Winter ascent help

Posted by: JamesL1578

Winter ascent help - 12/08/19 09:38 AM

First off, let me apologize if I am asking things that are commonly asked. I have tried to do a reasonable amount of research prior to this.

I am going to be working just a few hours from Mount Whitney coming up soon. If it is possible and reasonably safe, I would love to be able to make the journey to the top of Mount Whitney.

I would like to do a one day hike. I have never done a 14er before. My highest is only about half that height, but roughly the same total distance. That was in Romania over Halloween. The two days preceding that climb, I had climbed to 2 other peaks and mountain biked to a third. I am not an expert by any means, but I am of assumed sufficient fitness physically and mentally. I am not versed in winter climbing though.

For starters, does anybody have detailed info on current conditions and assumed ability to summit around December 21?

Additionally, is it realistically possible this time of this year?

I would want to go with a guide for obvious reasons. Assuming my fitness is acceptable, is this something that could be accomplished with a good guide, in leu of my lack of winter experience?

Lastly, could anyone recommend any guides that would be well suited for this? Does anybody on here do guides that would be interested?(my apologies if it is against any rules to ask this. My intentions are not to break any rules)

I know there are many factors of this that would all need to line up just right for this to be possible with my schedule and everything. I accept that I could get there and just have to turn around at any point.

Thanks in advance for all information and help!!!

Posted by: Bob West

Re: Winter ascent help - 12/08/19 01:33 PM

I would recommend attempting Mt. Whitney with a professional guide service - not alone, with your limited experience. SMG, for example, is an excellent local guide service. They have a good local reputation.

A winter ascent of any big peak is a major challenge, and requires good training, equipment and, most of all, experience in those conditions.

A good starter climb might be something like Telescope Peak, near Death Valley. That would give you a little taste for what to expect on Mt. Whitney. Again, not alone, but with experienced companions.

While attempting Whitney in the winter, myself and friends (all experienced) came very close to being avalanched on the snow-shoeing hike in to Mirror Lake. On the occasion, we bailed out and opted to go to Telescope Peak.

Posted by: Steve C

Re: Winter ascent help - 12/08/19 09:33 PM

Welcome, James.

Unfortunately almost nobody attempts Mt Whitney in December after as much snow as we have received. Due to the snow conditions, there is no way you could climb to the summit in a day.

It sounds like you are getting the opportunity to come this way for a first time, so you could take advantage by just driving up and scoping out the area. Drive up Whitney Portal road as far as possible. Sometimes there is a locked gate, other times it is "soft closed" -- a road closed sign that some people drive around. If it is hard closed, you could get a flavor of the trail by hiking up the road through the snow to the trail head. And if you have time, go up the trail a bit more.

You could also do what others do in winter -- visit Death Valley. As suggested above, find the road to Telescope Peak, and maybe climb it. Or just tour Death Valley -- you could spend several days seeing what is available.
Posted by: TieDye

Re: Winter ascent help - 12/10/19 12:21 PM

At what elevation does the snow start in earnest (as in: snowshoes mandatory)?

I have all the winter gear, and I have 49 Colorado 14ers summitted (most of those known as our "hard ones" already completed), with 3 of those in calendar winter and several more in snow conditions of late fall/spring. I'm just curious where the snow really starts, so I can gauge how much travel will be slowed. I've put 40 miles and 11k vert under my feet before in 19 hr, but I know a winter ascent of Whitney is hard no matter which way you cut it.

Posted by: marmoting

Re: Winter ascent help - 12/10/19 07:54 PM


I hiked up the Whitney Portal Trail to the day use area on 12/4, and found snow depths of 12-18", and was glad to be on snow shoes. The snow was fresh and unconsolidated, which made travel uphill a good workout even with the snow shoes.
Posted by: TieDye

Re: Winter ascent help - 12/10/19 08:10 PM

Thank you for that response marmoting!

Yeah, after some more research there are a lot of slopes that could slide in the immediate area of travel.
Posted by: marmoting

Re: Winter ascent help - 12/10/19 08:31 PM


If you can wait until the March-May time frame, conditions will be much better. The snow will be much more supportive, and provides for a very fast descent. If it is a heavy snow year, you can walk up the North Fork Lone Pine Creek directly above the buried brush. It's possible to summit and return in just daylight hours if the conditions are right.
Posted by: TieDye

Re: Winter ascent help - 12/11/19 01:23 PM


Ahhh but see that's prime Colorado couloir season!

I kid, but thanks for that heads up. Good to know the California Sierra snowpack behaves similarly to ours in the Rockies.

Best wishes!