(editor’s note: Mt. Whitney, CA is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 at 14,505-feet)
by Howie Schwartz on June 7th, 2014
We have been out and about for the past few weeks. Not much new to report for alpine ice climbers. Couloirs are still quite snowy, and the firnification process has been slow due to continued snowstorms through May. Some couloirs do have patches of ice exposed due to the dry winter. This Alpine Conditions will focus on the Mount Whitney zone and you can extrapolate it out to other areas I’m sure.
Near the end of May we had some considerable snow that fell, which made Mt. Whitney quite wintry.
Since then we have had a mix of warmer and colder days. Most nights have seen freezing temps above 12,000′. Lakes above 12,000′ are still covered in thick ice and an ice axe is handy for getting water in the early morning. We walked atop Iceberg Lake with no concern on the approach to the Whitney-Russell Col one morning last week.
The Mountaineer’s Route gully has been stomped in the afternoons. This makes early morning snow travel quit easy and secure. By mid-day, the snow conditions are soft. We found foot penetration of between 10-30cm, though there is ice beneath that. Overall snow depth is thin and it is disappearing quite fast at this point. Though on warm days at the right times, the entire Mountaineer’s Route can be climbed without ice axe or crampons by some, it is not recommended.
Crampons and ice axe will make climbing much more efficient, safer, and ability for an alpine start, beating the afternoon thunderstorm potential we have been seeing. East Face/Buttress climbers might use approach shoes and carry at least an ultralight pair of compatible crampons.
There is no mandatory snow on the entire approach to Iceberg Lake and if you climb the summer variation of the route snow/ice can be easily avoided for all but a few hundred feet in the middle of the gully. It is easy to avoid snow/ice on the upper 4th class section also. Ascending to the Whitney-Russell Col from the east can be done off snow and there is no snow on any of the common south or east routes and descents for that peak. See this recent trip report for photos from June 1-4.
For hikers, we are getting reports from the PCT that most high passes are reasonable using smart timing without ice axe/crampons, but we recommend if in doubt or carrying a heavier pack to consider bringing them.
Hope this is helpful, more to come, and see you in the mountains!