Mt. Whitney in winter

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Trip Report
California, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jan 5, 2003
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Created On: Jan 10, 2003
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Trip Report – Mt.Whitney

Daniel Krasner - Jan.5-8, 2003

Participants: Daniel Krasner, Lindsay Turner
Location: Mt. Whitney Area, CA
Route: Mt. Whitney Trail
Difficulty: class 2, ice axe, crampons, snowshoes,
Conditions: really, really cold, but otherwise
Casualties: 3 water bottles, 1 snowshoe

Day 1: (Jan. 5, 2003) We left Berkeley at 8am, heading
through South Lake Tahoe, and down 395. The day was
gorgeous and none of the roads required chains, so
traveling was fairly quick. Since, we were hoping to
get to the Whitney Portal Road before sunset we had to
minimize the number of stops, but could not resist
stopping at a few places like the overlook of Mono
Lake. At around 4:30pm we rolled into Lone Pine, went
to the ranger station for self-issue permits, and
started heading up Whitney Portal Road. By the time we
made to the second “Road Closed” sign, which is where
the road starts to wind up the mountain, it was almost
dark. The road ahead looked like rather treacherous,
covered in snow and ice. We decided to put on chains,
and head up, but the chains kept falling off, so after
I spent 10 minutes looking for one of the chains in
the dark, we decided to see how far the Jeep would
take us without them. I put my Jeep Cherokee in low
4-wheel drive and we started climbing the road. Moving
was slow, but steady. About 2 miles up the road we saw
couple of guys coming down; we talked to them for a
minute – they looked really tired and were fairly
none-responsive; we continued up WPR. About a mile
later we saw another pair heading down the mountain;
the conversation went something like this:
Me: How is it going?
no response, just blank stares
Me: Are you guys ok?
more blank stares
Lidsay: Hey guys, wake up?
Guy 1: (slowly and really dazed) I feel like I just
got the shit beaten out of me...
Me: Well that’s nice. How is it up there?
Anyway, the conversation went on like that for a few
minutes, and we were able to ascertain that they made
it as far as Outpost Camp. We continued up the road
and about 1.5 miles from WP the Jeep couldn’t go any
further, so we changed and headed to the trailhead. We
camped at WP.

Day 2: We woke up at 6am, had breakfast, and started
heading up the trail. The day was beautiful, and the
trail was easy to follow. However, it fairly cold and
our water bottles were quickly freezing. We made it to
the junction with the Mountaineer’s route and started
to head up the north fork of Lone Pine creek. The snow
was very powdery and deep, so we put on snowshoes, but
even this didn’t help much. After about half an hour
of struggling and moving about 150 feet up the creek
we came to the conclusion that no real progress could
be made this way, and decided to go back and head up
the Whitney Trail. The going was all right, and the
trail was easy to follow up to Outpost Camp; snowshoes
helped a lot. At outpost camp we had lunch, and
continued up to Mirror Lake. It was obvious that there
hadn’t been anybody this far at least from the last
real snowfall and from here on the route finding was
on our own; the trail was completely covered and the
markings scarce. It took over an hour to gain the
ridge about Mirror Lake, for we kept falling through
the snow to our waists. Being covered head to toe in
gore-tex was essential to making this possible. Having
gained the ridge, we walked for about a quarter mile,
and decided to make camp. The night was cold (I am not
sure how cold), but we slept ok in my Hannah 4-season

Day 3: We woke up at 5 am, had breakfast, and at 6:30,
just as it became light enough to walk, headed up the
ridge. The day was beautiful, and as the sun lit up
Wotans Throne and the Pacific Crest it was a sight to
see. We went above Consultation Lake and headed
towards the ridge. The morning snow was hard enough
for us to make good progress. We put on our crampons
to ascend the 30-35 degree slope up to the ridge, the
first 250 feet of which was iced over, then becoming
softer snow. About half way up the slope the altitude
started really getting to me, and the gusts of wind (I
would say about 40mph) with snow and ice didn’t help.
It took us about 2 hours to gain the ridge, which
seemed like forever. We took a short break, and
started heading down the trail, which was completely
visible at this point. When we came to the junction
with the John Muir Trail, 1.9 miles away from the
Whitney summit, it was just after 11am. The trail
ahead looked clear, with only a few patches of snow,
and I was fairly sure that we were going to be on
the summit within two hours, but I should have known
better. As we progressed on the trail we came across
more and more patches of snow completely covering the
trail creating really steep slopes to traverse, and
nothing to break a really long fall. Some of the snow
was completely iced over and some was very soft. This
significantly slowed us down, and created some very
sketchy traverses. We were about 200 feet below the
summit and it was 1:30pm - turn-around time. I
considered going for the summit, but with time running
out, and with another hour of sun significantly
increasing the danger of the slopes covering the trail
to avalanche, which some of them looked like they were
about to do anyway, I decided that the extra few
hundred feet weren’t worth the risk and we turned
back. Not summiting was unfortunate, but I believe
this was the right decision. We got back to camp about
30 minutes after sundown, and were completely
exhausted. That night a small storm dumped about 3
inches of snow.

Day 4: We woke up at 6am, and with the heavy clouds
coming in overhead, we decided to get out of there as
soon as possible. About half way down one of Lindsay’s
snowshoes broke, and I gave her my pair, only to
realize how much they really helped. Within 3 hours
were down at the car, and turning back we saw the
mountain completely covered in thick clouds – it
looked like we got out of there just in time. With a
short and uneventful ride down Whitney Portal road we
head south on 395, to 178, and up to the Monterey


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Anthony Grennes

Anthony Grennes - Apr 8, 2006 1:26 am - Hasn't voted

Winter makes it different

I have noticed a legion of posts for the favored climbing season. I always enjoy the posts of the winter climbers the best though. No comparison climbing a mountain in the summer with one climbed in the winter. Good work guys.

Happy trails


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Mt. Whitney in winter

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