20090524 Mt. Whitney Conditions Report

This report is posted several days after conditions were observed. Significant changes have occurred since then. This post and photos are for information only, and should not be used as directions or provide guidance. There are piles of books and maps available and should be consulted with as well. You're on your own!

There is remarkably little snow below 11,500 feet in the Easter Sierra. The only snow encountered on the hike from the trail head to upper boy scout lake was on the north-facing talus slope above Lower Boy Scout Lake, and before reaching the granite slabs below Upper Boy Scout Lake. This snow was significantly melted back even further during the descent on 25 May, and I don't expect to see it again this season.

There are plenty of dry campsites at Upper Boy Scout Lake.

There is snow on the north facing slopes and in the gully bottoms along the moraines as one hikes from Upper Boy Scout Lake to Iceberg Lake. Much of Iceberg basin is still covered, but there are several dry camp sites on the south side (first reached).

snow of the east face route is visible / photo Nick Sappa

There is continuous snow from Iceberg Lake to aproximately 13,600 feet elevation in the Mountaineers Route Couloir. The approach to the East Buttress and East Face Routes also have significant coverage. The East Face route has snow on the upper portion of the Washboard and in the final exit ledges, but appears otherwise clear. A team topping out on the East Buttress reported a little bit of snow from the recent storm (<1 inch), but melting away fast.

snow up the mountaineers route / photo Nick Sappa

On the Mountaineers Route expect rock scrambling up the final 400 feet to the Notch, at top of the couloir. There is significant snow coverage from the Notch across the North aspect of Whitney. If parties should consider taking the alternative traverse to the summit plateau, they should consider that a 75+ foot cliff band is immediately and directly below the traverse. Its is extremely unlikely that a slip in firm to icy conditions could be arrested in time. Several climbers have died attempting to make the traverse in such conditions.

The Bowl (the traditional finish to the route) is remarkably dry. 100 feet of scrambling up the left side of the bowl leads to a dry traverse across to the right and another 250 feet of further scramblingto the summit plateau.

final bowl leading the summit / photo Nick Sappa

In conclusion the Mountaineers Route consists of steep snow and solid 3rd class climbing. Crampons, ice axe, and rope were used to ascend the couloir. Crampons and ice axe were left at the notch and the rope continued to be used to the summit and descent back to the notch. Ice axes were used during the descent back down the couloir, although we took the alternative small couloir to skiers right and found excellent soft snow conditions.

More photos of the surrounding conditions can be found at Nick Sappa Photos and Mountain Freak Photos.