Day 1: 7.5 hrs, ~6.5 mi hogback to mirror lake, camped east of Mirror Lake in the trees. (decent snow pack, no trail).
Day 2: 5.5 hrs to trail crest. 2.25hrs to summit, 5.5 hrs back to camp w/ glissading down the chute. ~12.5 mi. (ok snow pack, minimal snow cover on trail crest to summit).
Day 3: 2.5 hrs, ~5.1 mi mirror lake to hogback, w/ road shortcut at big switchback.
Road, defined trails, breaking trail, snow fields, high angle slopes, ridge trail traverse, class III scrambles.
Snowshoes, crampons, ice ax, overnight.
Trailhead 7 miles from services (Lone Pine). Winter road closure at hogback road. Whitney portal road appears to be plowed during the winter. 2016 rock slide blocked road shortly after prominant road switchback. Blasting underway in 2017.
Snowshoes required till chute area. Deep powder on exposed slopes. Trail crest traverse to summit trail mostly clear of snow due to predominant winds out of the west. Recent snow storms would render trail crest to summit impassible/long alternative detours required. Talking with Rangers and Guides need at least 2 week window of no snow (high winds desired) to pack snow for the Chute area, and to clear ridge traverse.
-Trip lesson learned (and life lesson)... don't use Fox-Rent-a-Car. You will regret it (my second time). Pay the extra 5 dollars a day for another company.
-If you think you have looked extensively at google earth and topos and think you found a million shortcuts to save time/distance. You did not. Plan on following the road to Whitney Portal and staying on the trail until you go left at the trail split. After this you can start cutting through some of the switchbacks.
-4x4 vehicle is not necessary (I would still recommend it), the road is paved/half ass plowed all the way to Whitney Portal. If there is a recent storm (in which case you shouldn't be doing this) or storm following your trip I would recommend it for safety and guarantee purposes. At a minimum get a vehicle with clearance just incase.
Fly into Los Angeles (LAX). Rent a car and head north out of the city Navigating towards Lone Pine California. I-5 N to hwy. 14 N to hwy. 395 N. Services and food available outside of Los Angeles at most major towns. In-N-Out Burger in Palm Dale off 14, was a good rest spot. Food and gas available in Lone Pine. Small mountaineering store at the Whitney Portal Road Junction store with decent stock of goods if you need something last minute. Park off the road at the gate, there are a lot of people that will park there during the day so don't park crazy (we saw a car parked right in the middle of the road on the way up).
Note: before driving into downtown Lone Pine. Stop at the ranger station south of town, and pull up to the structure off the right side of the road to fill out a permit.
Trail Description (oriented for the accent):
Hogback road gate - Adds 4 miles to the ascent to Whitney Portal, follow the road. 2.9 miles on decent if you cut the switchback. Note, stay south near the creek valley to avoid cliffing out ~ 25' cliff along most of the road. Would not recommend taking the switch back shortcut on the way up unless you have very good snow conditions.
Whitney Portal - Cut right from the architectural wood frame structure and head up the switch back to gain elevation before heading up the valley. Even with snow cover the trail is the best option. Very steep terrain here.
Trail split - Obvious trail split at the top of the bowl above the TH, right takes you to the mountaineers route, left traverses left across the valley to the Mt. Whitney Trail valley. Note without doing technical climbing I believe you are stuck with one valley or the other.
Lone Pine Lake - After traversing across the valley you will will need to continue to gain quite a bit of elevation while traversing up the valley (8 or 9 big switch backs) until you are about even with Lone Pine lake. If the terrain becomes very steep you probably went too high. keep traversing/gaining until you get around to a open chute area. Go to the top of the chute and continue straight up the valley to the right through the trees. You will crest over one or two inclines before getting to a meadow/clearing on the right side of the valley.
Mirror Lake - at the end of the meadow take the right steep gully to get to the next plateau which is mirror lake. I would recommend camping in this area as this is the last place with tree cover before the ascent above Mirror Lake. As you approach Mirror Lake you will take the slope directly to your left and gain a lot of elevation to a plateau before continuing close-wise around the lake. Continue up the valley on the left/directly in front of you into a small bowl where you can do the switch back up the right slope to gain the ridge on the right. Or if the snow cover is good you can go left and get above the bowl to continue up a gully all the way to constitution lake. Note that if you go to far high and right you will need to decend back down before going past constitution lake (we went right up the switch back and then went diagonally up along a rock face/top of a cornice and ended up too high).
Constitution Lake - Continue up the valley towards the ever revealing peaks in front of you. You will come to one last buldge/hill with the option to go left, straight over, or right. Left is probably the easiest, straight over is hard till you get up to the rocks and then easy after that and i wouldn't recommend right.
Chute - This is probably the hardest part of the whole route, with the exception of the 2 mile never ending traverse at 14,000' to the summit. The Chute will go up the low angle slope near the rock face. The normal "99" switch back area will go up the left portion of this cutout where its bare rock. Do not go over there as there is higher avalanche danger. We stayed on the rocky exposed ridge that splits the two areas and went straight up. Aim for cresting left of the last spire and you will hit the trail immediately. If you take the the cut to the right of the last spire you will need to decent some easy 2nd or 3rd class slope/rock.
Trail Crest - The trail will cut right on the far side of all of the rocky spires. The trail is essentially cut into the side of the hill, so if there is snow covering this good luck, you would most likely need to decent the back side and traverse across the back side past all of the spires if the snow conditions were bad on the trail. Note that it was already hard enough hiking on a half covered trail.
Ridge traverse - You will be tired at this point, and now at 14,000 ft. Time for the ~2 miles of low angle hiking to the summit. With never ending wind out of the west.
Summit - After passing back and forth around the spires and across the boulder field, you are aiming for the flat topped slope out in the distance. Don't take the obvious shortest path to the summit. its can get pretty steep near the sides of the summit slopes. Follow the snow fields across the boulder field and do some easy switch backs up the middle of the summit bump. it will continue relatively flat for a bit till you get to the summit hut.
-When hiking this in the dark, there are quite a few options on how to complete this. Good rule of thumb is continue up the valley and stay right if you are past the split in the trail for the Mt Whitney Trail portion. Go hard left around Mirror Lake and continue up the valley on the plateau above Mirror Lake. Then stay pretty straight up the valley aiming for the trail crest peaks.
-On the way out after Whitney Portal on the road, once you reach the big switch continue straight down the hill off the road. Stay far right near the bottom once you reach the road to avoid cliffing out at the road. There is a nice ramp at the road corner next to the gate. Or jump/slide off the road cliff like we did.
-I think this is doable in two long days (12-16hrs of hiking/breakdown of camp), Three if you want three easy ish days, depending on the snow conditions. The hike from Mirror Lake back to the car was a piece of cake.