Mt. Whitney Chute - trip report (6/9/18)

Joined: 10:00 PM - Jul 30, 2018

7:50 PM - Jul 31, 2018 #1

Overview

The infamous 99 switchbacks were still iced/snowed over, so the only way up to the summit from the East side is via the chute (or the more difficult Mountaineer's Route).

Some people have been making it to the top with spikes and trekking poles, but I would say an ice axe is still required if you're being responsible for yourself and others climbing below you. There was a nasty accident the day after we made the summit. The person who initially fell did not have an ice axe. If you don't have one, and you slip (which is not that uncommon), you will not self-arrest in time.

The hike from the portal to the base of the chute is roughly 6 miles with roughly 3,500' of gain. Ascending the chute will take 1-2 hours depending on your condition and abilities. From the top of the chute/trail crest to the summit is a very long 1.9 miles that took us about 2 hours to traverse.

Portal to summit = 10 hours
Summit to portal = 7 hours


Logistics/Planning

We only had dayhike permits so we didn't have a night to acclimate at altitude. We all basically left from sea level and arrived to our Portal campsite around 3pm in the afternoon. We started our summit hike at midnight. Sea level to Whitney summit in <24 hours was difficult on the lungs above 12,000' for me.

Map/Gear/Pics
  • My caltopo map:
https://caltopo.com/m/0BA5
  • My lighterpack:
https://www.lighterpack.com/r/egbf8v
  • My pics:


Pictures are from a gen one Google Pixel XL


The Hike

We got into our cars at about midnight and drove the short way up to the trailhead. We unloaded, packed up, and weighed our packs at the start. Since we were able to leave camp setup, my pack was full of clothing layers, food, and mountaineering equipment. It was my first time using several pieces of gear and I'll get into that in the next section.

Even in darkness, the trail is easy to follow for the vast majority of the route. There is a lot of snow melt currently, and some sections of the trail are just a flooded river. The actual crossings are swelling right now as well, but with good rock hopping skills and trekking poles, the water is mostly avoidable.
One member of our group had some moderate AMS symptoms (nausea, disorientation) before Trail Camp and smartly turned around with a buddy.
A lot of the hike is a blur until we reached Trail Camp/the bottom of the chute, because we were in darkness. The wind really started to gust and pickup as we broke through the treeline. The sun started to rise over the horizon as we got to the base of the chute and donned our crampons/spikes/ice axes/extra layers. This would be my first time using an ice axe, and I was testing some waterproof socks with my Altra Lone Peaks and Hillsound Trail Crampons (somewhere between a microspike and a true crampon).

The chute was relatively uneventful (other than having to make an emergency rush to some rocks on the side for a surprise #2 in the wag bag). Pretty slow going since we weren't acclimated, but the snow conditions were great since we managed to start the climb before it softened up for the day. A few times someone would knock some rocks loose and send them tumbling below. Everyone would yell "ROCK ROCK ROCK" and you'd have to quickly make sure it wasn't coming for you. It took roughly 2 hours to reach the top, and we rested there for a bit and took off our spikes for the final 1.9 miles.
Trail crest has some sketchy sections still, but I never felt like I needed to put the traction back on. Having my ice axe out was enough to navigate them. This section is just a slog however. I was plodding along very slowly, sucking wind with every step. By the time I reached the summit I was physically and emotionally spent, and nearly in joyful tears. It was 10am and we took shelter among the rocks from the below-freezing wind chill gusts (30mph+).
We stayed at the top for about and hour before making our way back. My legs felt better going down, but my lungs were still screaming for oxygen. Trail crest hardly seemed easier than the way we had come.

When we got back to the top of the chute, we put our spikes back on in order to walk out to a safe glissading line down. Once we got to the spot, we dug little benches so we could safely sit and remove our spikes once again. The sun had been hitting the chute for some hours now and it was nice and slushy... perfect to slide down. This is why you need to climb up early in the day. I completed the glissade down in 4 or 5 runs. I stopped myself each time because I felt like I was getting near out of control. I'd rather be safe than sorry and it was my first time. Using the ice axe as a rudder/brake worked, but took a ton of effort and energy. My arm was sore the next day. Two hours to get up and only 5 minutes to get down though... hard to argue with those results.

From the bottom of the chute/Trail Camp, we still had ~6 miles back to the trailhead. It was nice to see the parts of the trail that we had hiked in darkness, but it was still slow going. We were all physically and mentally exhausted, but eventually made it back.


Thoughts on gear

Petzl Glacier Ice Axe (75cm) - I never had to self-arrest thankfully, but this thing made me feel really confident in all of the sketchy areas. I wouldn't go up the chute with just trekking poles, although some people do. If you slip and fall in that situation though, you aren't stopping.

DexShell Waterproof Breathable Thermlite Merino Wool Socks - I wore these over some Darn Toughs inside my Altras, and the combination worked out great. I put them on before climbing up the chute, and kept them on until we got back to the portal. Didn't notice my feet getting too sweaty, and they kept my feet dry. During some of the crossings on the way back, I simply walked through the water in some sections to really test them out. Very happy that I brought them along.

Hillsound Trail Crampons - More teeth/larger teeth than traditional microspikes, but not as heavy duty as actual crampons. Fit securely on my Lone Peaks, and I felt very confident with them on. No major traction issues for the conditions I faced.

Tough Outdoors Winter Snow & Ski Touch Screen Gloves - Kept my hands warm and dry. Maintained a good grip on my ice axe. They work on touch screens but honestly I would just take them off briefly when I wanted to use my phone because it was much easier. They have an elastic loop/leash that goes around your wrist, so you can just take it off, let it hang to use your phone, and put it back on very easily.

Borah Gear Side Zipper Ultralight Bivy - We initially were going to be staying at Lone Pine Campground, which would have meant breaking down camp at 11:30pm before starting the hike, so I brought this as my shelter for the night for easy packing. We ended up getting a first-come spot at the Portal however, so the concern was unwarranted. Regardless, I had a great night in this thing after our summit, before leaving the next day. I have it in long/wide (I'm 6"3") and felt comfortable.

MLD Lightsnow Gaiters - Loved these. Very light weight. Go up to just below my knees. Kept my legs dry and warm in the wet, cold, and especially wind! I post-holed a few times up to my nethers, and these kept the snow out and my legs never got wet.


Conclusion

I don't think I want to do Whitney again as a dayhike. Although I didn't experience AMS, it was very strenuous with no true acclimation. I would love to spend a night at Trail Camp or Outpost Camp, but overnight permits are much, much harder to get than day use permits.

If you are going up the chute, please be responsible. Bring an ice axe. Your slip and fall could cause major injury or death to other hikers below you.

Always look above you while you are ascending to make sure you aren't going to get brained by a rock or another hiker.

Also remember to put sunscreen on the bottom of your nose/around your nostrils... that snow reflection got me pretty good.
Quote
Like
Share

Joined: 9:35 AM - Feb 12, 2014

3:37 AM - Aug 01, 2018 #2

Thanks for the report. By the way, you're attaching the images in some weird way that requires javascript, or something. I'm imagining they look glorious.
Quote
Like
Share

Joined: 10:00 PM - Jul 30, 2018

6:54 PM - Aug 01, 2018 #3

Hm, the images seem to be embedding fine for me using Firefox.

e- tested and working in Chrome as well
Quote
Like
Share

Joined: 9:35 AM - Feb 12, 2014

10:06 PM - Aug 01, 2018 #4

You're not embedding IMAGES, but some massive chunk of code from instagram. I'm not going to run any javascript just to look at some photos. It makes everything slower, less compatible, and makes it way more likely that in the near future the provider will disappear, and take all your images with it. Then again, nobody else is complaining, so I won't insist. Trip reports are always welcome, so thanks for posting!
Quote
Like
Share

Sean
Cucamonga Man
Sean
Cucamonga Man
Joined: 6:32 PM - Jul 27, 2011

10:43 PM - Aug 01, 2018 #5

Thank you for the detailed report. You got some great pictures too. The embedded slideshow works for me in Chrome. The snapshot also serves as a link to your Instagram page.

We had an issue with lost content when Photobucket started charging for third-party hosting. So be aware that the slideshows you embed here might disappear in the future if something happens at the Instagram end of your report.

That being said, the slideshows look pretty good to me, though they don't have captions.
Quote
Like
Share

Joined: 10:00 PM - Jul 30, 2018

10:54 PM - Aug 01, 2018 #6

Thanks. New to the forums and just trying to contribute. I essentially copy/pasted these trip reports from earlier this year and did a little touching up with the formatting. In the future I will try to just use imgur like on my Trans-Catalina Trail post.
Quote
Like
Share

Joined: 9:35 AM - Feb 12, 2014

11:11 PM - Aug 01, 2018 #7

Talking about the images, I forgot all about the post itself. There's enough snow up there right now to need an ice axe? Is that normal? This was a fairly dry winter in the Sierra, right? In a "normal" year (whatever that even means anymore) would the snow ever completely melt? I haven't gotten around to actually climbing Whitney yet.
Quote
Like
Share

Sean
Cucamonga Man
Sean
Cucamonga Man
Joined: 6:32 PM - Jul 27, 2011

11:37 PM - Aug 01, 2018 #8

The report is from two months ago. Pretty sure the trail is clear now.
Quote
Like
Share

Joined: 10:00 PM - Jul 30, 2018

11:56 PM - Aug 01, 2018 #9

Correct. This summit was on 6/9/18. Only 1 or 2 hikers had made it up the switchbacks on or before this date, but still required ice axes at the time. It wasn't until later in June that the switchbacks became viable for most hikers.

The day the switchbacks open varies from year to year. A good resource to keep an eye on is current conditions thread on the Whitney Zone forums linked here:

http://www.whitneyzone.com/wz/ubbthread ... Mt_Whitney
Quote
Like
Share

tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
Joined: 11:07 PM - Apr 11, 2013

1:38 PM - Aug 02, 2018 #10

Thanks for the report, David. I think I saw the original post on reddit. The date threw me until I saw it was from June. I appreciate the gear reviews, especially on winter gear.
Quote
Like
Share

Girl Hiker
Rock Scrambler
Girl Hiker
Rock Scrambler
Joined: 1:46 PM - Apr 04, 2014

10:53 PM - Aug 08, 2018 #11

Nice report. I am still waiting for my day to summit Mt. Whitney. Hopefully, I can do the mountaineers route when Sean takes me lol
"Never limit yourself to what you can do!"
Bart Yasso  
My Hero
Quote
Like
Share

Joined: 3:09 PM - Nov 28, 2010

2:56 AM - Aug 10, 2018 #12

Thanks for the report, any day out there is a good day! I've gone to Whitney ten times as a dayhike, summiting six of them. Only time I ever went in June was the same time that the switchbacks were a viable option so I missed out on going up the chute. Despite carrying an axe and crampons I wasn't comfortable learning in that environment....
I also think the hike down is at least as hard as the hike up. That time from the log bridge crossing to the Portal takes forever.
"Argue for your limitations and sure enough they're yours"
(Donald Shimoda)
Quote
Like
Share

Joined: 6:33 PM - Sep 30, 2007

12:45 PM - Aug 10, 2018 #13

JeffH wrote:  That time from the log bridge crossing to the Portal takes forever.
It's the longest part of any trail in the history of trails.
"It is our task in our time and in our generation, to hand down undiminished to those who come after us, as was handed down to us by those who went before, the natural wealth and beauty which is ours."

President John F. Kennedy
Quote
Like
Share