This was the last hike on our vacation agenda. We spent 4 days @ Yosemite, then summated Boundary Peak and finally Mt. Whitney. We arrived on Monday morning after hiking Boundary Peak. We had a permit for Tuesday and Wednesday but stopped by the permit office and asked if we could change our permit to Monday and Tuesday. They did so…no problem. We left the permit office and headed directly up to Whitney Portal. We didn’t waste any time. Our packs were already loaded. We just moved the food to the bear can and headed up the trail at 10:00 am. The first mile is a smooth easy incline with minimal switchbacks. Along the way, we passed a baby bird (maybe a grouse?) that had fallen from a nest somewhere. Poor little thing. The mother and other babies were chirping nearby.
A Little Bit Of Snow
There were several snow patches starting at 10,000 feet and up. Nothing major. Consultation Lake was covered in ice. Not sure how thick it was. It took us 5 hours to get to Trail Camp. We had lots of picture stops. We found a good spot and set up camp for the night. As hikers came trickling down the switchbacks, they would stop and chat about trail conditions. One of the forest rangers came down and he told us that the switchbacks were in bad shape in the morning. Frozen over with ice most of the way up. Cables were also covered with snow. He said that he was going up the snow chute in the morning and he invited us to join him.
It was a long night with not much sleeping due to high winds and the fly whipping. We were up by 5:00 and ready to go at 6:20. We decided not to wait until 7:30 for the ranger. That was too late in our minds. So we headed up the switchbacks but within quarter mile or so, it was not going well. The melt water from the previous day had re-frozen and we were making very slow progress. We decided to go ahead and cut over to the snow chute. Two guys behind us followed. We put on the old crampons, got out the ice axe and went diagonally through the snow field until we reached the chute. From there it was straight up. I must say, I’ve never worked so hard on a hike. The chute took about 2.5 hours to complete. At the half way point, we had to take a long rest. It was exhausting. By the time we reached the top, the snow was beginning to melt and it made things a bit harder. I was so happy to finally reach Trail Crest.
After a brief rest, we trudged onward to the ridge trail. This part of the hike seemed to take forever. Finally, we got to the Whitney massif and made our way up. There was one more snowfield to cross and soon we were resting with our backs to the leeward side of the summit hut. The wind was howling (maybe 40 mph) and it was freezing. I couldn’t believe it when we saw a few people on the trail in shorts and t shirt. We summited at 11:07 am and headed back down at 11:24 am. That’s how cold it was. I could hardly wait to get off the ridge. The wind made it miserable. When we got to the top of the chute, my hiking partner and I thought about glissading down. We were so tempted, but we’ve heard that it’s very unsafe. As we looked down, we saw a guy doing just that. We watched him get to the bottom and walk into trail camp. Would’ve been nice, but we opted for the switchbacks. Having gone up the chute, we had no idea how long those switchbacks were. They were also a wet mess of melt water. The cables were still full of snow. By the time we got down to the last switchback, I began to think that the snow chute was probably easier than traversing all of those icy switchbacks in the early morning hours.
Hot Shower and a Comfy Bed
Once back at Trail Camp, we found that one of our stakes had been pulled right out of the ground and the wind blew it over our tent for God knows how long. The fly on our tent was ripped in a few places. Someone had put a rock on the stake to keep it from doing any further damage. Thank you… whoever you are. We packed up and headed for the portal within 30 minutes. We reached the portal store @ 6:07 pm and had a burger & fries before we headed to the Best Western motel in Lone Pine for a hot shower and comfy bed.