Last Friday, I took a morning off to see how things were looking up at the higher elevations. Rather than head up the Whitney Portal Trail, I went up the Meysan Lakes Trail instead. Over the years, I’ve found that the main danger of such an early season hike is traversing the iced over parking lot for the campground early in the morning. Fortunately, I was able to not slip on the inch of black ice present, and I did make it to the trailhead, which was partially covered in places with one-three inches of iced out snow. From the trailhead at the base of the campground, the trail was ninety-five percent (95%) clear for the first mile, with minor exceptions for several small drifts. After the first mile, the trail was covered with snow – some 1-3 inches of mostly packed powder, and was easy to follow (meaning that there were prior well-established bootprints and trail markers along the route). From the two mile mark, the trail was covered with 3-6 inches of snow – mostly unpacked powder, and eventually became obscured. From this point, I broke trail/route-found to a point just below Grass Lake (approximately 3 miles up).
On the slope directly below Grass Lake I decided to turn around, because I wasn’t too thrilled with the snow conditions – some 5-8 inches of unpacked and unconsolidated powder with a slippery base underneath. In those situations, not much works to keep your footing, among other things. Overall, it was still a great hike, and great sunrise. Any day in the mountains is a great day! It was also good to see a better start to the winter. Exactly two years ago, I went up the same trail, and was well above Meysan Lake in the same amount of time as there was no snow (Picture below for those who are interested). Hopefully, the fronts keep coming in, and the snowpack keeps increasing!
Tips: Even though Friday was more or less a perfect mountaineering day (blue sky, light wind), it was cold from 4am through 10am, and the temperature on the trail did not get above 25. As such, even though it should be obvious based on the photos (and the weather), winter mountaineering conditions now exist in the Sierra Nevadas. What this means is that climbers should have ice axes, crampons, and other winter survival gear, and the knowledge to use them as well.