Monday, June 1, 2009

Off Topic- The Whitney Day Hike Adventure 5/31/09

Every year I head out to Lone Pine to tackle the tallest mountain in the lower 48. I like doing the day hike because of the challenge and it's something I can do then be back to work on Monday and tell everyone about. This year was the 16th time I got to the top, 14 of them being day hikes.

The weather was a big factor in this years adventure. I had invited my two friends that just moved to Lone Pine in Sept but had never climbed Whitney. After watching the weather and hearing reports of trail conditions, there were some scattered snow showers but nothing that was creating much of a problem. Sunday, the day of our hike the forecast called for little or no precipitation and reduced chance of thunderstorms from the two days prior.

Starting off the weather was great, sunny and hardly a cloud in the sky. My friends, F.B. and his wife S.B. are good hikers and have had lots of outdoor experience so I was not concerned about the small amount of snow we might encounter on the trail. The trail was patchy in spots leading up to trail camp where there were numerous snow sections leading to the switchbacks and trail crest. You could see the snow level where fresh snow had fallen over the last two days, it appeared to be sticking somewhere around 13,000.

Following the cables S.B. decided that she had had enough, worrying that the snow fields above might be above her level of capability. She turned around as we headed to the top. Somewhere near Trail Crest the trail became completely covered in snow all the way up. We made it to the top just as some clouds decided to roll in and a tiny bit of gropple began to fall. After getting the photos out of the way, F.B. and I headed down(the time was about 12:30 pm).

Just as we got off the top of the mountain off in the distance a flash of lighting was seen followed quickly by thunder. Over the next two miles to Trail Crest the snow fell harder and the thunder and lighting got closer. I was the first to make it back to Trail Crest where I waited just away from the saddle. At this point the thunder and lighting was all around me and a bolt actually struck about 50 feet in front of me near the "Trail Crest" sign.

After waiting out the near blizzard conditions and lightning for about 15 minutes the rest of the summeteers arrived at TC. All eight of us decided it was a bad place to be so we headed back down the switchbacks. I am pretty sure most went down the switchbacks but a gentleman and his son decided to take the chute. It was tempting but there had already been 6+ inches of new snow today and I didn't want to trigger anything loose.

As we descended the switchers the trail became less treacherous and the snowfall began to lighten up. By the time we made it to Trail Camp it was hardly snowing at all but there was probably 3-4 inches of snow on the ground. I felt sorry for those people at Trail Camp who would have to hike up through the probably foot or more that fell on top the next day.

On the return trip the trail was completely covered in snow all the way down to Trailside Meadow. Below that it was pretty evident that it had rained throughout the day. Good thing for my boyscout training that had us prepared with the right gear. My friends were prepared to do the hike in trail runners rather than boots. Had the storm not come in this may have been a possibility, good thing we didn't plan our trip according to the weather forecast. Every year is different up there on Whitney, maybe another reason why I do it every year. -Dave
P.S. Doug please bring the shower back to WPS!

Trail Side Deer
Lone Pine Lake

The Switchbacks and Trail Crest- AM S.B. Contemplating the Cable
F.B. Crossing A Snowfield Below Trail Crest
The Snow Field @ Trail Crest
Looking Up Top
The Hut and Spa
F.B. and Me
The Backside
The Snow Field @ Trail Crest- PM
F.B. Crossing a Snow Field With 6" New
Two Guys in the Chute
The Switchbacks
Trail Camp
The Cables- PM
The Switchbacks and Trail Crest- PM


Marco said...

What a great story. Thank you for sharing.

I need some advice. I am going to Whitney on June 17th. I have been to the top nine times, most of the time I did in one day. This time I am spending the night at base camp. I want to go to the summit on the second day.

Some questions:

Do you need cramp ons? A pick?

How important is it to have experience with them (I have none)?

How dangerous was going to the top?

How important was it to have an experienced buddy? I have a couple guys going with me that are very fit but not experienced hikers.

Should I go for it?

Thanks for your advice! I really don't want to settle for not going to the top.


ps - email me at


Marco said...

What a great story. Thanks for sharing. I need some advice from you given your recent experience. I have been to the top of Whitney nine times, but never in the snow. MOst of the time I have done in one day. This time we will stay the night at base camp. I am in good shape. I am bringing up some folks that are in very good shape but have not done Whitney before. I am struggling with the question of if I should go for the summit the second day.

Some questions:

Do you need cramp ons? Ice Pick?

How dangerous is it?

Should I go for it (weather permitting)?

Thanks for your help. I really do not want to settle for not making it to the top.

Please email me back at

Thank you!!!

Liz. said...


I've found quite a wealth of infomation in the PCT-list archives regarding the Sierra and trail conditions. You can email the list and expect thoughtful, prompt replies from people who are familiar with the Pacific Crest Trail and general hiking/backpacking know-how.

Have a safe, fun trip!