moved towards the sign and viewing area. I didn't want to stay up there long so I didn't enjoy it like I wanted to. Was probably only up there for 10 minutes.
I moved down and the sun was blazing. I would try and find places of small shade to get out of it for a second while popping SIS gel packs that are easy to put down and don't need water. At one point one of my gloves fell off on the trail but I didn't find out until it was too late and had a backup so I kept going.
I followed my trails down and when I hit the top of the switchbacks I remember seeing this long line all the way down as far as i could see past trail camp and into the start of the big rock "cliff" section, which were my tracks coming up. Looked like a perfect line in the snow, it was a perfect scene. I followed my tracks down through the switchbacks and in that time looked down to see more tracks near mine and what I thought were two people setting up a tent. At first I wondered if I was seeing things but no there were people down there now. I kept going and going and I felt like it took forever.
I hit the bottom and walked into camp. A guy walked out to meet me and waved. We talked for a second and I gave him the scoop on the route up and said just follow my tracks. He had all the gear and I told him I had to head out so I was only in the dark for the lower ends of the mountain which did actually have a pretty beaten path. He thought I was going to camp there but it was time to go for me.
I moved down and saw more and more people all coming into trail camp and gave them the same info. I guess the way to do it is in two days and not one because traffic was coming in at that point. Left foot right foot, I kept moving and saw a few more people. I told them weather was coming in sunday including possible high winds and to be careful (that was why I picked saturday). I moved down. At one point one my poles slipped through my pack on the way up and slide down the side of a snow packed face and I thought about scaling down to get it, but at this point hell no, so I left it and kept moving while I still had light.
This post is already too long but I just kept moving down on the mountain that never ends, but now there were tracks all over from the other people going up. When I hit the whitney zone area I took off the crampons and moved slow. We all know the weird stuff happens on the way down so while I wanted to jog the hell out of there at that point I kept my pace and finally, after what seemed like forever, hit the last switchback before the trail head. I got to the road and just stood there for a second taking it all in. I had been going for a long while and now and had another mile and a half to the car, but I thanked the mountain for the experience and moved on to my vehicle.
What a day, one I'm truly grateful for. I hope everyone I saw coming up made the summit.