Monday, June 2, 2008

Mt Whitney- Up and Down in One Day, 6/1/08

(I know this blog is supposed to be Santa Barbara related but...)

Since 1995 I have hiked Mt Whitney every late Spring or Summer. In those 14 years I summitted as part of a longer thru trip twice and 13 times done the whole trip in one day. This year I was planning on doing the one day trip memorial day weekend. The light rain that got us heregave Mt Whitney up to 2 feet of powder. With a little luck some of the snow that fell all the way down to the parking lot would have melted at least giving a partial dry trail. Having seen photos from weekend past I knew this may end up being a really long slog.

Temps at the trail head were unusually cool for this time of year- 60's. The word on the street was that since last weekend's storm nobody had been able to summit. The low temps at the bottom made me wonder if the snow would be melting enough to make this attempt worth it. I found the best source of information as usual to be the people just coming off the trail. Since Friday I found out that people had been making their way to the summit without much problem.

I started out my 12 hour climb/hike of Whitney a little after 5 am this past Sunday. It was colder than in years past but that was fine with me. I started to see patched of snow covering the trail around Lone Pine Lake. They were intermittent and it wasn't until Trail Camp that the trail completely disappears. From Trail Camp onward it was there was a path cut in the snow from hikers before me. The snow was pretty soft and I decided not to use Crampons going up the chute- I did however use an axe just in case. After doing the chute and comparing it with the 99 switchback I have to say the switchback are probably easier, although longer. As with other summits I have done at this time of year, because of the snow there were probably half as many people on the trail as usual.

Once at Trail Crest you get a good idea of what you were up against the rest to the trip. The snow was easily about 2 feet in depth(so much for the rumors of 4 ft drifts). Because numerous people had already made their way to the top there was a nice packed down trail heading to the summit. Actually had I brought skis with skins this might have been a fun little climb. The snow along the crest was not slippery at all. I did not use my crampons again but just about everyone else did use them. If was howling wind along the ridge and cold! I was expecting my camelbak to freeze solid at any moment but luckily it did not. From my best guess the temps were in the 20's in this area and on top.

Finally on top a little after noon, the trails spread out a bit more and it becomes a little more work. At the top there was just a little bit of snow around the hut and some on the rocks. I signed the book and got out of there as quick as possible. Heading up the trail had been nice and packed but on the way down I was post-holing quite a bit more. I did not use crampons coming down the trail to Trail Crest and had no problems with slipping again. At Trail Crest I attempted to glissade down but the soft snow did not work in my favor. I have done this many times in the past but this time gissading was slow and tedious. I had been wondering if I should have brought my snowboard up for this part and the jury is still out.

Once at Trail Camp the heat was on. All the frozen spots on the trail were now pools of water and the temperature at Trail Camp was probably near 50+. Even with full leather boots they were soaked thru and I luckily had brought an extra pair of socks to change in to. Earlier in the day I saw a guy headed up the trail in running shoes wondering how his feet must feel. From Trail Camp down the name of the game is pain. You forget how many steps you came up and you realize how hard granite actually is. A couple hours later it is Pizza Factory for everything on the menu. Every year at this point I wonder why it is I put my self through the pain. I can't seem to figure that one out and this was a complete success and I am already looking forward to next year and those WPS burgers.