Seeking ideas for a winter trip above Whitney Portal

Discussion about winter adventure sports in the Sierra Nevada mountains including but not limited to; winter backpacking and camping, mountaineering, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc.
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Jim F
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Re: Seeking ideas for a winter trip above Whitney Portal

Post by Jim F » Mon Feb 03, 2020 9:33 pm

Hi Harlen,

Looks like you will have nice weather on the 395 for your trip.

As you likely know, in February, it is a totally different game on the Big Mountain compared to August: Short days, no trails, many tracks established by lost people, slow progress, winter mountaineering skills, wonderful solitude, real wilderness,...And a few do make it to the summit! Others feel very satisfied with a good workout hiking up the Portal Road several miles in the snow (after parking their car at the locked gate at the start of the big switchback) and camping a few days at the Portal with some short outings up the canyon.

There is a class 2 way over Pinnacle Ridge. Leaving Mirror Lake work your way up the drainage and head to gentle terrain just west of Thor. Then drop towards Girl Scout Lake. (As you know, many areas in the Sierras look challenging from a distance, but inspection close up reveals areas of weakness, allowing reasonable passage.) This way is named Dog Pass, in honor of the dog who walked over it. It is also a legal way to get to the climbing routes on Keeler, the East Face, and Russell without the very limited NFLPC permit. (Yes, an overnight MMWT permit will be needed.)

I have seen several dogs on the summit of Mt Whitney, for example, Coco on July 17, 2004 for the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the completion of the Mt Whitney Trail from the east. In most circumstances, dogs are not legal west of the Needles. The owner of one dog told me his dog was his guide. Another said his dog was his psychiatrist. Once a ranger and a small dog met at the summit and no one claimed to know who the owner was. The ranger declared the critter a marmot, and no action was indicated.

By the way, Lone Pine Campground is open without charge in the winter. It can be a nice place to stay.

Hope you and your dog have an enjoyable outing..

Jim








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Harlen
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Re: Seeking ideas for a winter trip above Whitney Portal

Post by Harlen » Tue Feb 04, 2020 11:02 pm

Jim F writes:
There is a class 2 way over Pinnacle Ridge. Leaving Mirror Lake work your way up the drainage and head to gentle terrain just west of Thor. Then drop towards Girl Scout Lake.... This way is named Dog Pass, in honor of the dog who walked over it.
All good points Jim, thanks. If we make it over that way can we change it, at least temporarily, to "Bearzy Dog Pass?" We will probably be coming at it from the Lonepine Creek side. And thanks to Gazelle for the nice photo from Thor Peak; that gives me a better sense of Pinnacle Ridge.

I've been set back at least a day or two by events down here with my old folks, and it seems I'll just be a bit warmer up there for it, when I am able to go. Yesterday (Mon. 2/3) E.S. Avalanche Center had the weather above 10,000 as "between 4 and 12º in the daytime, and "-1 and -6º" in the night. Cold snap eh? I don't mind that level of cold, but it was also blowing 15-30 mph with gusts up to 55mph; that would equal a pretty harsh wind-chill for my thinly-furred dog.
As the week moves along the temp. rises and the winds fall. I wonder what sort of icy, sun crust/wind board surface we will be slipping around on? My snowpack history has the last real snowfall the 12-20" that fell on 1/16, which fell during sustained S-SW winds, and then there was a small snowfall
(1-4") on 1/26. Other than that, mostly sun, and wind. Avie risk has been very low on all elevations for more than a week now. So that part at least is good-- lousy skiing, but safe hiking and climbing.
Last edited by Harlen on Thu Apr 16, 2020 6:36 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Seeking ideas for a winter trip above Whitney Portal

Post by Harlen » Thu Feb 06, 2020 3:20 pm

I originally wrote:
I may have an opportunity to explore above Whitney Portal on my way back north.
and later Jim F wrote:
Hi Harlen,
Looks like you will have nice weather on the 395 for your trip.
And yesterday (2/6) Eastern Sierra Avie. Center said:
While avalanche hazard remains minimal, variable conditions should keep you on your toes. Firm wind-board, frozen melt-freeze surfaces, breakable crusts, and sastrugi could all be found on the same slope. Crampons (boot and/or ski), ice ax and whippet could be very useful tools depending on your objective. Use good judgement as a fall in many places could be hard to self-arrest.
Which sounded fine to me-- I'll take tricky surfaces over avie danger-- at least on climbing trips.
However, it looks like the stars have not aligned for me, and my "might have an opportunity..." has turned into a "might not have..."
My old dad is acting Mad as a March hare, and I'd be an ass to leave him for the Sierra. I'm fully packed, perhaps when my brother shows, I'll be able to do a consolation climb up San Gorgonio, or ??? Alas, but thanks for the helpful comments anyway.

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Re: Seeking ideas for a winter trip above Whitney Portal

Post by Harlen » Sun Feb 23, 2020 11:52 pm

Well now I wish I hadn't written some of those words above, but it did turn out that I had no opportunity to get into the Sierra on that recent trip to the folks'. I need to head back again, and this time I can be that ass and head into the Sierra before my visit. What are my chances of getting in a tour on the nice new snow from this recent snowfall event WD posted about? I can collect the newly mounted skis tomorrow (REI just finished with them), and head directly for Walker Pass, and then where? Same questions arise now as they did when I first posted this, only now, I am also wondering if I can catch that snow in good enough condition for skis, or will it be wet mush, or blown away already? Should I take snow shoes too?

Where will it have settled best, and be good for some miles? As before, I learned that Cottonwood Lakes is an impractical long way in, and that Whitney area is less desirable due to having to pack human and dog $hit around, and possibly challenging ski touring, the other possibilities are Onion Valley, Big Pine Creek, and South Lake and Sabrina. Don't know yet how much snow fell north of there- possibly none? Thanks for any new ideas, or snow condition insights.

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Re: Seeking ideas for a winter trip above Whitney Portal

Post by Silky Smooth » Tue Feb 25, 2020 12:19 pm

Hey Harlen, hope all is well. I've been meaning to give you an update for the Whitney zone, my communication skills have been poor lately.

Before the this recent southern sierra snow we were very dry and hard pack conditions. Not real good touring conditions down here before the storm. That being said storm dumped anywhere between 6-18 inches in the high country. Heard reports of more but not confirmed. Tuttle canyon had 6 inches at 6800 feet. Kearsage area got hit hard too. Wet heavy snow, i've included a photo of onion valley trailhead from couple weeks prior to this storm when Lady Blackout and I were putzing around up there. You can almost drive all the way to the trailhead.

In terms of where you should go, my bet is for kearsage (best coverage locally) and head west towards great western divide or milestone. I know you've done onion and Shepards in the winter before so maybe something else. You could also go in Olancha pass for something different. Take a look at templeton mt and Olancha peak webcams for coverage. Miter basin is a winter backcountry skiers paradise. Its been a hard year in the souther sierra in terms of touring and snow. Hope this helps your decision making. I've been playing north of rock creek up to virginia lakes area. All varieties of snow out there. Have fun be safe!
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Harlen
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Re: Seeking ideas for a winter trip above Whitney Portal

Post by Harlen » Fri Feb 28, 2020 6:00 pm

Silky Smooth wrote:
... I've been meaning to give you an update for the Whitney zone,... Before the this recent southern sierra snow we were very dry and hard pack conditions. Not real good touring conditions down here before the storm. That being said storm dumped anywhere between 6-18 inches in the high country. ...Kearsarge area got hit hard too. Wet heavy snow, ...

In terms of where you should go, my bet is for Kearsarge (best coverage locally) and head west towards great western divide or Milestone.
Thanks Silky. I wish I had tried out Onion Valley-Kearsarge area, though Bearzy and I had a fine time in the lower basin of Middle Fork of Bishop Creek above Sabrina. I went in hoping for the layer of soft snow, and turned around before making even Dingleberry Lake because of too deep and soft snow! Imagine that? Bearzy was literally trying to swim through it, and my new wider skis were often submarineing out of sight. I really didn't expect those conditions. We turned around and spent our second and third days enjoying the amazing mountain panorama at the east end of Blue Lake, where the touring, and dog running surface was perfect. I'll elaborate on our shortened tour in a TR when I return home. Thanks for your update and good advice, Ian and .....

bearandvidetteDSCN0039[1].jpg
Bearzy!

(p.s. I'd love to head into the GWD again, but Bearzy's trying to abide by the rules now.)
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