We decided to slog out the Whitney Trail to see if it was reasonably doable after the big winter storms, and whether we could break enough trail to get even remotely close to the summit. Turns out we did, but not without a lot of backbreaking work.
Day One: January 16th
Used chains on the car to get to about 6600 feet, just below the begining of the climb of the portal road, where the three of us snowshoed and drug a sled to 7500 feet and slept.
Day Two: January 17th
Got to the Portal and started up at about 10am. The trail was too steep for the sled so we jettisoned to pick up later, snowshoed to about 9000 feet on broken trail, which abruptly ended right beneath the section of rock faces. From where we grinded out the last 1000 feet to a basin next to running water (!!!) and went back for the sled supplies. All in all was a 4000 feet day.
Day Three: January 18th
Cached the sled and left behind unnecessary supplies and broke trail to 12000 feet, winding up near the biodegradable toilets, with good sun until 3pm until the temperatures significantly dropped. Took us about five hours to get from 10000 to 12000.
Day Four: January 19th
Approached via the gulley beneath the switchbacks and chose the snowfield immediately to the right of the trail to get to Trail Crest, which resided somewhat in no man's land, considering the snow was too unconsolidated and sugary to scale via crampons, but a little steep to ideally use snowshoes, which we did anyway, having to kick steps in three or four times just to get consolidated purchase. This gain of about 1200 feet took us nearly two hours, rewarding us with sunrise over Death Valley and a windblock just behind the first pinnacle. We then mounted crampons after a quick assessment of stuck drifts of snow and ice, which was a good idea since in many locations the mini-coulours were very icey and very exposed. This took more time than anything, picking through the inconsistent surfaces, finally spitting us out behind the Keeler Needle at about 10:15 am, where we woozily staggered to the last gradual slope to the summit. It was windy (perhaps 30-40 mph) but blisteringly clear and warm through the chill, which haunted us on the way back as the sun had circled to the western switchbacks and was quickly making the snow traverses very slushy and iffy. But after excruciatingly halting progress and infinite tapping out of slush from crampons, we made it back to Trail Crest, where we glissaded down the snowfield (snow too soft for optimal thrills and spills), picked up camp at 12000, collected jettisoned items at each camp down including sled and staggered back to the car by nine o'clock, making for a 16 hour day and one of the longest last five miles ever walked in the history of mankind. Okay, maybe an overstatement, but getting back all in one day may have been overplaying our ambition a little bit. Perhaps better to stay at the portal for one last night. Great climb, though! The weather was perfect albeit cold, although for us 0 to minus ten sleeping bags were plenty along with a four-season tent as long as you're setting up before nightfall. There were running sources of water up to about 10600 feet, and most importantly, an adventure that took for each of us portions of our stamina to the limit.
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