elevation profile of Mount Whitney

At an elevation of 14,501 feet, Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in California AND the tallest peak in the Lower 48. Beyond the physical superlatives, hiking the Mount Whitney Trail is a beautiful experience in and of itself, and it’s very do-able for Southern Californians. It’s only a few hour drive to get to the trailhead, and you don’t need any technical expertise if you tackle the main trail during the summer months. However, those wiling to give this mountain a significant amount of planning, research, and effort will be greatly rewarded – whether or not they summit.

*** RED TAPE ***

Hoo boy is there a lot of red tape for this trail. Late January / Early February usually marks the beginning of “Permit Season,” which is when the US Forest Service begins accepting applications to enter the lottery for Wilderness Permits for the Mount Whitney Zone. If you are hiking this trail between May 1st and November 1st, you’ll need to get one of these permits. You will have to get your group together and pick several potential days you’d like to try to hike Mount Whitney – August and September are usually the best times in terms of weather, and weekends in those months book up very quickly. If you can manage time away from whatever you do to pay rent, I highly recommend asking for weekdays on your permit application as they tend to be less popular, giving you a better chance at snagging a permit. As of 2010, only 195 hikers are allowed on the trail on any given day during this season – 60 backpackers, 100 day-hikers, and 25 hikers coming in from other routes or ending their long-distance treks on the John Muir Trail.

After you’ve secured your permit, you’ve got to pick it up at the Eastern Sierra Inter-Agency Visitor Center, 2 miles south of Lone Pine. If you haven’t snagged a permit, this is also where you’ll have to go in the morning to be entered into their day-of lottery (in case anyone cancels or doesn’t show up to pick up their paperwork). For more information, visit this site for the Inyo National Forest.

Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center
Junction of Highway 395 and State Route 136
2 miles south of Lone Pine, CA
(760)876-6200 or TDD(760)876-6201

If you don’t manage to get a permit, it is still possible to hike Mount Whitney – either by participating in one of the day-of lotteries at the Visitor Center or by trying to find someone with a permit who’s looking to trade or fill a hole in their group. Be sure to check out the Whitney Portal Store’s excellent message board to see if anyone’s trying to trade.

Oh, also – once you’re in the Whitney Zone, you will need to carry a WAG Bag with you at all times. You’ll have to pack out any solid human waste you might need to get rid of while you’re up there – but don’t worry. It’s not the most elegant system, but it’s really not as big of a deal as people make it out to be.

See? I told you there was a lot of red tape! Good news, though – you don’t need an Adventure Pass to park in the Inyo National Forest.

***

Mount Whitney. Spend enough time with hikers and eventually the topic comes up – it’s one of those things that hikers are just supposed to do, like Half-Dome or the JMT. It’s spoken of in reverent tones as a rite of passage, a badge of accomplishment, and a grueling, unappealing ordeal. In reality, it’s all of those things and none of them, too – but most of all it’s just a really fantastic trail and something that should definitely be on your to-do list. I’ve already waxed poetic about the experience of hiking this trail, so I won’t go into it too much here.

After spending two days hiking and camping at 8,000 and 10,000 feet to get acclimated, my group and I began our Whitney Trek just south of the Whitney Portal Store full of hope and Pancake. While you’ll probably already be crazy excited to get started on this trail, it helps that you’ll most likely be accompanied by several people starting AND ending their treks at the trailhead. We saw an equal number of rosy-cheeked hikers ready to get moving and several summiteers passed out in the shade – It’s the full spectrum of the outdoor experience. When you’ve sufficiently steeled yourself for the journey ahead and hooked up your pack to the weigh station to see just how much you’re taking with you (40lbs for me, thanks to the unusually cold weather), walk through the wooden gate and start hiking.

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The trail near the Portal Store is soft with occasional sandy areas. This may bug you on the way up, but your knees will definitely appreciate it on the way back down.

In the first half-mile, the trail provides some really outstanding views of Lone Pine and the vicinity, and if you’re paying attention you’ll notice something you’ve probably never read about in your Mount Whitney research (except for here, of course) – the Mount Whitney trail is gorgeous.

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After 0.5 miles, you’ll have to hop a small stream that runs across the trail. This is also the junction for the Mountaineer’s Route, but don’t worry about taking a wrong turn – it’s pretty clear which one is the main Mount Whitney Trail. In another 0.3 miles, you’ll reach the crossing of the North Fork of the Lone Pine Creek. Depending on the season you’re hiking in and the precipitation that year, it may be difficult to cross. The first crossing is a short boulder hop, followed quickly by a section with downed logs acting as a bridge. When we went, the first boulder hop was a bit tricky, but everyone stayed bone dry on the logs.

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Continue on the trail until you reach the junction with the Lone Pine Lake Trail at 2.8 miles. I know this early in the trail you’re probably thinking you’ve got to book it up to Trail Camp, but it’s well worth a short detour to see Lone Pine Lake if you’ve got the time. Ditch your pack at the junction and take a quick side trip 0.1 mile to the shores of Lone Pine Lake – a beautiful alpine lake with views deep into the Owens Valley.

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You are allowed to camp at Lone Pine Lake as long as you stay away from the actual shores. While you need a wilderness permit to camp or hike here, you don’t need a Mount Whitney Permit – so this could be a good warm-up hike the day before you get going, or a good place to set up camp so you can get an early start on the Whitney Trail the next day, too. When you’re done soaking up the beauty of the lake, return to the Mount Whitney Trail and keep heading up. Just under 0.1 miles further, you’ll officially enter the Mount Whitney Zone – so make sure your permit is tied securely to your pack!

Here, the trail begins to get a bit rockier, although you’ll still have the relatively soft patches of dirt to give your legs a bit of rest from the impact.

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There are a handful of switchbacks in this next stretch of trail, but nothing too dramatic or difficult. During this stretch, you will break 10,000 feet for the first time, and you’ll get a nice view of Lone Pine Lake, too!

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The trail makes a short descent before Bighorn Park comes into view. A narrow, lush meadow nestled between granite monoliths on either side, Bighorn Park was one area that everyone on our hiking team felt the need to take a moment to just gawk at.

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Low, broad streams flow near the trail as Wotan’s Throne looms above you. Continue along the trail, hopping over Lone Pine Creek again to enter Outpost Camp at 3.8 miles and 10,360 feet.

Outpost Camp is the first of the two main camps on the Mount Whitney Trail. There used to be a solar composting toilet at this camp, but it’s been removed. That, combined with the fact that it’s still quite a ways away from the summit means that not too many people stay at Outpost Camp anymore, but we all thought it would make a lovely camp site. There are babbling brooks on two sides of the camp, and you can hear a small waterfall from Lone Pine Creek just to the southwest of the camp itself.

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Unless you’re choosing to camp here, continue past the camp by hopping another short side creek. Here, you’ll climb up another series of short, tight switchbacks – but you’ll start to notice the dirt on the ground has almost completely given way to granite. Get used to it, because it’s pretty much that way for the rest of the trail.

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At 4.3 miles, you’ll pass Mirror Lake, on another set of tight switchbacks. Just above the lake’s shore (where you are not allowed to camp despite its definite draw) you can see the northern ridge of the Whitney formation, but not (I believe) the summit itself.

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Continue trudging along the granite trail. You’ll keep a slow but steady elevation gain as you rise above Mirror Lake and start heading toward Trail Camp. And yes, there are hikers in this picture, just to give you a sense of scale:

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At 5.3 miles, the trail skirts the side of Lone Pine Creek at Trailside Meadow – a tiny sliver of an alpine meadow tucked inside the granite. It’s a good place to fill up on water if you need to, but no camping is allowed here. If you are looking to avoid the crowd at Trail Camp, though, keep your eyes peeled as you hike along the section of the trail. From the granite above Mirror Lake to Trail Camp itself, there are a few sandy, flat areas among the rocks to the side of the trail that people use as camp sites.

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From Trailside Meadow, it’s still a mile to Trail Camp. By this time, the trail may be starting to feel monotonous to you – especially because you really can’t see Trail Camp until you’re walking into it. Just keep on going, though – you’re very close. And you can check out the shores of Consultation Lake to keep your mind off the distance.

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At 6.3 miles, you’ll enter Trail Camp (12,039 ft). It’s a fairly large backcountry camp amid the glacially-carved granite in the shadow of Whitney. If you get there at a decent hour, you should be able to snag a good spot. There are plenty of small, sandy areas to pitch a tent, and plenty of rocks to tie your guylines to, too. We arrived in camp just as the sun was setting behind Whitney and didn’t have trouble claiming a good slice of ground, but those who strolled in after us did have to look for a while before settling down.

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Trail Camp can get crowded and does have some trash issues, sadly. I noticed a few abandoned WAG bags while I was there and some food packaging caught in some of the rocks. The lake right next to Trail Camp has much more algae than other bodies of water in the area, but if you’re looking for fresher water just follow the shore of the lake to the west until you get to the tributary stream – the flowing water is much clearer there, although you should still probably use a filter or purifying device since the area does get used by humans so often. You should also take care to store your food and other scented items in a bear canister – not to protect against bears, but marmots – little alpine relatives of squirrels who will be more than happy to chew through your tent or pack to get to something tasty.

I understand most people have trouble sleeping at 12,000 feet, but we all slept like rocks. In fact, it was the most restful night of sleep I had on the entire trip, even with the anticipation of summiting the next morning. I guess hauling 40 pounds up a mountain will wear you out!

We woke up at 3AM the next morning and hit the trail by 4 with headlamps. Just above Trail Camp begin the infamous 99 Switchbacks, a 2.2 mile stretch of the Mount Whitney Trail that rises 1,738 feet to Trail Crest. In your research for Mount Whitney, you will have undoubtedly read a lot of bellyaching about the trail itself. But nothing matches the seeming hatred people have for the 99 Switchbacks. They’re described as monotonous, grueling and – if you can believe it – not steep enough. Let me tell you this – yes, you should probably pack an iPod or something to take your mind off the Switchbacks, but they are probably some of the easiest switchbacks you’ll ever hike on – extremely gently graded. And yes, if they were steeper the trail would be shorter. But trust me – at this altitude, you’re going to appreciate the low grade elevation gain. Here’s a daylight shot of some of the Switchbacks with Consultation Lake in the background:

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Really, not that bad. There is one very short section with cables 1.4 miles in, but it’s mainly to help you navigate a section of the trail that tends to hold onto ice and snow longer than the rest.

If you’re hiking this stretch in the morning like we did, you won’t be bored on the way up because you’ll be busy soaking in celestial beauty. As we started up the switchbacks, we could see the Milky Way above us in a sky so thick with constellations that we were able to hike without headlamps. As we gained elevation, we could see the sun peaking up above the Inyo Mountains to the east, slowly rising above Death Valley and bathing Mount Whitney in a stunning scarlet alpenglow. On a trip that was chock full of breathtaking moments of beauty, I think we all rated this stretch as our favorite.

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And finally, we could see the Smithsonian hut on the summit of Mount Whitney – look for the tiny square building on the low slope just to the right of center here:

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Eventually, you’ll reach Trail Crest, a narrow stretch of trail on the ridge that divides the Inyo National Forest from Sequoia National Park. It might look a little hairy here, but it’s no worse than the Devil’s Backbone – nothing to be worried about unless it’s crazy windy or iced over.

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If you’ve made it up to Trail Crest and you’re not exhausted or experiencing signs of Altitude Sickness, you’ve essentially done all the work to summit. From here, it’s only 2.5 miles and 845 feet of elevation gain to the summit – although it may be one of the most draining 2 and a half miles you’ve ever hiked.

The views into the eastern edge of Sequoia are breathtaking. Huge glacier-carved valleys, mountain spires, alpine lakes and meadows and distant forests. It’s all quite stunning, and will make the journey to the summit easier to handle.

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After a slight (and slightly demoralizing) drop, the trail meets up with the John Muir Trail about half a mile from Trail Crest. This junction is signed and marked, but I have heard tales of hikers continuing on the JMT and missing the turn off for the Mount Whitney Trail, so just make sure you read the signs. If you’re in doubt, you should hang a right at the junction and start gaining elevation again. If you went straight and feel like you’re descending, you’ve missed the turn.

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Here, the trail is entirely on angular slabs of granite. It might not be great on your knees or feet, but for the most part the trail is extremely stable – even though it doesn’t look like it. This is a very well-built trail, so just watch where you’re stepping and enjoy the unique view of the backside of the mountains you’ve been staring at for days:

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0.3 miles past the junction with the John Muir Trail, you may notice a few cairns on the right hand side of the trail, and some very steep use-trails. This is the short route up to Mount Muir, an off-trail class 3-4 scramble to the 14,015 summit. If you’re not in the mood to add a few harrowing high-elevation moments to your hike, continue on the Mount Whitney Trail. Shortly after the turn-off to Mount Muir, you’ll pass the first of the “Whitney Windows” – areas where the face of the Whitney Ridge breaks, offering up some spectacular through-the-mountain views:

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It’s tough to get the sense of vertical drop into pictures of the windows, but it’s pretty much just straight down right below me there. The trail stays far enough away from the drops that you’ll still feel safe, but those of you with heights issues may not want to poke your head through the windows.

It’s 1.7 miles from Mount Muir to the summit. As the trail gradually gains elevation and passes the windows, you’ll come to the western slope of Mount Whitney itself. Here, there’s not much to look at, but if you’re lucky you’ll be able to see some hikers further above you on the trail.

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Take a deep breath and keep hiking – by the time you’re able to see the Summit Hut, you’re pretty much already there:

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When you reach the summit marker, congratulate yourself – you are now the tallest thing in the continental United States!

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After you’ve soaked in the summit, return back the way you came. Oh, and congratulations!

Additional Info:

Mount Whitney is not a hike you just show up and do. You’ve got to plan and research, THEN hit the trail.

As far as books go, I found Elizabeth Wenk’s One Great Hike: Mount Whitney an invaluable resource when trying to visualize and prepare for this hike. She does an excellent job of breaking down the hike into sections, goes over mountain safety and Altitude Sickness, and generally just offers all sorts of helpful information. If you’re thinking about doing Mount Whitney in the future, I highly recommend you pick up this book.

As I mentioned earlier, the Mount Whitney Portal Store’s Message Board offers the most up to date information on weather and trail conditions from hikers themselves. This is a great place to find information on where to get water, learn tips from veteran Whitney hikers, and find out just how difficult it really is to finish a pancake from the Portal Store.

If you want to get a great idea of what the trail is like before ever setting foot on it, check out this post on another forum, featuring the entire Mount Whitney Trail on video. Don’t worry – it’s broken up into sections and sped up, so you won’t need two days to watch it.

Here is a take on the trip from some of my teammates.

If you should happen to be in the town of Lone Pine for breakfast, definitely hit up the Alabama Hills Cafe. Your body will thank you for eating something other than GORP.

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor at Modern Hiker
In addition to writing about the outdoors since 2006, Casey has also been producing and writing television since 2003.He was the Head Writer on G4's "Attack of the Show," co-writer and host of "The MMO Report," and the Series Producer / Head Writer of pivot's "TakePart Live."His work has received several honors, including Webby, Telly, and CableFAX awards.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on September 20, 2010

66 Comments

  • Wynne says:

    Greetings from Bishop, California! We publish the book, Climbing Mt. Whitney, by Peter Croft with an intro by Glen Dawson, who made the very first ascent of the East Face and is still going strong. He’ll be 102 in June. Just checking out your website–nice pics and all. Things were so much more difficult in ‘the day’ without the web. When I first day-hiked Whitney, we got to the trailhead and slept right there. Things have changed! Happy trails to you!

  • Chris in N.Va. says:

    Brings back fond memories (now showing my age) of a 1970 two-day hike up this magnificent mountain when I lived in Southern California and was attending Cal-State Fullerton. Utterly awesome and breathtaking (in more ways than one!!). We met a middle-aged couple at Trail Crest and, much to our amazement they were calmly taking a smoke break, not even breathing hard. Once we got to chatting with them we discovered that they were from Switzerland and that that for them this wasn’t too much beyond a casual day hike. Wonderful article and description of the adventure. I encourage anyone who can to make the effort — it’s well worth it!

  • Justin Mills says:

    Casey, so here is the story. I am just a single hiker, new hiker, but something came up and I want to hike Mount Whitney on the 6th,7th, or 8th of this month. I plan on just doing it in one day, up the mountain, down the mountain. Recently I hiked Santiago peak in Orange County which according to my app was 16 miles with a 4,000ft + elevation gain. Granted this is 1/3 the elevation of Whitney but I did run about 25% of this and was able to finish just over 8 hours. I have also recently hiked Mt. Baldy once which was not my favorite hike but that was 10,000 ft elevation. That being said I think I maybe ready for Whitney.

    My question is about the permit. I obviously decided to conquer Whitney on a whim but I am determine to get on that mountain that weekend. The plan was to go stand at the base in whatever line they need me in until a permit becomes available, fingers-crossed that no one shows up. Is there a way to find out before driving out there if someone has already bailed? Is it likely that people bail? I tried going to this forum http://www.whitneyportalstore.com/forum/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showthreaded&Number=94576&an=1&page=1 But it keeps saying that my account is for read only so I cant ask anyone on there.

    • Justin,

      Not sure what’s going on with the Portal forums, but that is by far the best place to see if anyone has an extra permit they’re trying to get rid of. Otherwise, you can camp out near the BLM office in Lone Pine – they do a lottery every day *IF* there are any unclaimed permits. I’ve also known people posting stuff on CraigsList if you want to take a look there. Labor Day weekend is gonna be tough, but you never know! Good luck!

  • Kent says:

    I will in turn second Matt’s recommendation about visiting Lk. Ediza ;-)
    It’s a true gem of a lake.
    Raising the ante once more, while you’re there, you might as well visit Iceberg Lk, just up the hill.
    Down the hill is Minarets Lake – my favorite lake so far in the Sierras at large.
    And I’d recommend taking the High Trail to get up to those peaks and lakes – the views are great almost the entire way.

    I was also going to say Mt. Langley as well. A friend of mine did it last year – said it wasn’t too hard except some in the party had some difficulties with the altitude, but they had had a great time.

  • Matt says:

    @David-

    I’ll second Kent’s recommendation on Ritter and Banner, but to fully appreciate you should spend at least two nights at Ediza. Also, it’s a lot trickier than Whitney in that there’s some serious route-finding required if you hope to get to the top.

    In terms of what’s most similar to Whitney, I’d say Mount Langley (14,026′), hands down. Spend a night or two at Whitney Portal or up in Onion Valley to acclimate, then head down to Horseshoe Meadows. Park there and hike approx 6 miles (only 1000′ of gain) to Cottonwood Lakes and set up camp. The following morning, finish the last 5 miles up to Langley via Old Army Pass. It’s a low snow year, so the trail should be free of snow and ice by late July/early August. IF there’s still snow or ice on the pass, you should opt for New Army Pass, which extends the hike a mile or so but is much safer. Obviously, bring a map and do plenty of research before heading up, but I’d say Langley is the most similar to Whitney (same length, slightly less elevation gain).

    Many argue that Whitney and Langley are pretty much tied for the easiest 14ers to hike in California.

  • Kent says:

    Whups, double post.
    Casey, maybe you can delete one of them.
    I’m getting a lot of preposting errors above the posting field area using Firefox & IE, and actual post errors using Firefox – so it’s hard to tell when things are actually being accepted by WordPress.

    • Yeah sorry about that Kent – my Spam filter seems to be extra testy right now for some reason. Whenever I try to relax the settings, though, I get absolutely FLOODED. So hopefully it’ll just calm down already! :)

  • Kent says:

    David,

    A couple of peaks come to mind . . .

    Middle Palisades out of Big Pine is one of the “Fourteeners” and has a class 3 route. The Palisades Lakes area is to die for : absolutely gorgeous, so even if you don’t make the peak you’d have a great time.
    http://www.summitpost.org/middle-palisade/150514

    Mt. Banner & Ritter out of Mammoth, are spectacular, about 13k feet. Again the area is gorgeous.
    As summitpost.org says, “Banner Peak is arguably the most picturesque peak in the Sierra Nevada.”
    http://www.summitpost.org/banner-peak/150963

    Both of those peaks are in areas much more beautiful than Whitney is, in my opinion.

    There are plenty of “Fourteeners” in the Sierras. Here’s a list :
    http://sierramtnguides.com/alpine/ClimbingCaliforniasFourteeners.htm

    and you can look them up individually on summitpost.org

    Good luck, have fun.

  • David says:

    Thanks for all the info! I wish i couldve made the lotto but i didnt this year, so do you know any mountains that have a similar hike to Mt Whitney and are a 2 day trip just like whitney is?

  • Day Early says:

    Really nice write up to help me as a first timer scheduled to hike Whitney this year (2013).

  • April Blair says:

    I agree with the above comments. It’s one thing to take a very long hike with a 6 year old. It’s another thing to hike up to 14K+ feet. Altitude sickness is no joke and if he experiences it you are stuck up there until you carry him down. I have seen people get really sick from altitude. Just so you know I am not against taking a young person hiking- I took my 9 year old through the Grand Canyon- 17 miles, 4200 foot elevation drop and gain, in one day. We prepared by hiking each weekend, working up to 14 steep miles before the big hike. But I would have not ever taken him to Whitney. Too risky. That is my opinion.

  • Kent says:

    I totally agree with Kevin.
    Taking a 6 year old up Whitney is not that different from jumping grades from 1st grade to college – it’s just way too huge a jump. My brother and I – both with a lot of experience – even deliberated as to whether we should bring his twin twelve year olds. We decided not to.

    Even for those of us with a lot of experience in backpacking and mountaineering it’s not a breeze by any means – it’s still a big schlep requiring a great deal of ardor – not technically, but nevertheless. It’s a very long hike both up and back, and the altitude is a very serious challenge for many people. Twenty miles on the flat is nothing to sneeze at.

    As Kevin points out, without experience with both the length of the hike, the elevation gain AND the altitude there is no way to predict what the outcome is going to be, and you really need to work up to it so have some idea of your capabilities. It’s not something to do on a lark, just to see if it works out.

    There is also another factor, which is a psychological one. With a lot of experience under your belt you know that ascents like this are going to have unpleasant moments – times when you ask yourself if you really would rather be back relaxing around a nice lake and what the heck did you do this for anyway. But you hunker down, grit your teeth, and tell yourself to push through it, that the reward will be worth it. But I seriously question whether a very young and inexperienced hiker is going to have the psychological fortitude to do that. And if they don’t – which is very likely – it might leave them with memories of a bad experience and dampen any future enthusiasm for such climbs. Your young hiker sounds like a mountaineer in the making, but I think I’d give him a better chance to feel the joy in it.

    Sorry to be so discouraging – Whitney is a grand climb – but you really need to be realistic about such adventures. If I were you I’d take him up some shorter climbs up some high peaks in Yosemite or the like, where you’d not only get some experience with large elevation gains and altitude, but also witness some magnificent views.

  • Carly says:

    Question, I have a child that I hike with regularly – at age 3 he was hiking 5 miles and at age 4 we were up to 7 mile day hikes. He is very interested in hiking Mt Whitney he will be 6 when the hike arrives. A friend who hiked it once in high school almost 15 years ago said bring a canaster of oxygen just in case but he should be fine. We can do 10 mile day hikes – so stamina is not an issue. I guess what I am wondering is what someone who has hiked it more recently remembers and would they recommend the hike for a child? Again stamina is not an issue. I poop out before he does which is why I think he is my favorite hiking partner.

    • Kevin says:

      Well, I can’t tell you what to do. But I don’t think it’s a hike for a 6 year old. I saw a 20 year old on the trail the day I did it, and the poor kid was sick as a dog from altitude sickness. A 10 mile hike at low elevation is a FAR cry from hiking 22-miles to OVER 14,000 feet. Have you ever hiked with him at over 12k or 13k? Please, before you do this hike, take him for several 20+ mile hikes at lower elevations. THEN take a few hikes to higher elevations, say- 10k, 12k etc BEFORE attempting Mt Whitney. You need to train for this hike. You don’t want to have to be rescued by the park rangers – especially considering I didn’t see a single park ranger on my whole 14-hour hike to the top and back in September.

      • Carly says:

        Thank you Kevin, Kent, April.
        I have spoken to him and explained that right now it is not safe for his body to experience the hike. But promised that in a few years if he was still interested we would train for it together. He tried to remind me of our hikes in Colorado – and he had some valid points. But he does remeber how ill I became on our last hike out that way. And Luckily since we are in process of breaking a horse he understands that although she is big and stong it is not safe for her to be ridden just yet. So for now he is willing to forgo the Mt Whitney hike this summer. Thank you again for your advice – I would never want to do anything that could harm him or turn him agianst the wonderful experience of the outdoors.

        • Kent says:

          Jeeze, this little guy is really gung ho – amazing. I see Annapurna or K2 in his future.
          But there are a lot of other grand ascents and views in the Sierra range especially from the Bishop area on down through Kings & Sequoia Nat. Parks.

          Mono Pass (12,000 ft in only 4 miles) out of Mosquito Flat trailhead – the highest trailhead in the Sierras – comes to mind. You access it walking through the wonderful Little Lakes Valley.
          Also the Palisades lakes area out of Big Pine has some huge peaks, not to mention the turquoise blue lakes that are really out of this world. It’s one of my most favorite places in the entire Sierras, besides the Minarets range out of Mammoth, where you find Mt. Ritter & Mt. Banner.
          The scenery in those three areas is stupendous, as my father used to say.
          ;-)

  • April Blair says:

    Hi Marinel,
    I hiked Mount Whitney in one day several years ago, and you can probably find my comment somewhere in previous posts in this thread. First of all, I would recommend that you hike sometime in August or September so you don’t have to deal with A LOT of snow. Second, I would recommend that you get a prescription of Diamox from your doctor. It will prevent you from having altitude issues. I am sensitive to altitude, from Los Angeles, and did the hike in 1 day with no issues. Third, I would spend a day or two hiking in higher elevations before you go. I spent a weekend in Mammoth going up to 12K to get myself acclimatized. Even with the Diomox I wanted to make sure my body was prepared for the elevation. Having said this, my friend, from Los Angeles, met me in Lone Pine the night before the hike, also took the Diamox and had no issues climbing to the top the next morning. Good Luck with your plans.

  • Kent says:

    Not to avoid answering your questions, but you might want to read the great thread about everything to do with climbing Whitney – can give answers much better than I. There is a set of page links right at the top of the page.
    For example “Decide on a good time of the year to hike” and “Develop your acclimatization plan”.

    http://www.whitneyzone.com/wz/ubbthreads.php/topics/88/Orientation_Notes_for_Whitney_#Post88

    -Kent

  • marinel says:

    Hi- a few of us are thinking of doing a 3 day trek up Mt. Whitney in april. I was wondering if you have a recommendation for an itinerary. I’m thinking we do our ascent over the 1st 2 days, that way we avoid as much of the altitude issue. Do you have recommendations where we can camp for the 2 nights? Also, we are hoping to get down the mountain on the 3rd day as early as possible so we can start driving out and spend time in death valley before flying out via Las Vegas. The other option is 2 day but with the 6000 feet elefvaitno gain in one day, I’m not so sure if that’s a good idea unless we can camp at 3-4000 feet and then do a summit early and then head back down on the 2nd day? In that case a 3rd day may not be necessary. I’m only thinking of doing a 3 rd day coz of the altitude.

  • YoungLaredo says:

    We have been to Mt Whitney twice in the last 13 months. We went in early Sept. of last year and went what we have since called the “Hollywood” route. We stayed in a cumfy hotel in Lone Pine, got up early and were on the trail at 4:30am. We ignored the fact that Lone Pine is at 3,000 ft elevation and the portal is at 8,000+. We were attempting to get up and down in one day. Members of the 8 person team immediately started feeling the altitude. We didn’t get to Trail crest until noon, and by then had to turn back as 3 people were fairly sick.

    This year just two of us went (Sept 27th). We camped at the Portal campground the night before to get acclimated. We got on the trail at 4:00am and summitted at 11:30am. We were back at the portal at 6:50pm – still with daylight. It was was an awesome hike. It’s doable in one day, but you have to respect the altitude effect.

    Hope this helps.

  • Seana says:

    Any suggestions for hotels in Lone Pine? Also, if you were going to hike to the summit in one day, staying the night in lone pine, for an Oct 14th ascent, what time would you start…ok with doing front and back end (some) with headlamps.
    Thanks!

    • Kevin says:

      We stayed in a lovely cabin just 13 miles from the portal: http://www.delacour-ranch.com/ they have cabins for rent in a rustic but beautiful setting. Loved it.

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Seana,

      Unfortunately I can’t really give you a schedule to follow here – I don’t know your group’s fitness level, experience in altitude, gear weight, etc. – but if you’re starting from Lone Pine I would definitely err on the side of caution and give yourself PLENTY of extra time. Because a). those beds are gonna be EXTRA comfy whenever that alarm goes off and b). you may need to take it extra easy if you’re planning on doing a one-day summit because that altitude can hit you really hard if you’re not acclimated.

      When we did this hike, we took two days before the actual hike to camp at 8 and 10,000 feet. Granted, we had some people in the group with a history of AMS, but I think it helped me hit the trail much harder on summit day, too.

      Generally, people who do Whitney as a day hike start well before sunrise and end after sunset.

  • Kevin says:

    I made it to the summit yesterday! Amazing! And I feel I owe part of success to your wonderful blog. Much of my preparation and planning was based on the excellent info herein. Thank you.

  • Stacey O. says:

    I made it to the summit of Mt. Whitney yesterday after camping at Trail Camp on Monday night. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I owe it to you. I stumbled upon your blog about a year and a half ago while looking for a good trail for my FIRST hike ever. I loved your write ups (and hiking) so much I kept hiking on the weekends. Thank you so much!!

  • Manu Rubio says:

    i’ts allowed to hike to the summit on early january?

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Well, you can head up there if you want, but you’re going to need some serious ice climbing gear and you’re going to have to know how to use it. The mountain certainly won’t look like it does in this write up, either!

  • Nick Utschig says:

    The introduction paragraph contains an incorrect summit height, change 15,xxx to 14,xxx :)

  • kbarb says:

    Ok, thanks.
    So you do mean 8:45 – in the morning, right ? -would have to be. So that means it took about 5-3/4 hours.
    Myself I’d probably start a little later, as just getting up that early is probably enough to make me feel kind of sick. I did climb Kilimanjaro once and made the mistake of charging up it, and that even over three days.
    But getting up at 2am at 16,000 ft. after drinking water carried up in raw black rubber bags for the final ascent really was not a recipe for feeling good. In that case you do have to get up early if you don’t want to have your view obscured by a lot of clouds and bad weather. I was pretty nauseous though despite being very experienced.

    I’m guessing it took a little less than two hours to get back to Trail Camp – something like that ?

    -Kent
    San Francisco

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Kent, we left camp around 4, so it was more like 4 3/4 hours to get up there … I slept like a rock but I know we were all REALLY excited to get to the summit so it was pretty easy to get moving in the morning. Also, the experience of walking up the 99 Switchbacks underneath the Milky Way while the sun rose behind us was absolutely transcendent.

      Not sure off the top of my head how long it took us to get back to camp, but I do remember that we all took our time leaving Trail Camp after the summit. We took short naps, slowly broke down camp, etc. It was a while.

  • kbarb says:

    Really nice set of photos ! and trip description too.

    You say you started at 3am . . . do you remember what time you got to the summit ?
    I’m just curious if the 3am is really necessary ;-)

    • Modern Hiker says:

      kbarb, we summited at 8:45. It’s not necessary, but it’ll make the 99 switchbacks a lot more interesting and you’ll probably have the summit to yourselves when you get up there. Our group was aiming to get back to Lone Pine in the afternoon and we were very conservative in giving ourselves enough time to counter altitude exhaustion. If you’re OK with finishing the trail later in the evening, you could easily make a later start.

  • Matt S says:

    I just got a permit for June 14 with my brother and my buddy Tim, I can’t wait.

  • Josh says:

    What did you do to prepare? I will be hiking it this year as well

  • Kevin says:

    Thanks for this wonderful trail commentary. These photos are awesome! Now I am wondering if I could do this hike. I’m a flatlander (live at 400′ elevation) and am not too good at camping out (usually can’t sleep, then barely function the next day.) So I will have to work on those two issues before my trip to Sequoia Nt;l Park. Thanks again!

  • April Blair says:

    I hike Whitneyin August 09. I did it in a day and it was an amazing, and comfortable hike. Knowing that I get slightly altitude sick when I go above 8,000 feet I got a prescription of Diamox. I also hiked around Mammoth for a couple of days before my planned hike to Whitney to acclimatize. It worked like a charm. I recommend Diomox to anyone who has issues with altitude.

  • Lass says:

    This was so inspiring! I am 11 years old and my 13 year old brother and my mom are thinking of doing this! It sounds so cool and majestic! I didn’t like hiking but I started too after your article! Thanks!

  • Jeff Peakes says:

    Great depiction of the hike. I have a group planning to make the trip this August. Any tips on improving the odds of receiving permits. I was disheartend to read that so many fail.

    Thanks again!

    Jeff

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Jeff,

      Usually, outdoor stores like REI and Adventure 16 will start holding informational clinics around mid-January. If you can make one, I highly recommend it – they not only offer helpful information about the paperwork, but they help bring the realities of the trail experience to life, too. Last year, the first day for permit applications was in mid-February, so you’ve still got a bit of time.

      Here’s a link including some information from the USFS. I haven’t heard anything yet, but I will definitely post info on any clinics I hear about.

      I think we were able to get our permits relatively easily because we asked for dates in the middle of the week. If you’re restricted to the weekends, you might have a bit tougher time – but good luck! It’s 100% worth the trouble!

  • Stevie Z says:

    This hike is great. I went on a Friday in September 2009. Started around 4am and was done around 6pm. The altitude sickness was a problem for me halfway up the swithbacks. I literally got to the point of taking the hike one step at a time. I had the worst headache. But once I fininhed the swichbacks and I got a view of Sequioa from above, the altitude sickness went away. Reaching the summit was easy after that psychological boost.

    I recommend trying to finish the hike in one day. It’s a great, attainable goal that will let you know what you are made of. Just go prepared and respect the mountain. Get some good sleep and eat light the night before. I took water, bannanas, and sunblock with me on the hike and it was enough. Also, I’ve never bumped in to so many nice hikers in my life. I felt a unity that I haven’t really felt on other hikes.

    Great web post Modern Hiker…thanks for bringing back some good memories!

  • Juan says:

    Hey MH. I know you wrote this a while back. But I would love to see a list of the gear you and your group took with you to Mt Whitney. Me and my friend s are trying to set up a trip over there, maybe for next year; but most of those in my group are semi-new hikers and don’t have decent gear yet. I my self need to double check what I need. So, can you give us a list so we can start saving up and buying the gear we will need?
    And any advice regarding bears or other animals? Where did you placed the bear canister while setting camp? Or where did you carry your stool while on the move?
    I would truly appreciate this! :D

  • Rebecca says:

    I was one of the 4 on this trip with Casey. Trip up was beautiful. Unfortunately I began to experience some altitude symptoms just about at the top (I felt drunk and my chest felt warm), and the trip down was a bit of a blur. I was surrounded by a superb team and was able to hike down to the bottom quickly and safely. I was admitted to the Inyo Hospital and diagnosed with pulmonary edema, and likely cerebral edema. My doctor told me I had ascended too fast (sea level to camps at 8,000 ft., then 10,000ft. then 12,0000 ft). I was surprised at how sick I got- I didn’t experience what I thought were the “common” symptoms during the ascent (no shortness of breath, fatigue, chronic headache, or nausea). I also didn’t have any relief with decent, and in contrast, felt worse and started to experience many more symptoms the closer we got to the trailhead, which made for a pretty scary hike down. This also was different from the stories I’d heard about altitude symptoms. Which has made me realize that this illness will hit everyone differently and not always present as it does in the textbook. I’m grateful for the things done right- descending quickly, hiking with people who understood the risks and seriousness of high altitude, and seeking medical attention. In the future, my high altitude treks will include a much slower ascent and Diamox. Although I have to admit the Santa Monica mountains are looking pretty epic to me right now.

  • Jim M says:

    Hey Casey -

    Great writeup and fantastic pictures. The thing that struck me about the trail is really how many different landscapes there are. One hour it feels like a dense New England forest, the next like you’re on sheer rock cliffs on the moon.

    I did the 24 hour hike, which was incredibly enjoyable, but also a necessity because of the permit system. It was still a blast, though I would have loved to spend a few hours swimming in Mirror Lake.

    BTW, one thing that isn’t mentioned is, during some parts of the season you can skip the 99 switchbacks by going straight up the chute on the right. When I went on June 30th there was still a ton of snow because of the heavy precipitation this year. I had rented some crampons and an ice axe in preparation for the switchbacks, but I met a group of people at Trail Camp that were going straight up the chute and decided to tag along. It was a long, exhausting slog, but definitely more fun than the switchbacks.

    We also slid down the chute on the way down. Wheeeeee!

  • Feress says:

    Thanks for the pictures of lone pine lake in the daytime, didn’t get to see it myself, although the sunrise there was amazing. I didn’t actually get any altitude sickness at all the entire time I was there, even after summiting. But man once we were driving back to San Diego I got the biggest headache. Guess I got TOO used to the altitude.

  • Matt says:

    Awesome write-up! I’m jealous… applied this year and was denied. : (

    I didn’t want to risk the long drive and not get a day-of permit, so I’m aiming for next year.

    One thing that drives me crazy, though, (and everybody says it, it’s not at all just your description) is the “Highest Peak in the Lower 48″ saying. The highest point in Hawaii is Mauna Kea, and it doesn’t quite reach 14k. Hawaii gets too much credit as it is, can we change the saying to “Highest Peak in the Lower 49″?

    ::shakes fist at Hawaii::

    Keep up the great work, best blog on the internet! ;-)

  • PERFECT write-up, my friend! This took me right back up there…when can we do it again?!?

  • Kurt says:

    Well your pictures confirm it! We were camped right next to you on Monday night. When we got back to camp after reaching the summit Tuesday, you had packed up and headed on out.

  • Great info. I love that shot of you three in the morning light.

    The PD and I came down that avalanche of a slope to your left (south).

    I feel like I am there again…

  • newbiehiker says:

    Great pics on Flickr!! Did your friend Tim get his money back for finishing his pancake? LoL. I heard that you do if you can finish it. My bf and I ordered one pancake and we couldn’t even finish half! Thanks for this great write up! We will definitely do an overnight backpacking trip instead of a day hike. You miss so much if all you’re concerned about is summiting!! And I think Rockgrrl meant to say FOURTEEN thousand, not FIFTEEN thousand, 505 ft.

    We were actually going to attempt a day hike, but due to unforeseen circumstances we ended up just hiking to Lone Pine Lake. The lake was absolutely beautiful and that alone was worth the road trip!! Well, I’m glad we didn’t do the day hike now!

  • David says:

    Stunning pictures! Great writing as always. Where did you spend those nights acclimating? Altitude sickness is strange to me- I didn’t feel a thing on my way up to Baldy but yesterday I felt a tinge going up to Telegraph. I think that acclimating the way you did is the way to go… better safe than sorry especially after all that hard work.

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Yeah, Altitude Sickness is still a pretty big mystery from what I gather. It can strike everyone in a different way, and someone who’s fine at 14k might get symptoms at 10k, too. As for this trip, we spent the first night at Whitney Portal Campground, which is one of the nicest camps we’d ever stayed at. Second night was at Horseshow Meadows to the south.

  • Great, informative trip report. Lots of very useful information. I tend to dread hikes that need permits and lotteries. But after reading your report I will put it back on the wish-list. Thanks for the write up.

  • Rockgrrl says:

    Congrats again on your Whitney summit! Just an FYI, the summit was reevaluated at 15,505 feet. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Whitney (See the section on Elevation). Don’t short yourself those hard won extra feet ;)

    Gary, altitude strikes folks differently even the same person on different trips. I live at the beach and a friend of mine lives on a boat, we were fine with altitude on a trip when we summited via technical rockclimbing routes. On the other hand the first time I did Whitney (the usual Portal hike way) of a group of 8 people I think I was the only who did not have a headache or other signs of altitude sickness.

    Contrast that with a few weeks ago when I went climbing in Tuolumne, I felt a little bit of altitude the first day hiking to a climb that summited around 10,000 feet!

    PS here’s my trip report of my technical climb of Mt. Whitney: http://www.rockgrrl.com/blog/2009/06/east-face-mt-whitney-tripepic-report/

    • Modern Hiker says:

      Thanks for that info, Rockgrrl. I saw so many different elevation numbers for Whitney that I just ended up going with the one that appeared the most often. I’ll update the info. As for the time issue, you’re probably right that mental attitude has a lot to do with your appreciation of this trail. I still don’t think I’d want to do it as a day-hike, but who knows?

      Gary, I live near sea level, too. You can still summit peaks like this, you just have to be aware of the signs of altitude sickness and know how to deal with them. We spent two days before the hike camping at 8 and 10 thousand feet, which definitely helped with the altitude. Those first two days, I was really lethargic and sucking a lot of wind on easy hikes, but by the time we started the Whitney Trail I was good to go!

  • Gary Brown says:

    What a great trip report and pictures! This is definitely a hike that I want to do. Altitude is going to be a major issue for me. I can feel it at 8000 feet. Hard to get used to it when you live near sea level.

  • Raphael says:

    Most of the trails on the West Coast are designed for pack animals, hence all the switchbacks. East Coast hikers who are used to the Appalachian Trail speak proudly of the PUDs (pointless ups and downs) they conquer.

    I for one don’t mind the 99 switchbacks (though I could have sworn I counted 103). It may have trippled the trail length, but the icy parts were hard enough!

    BTW, you’re right about the wide variety of hikers on this trail. I remember meeting this guy, maybe 65-70 years old, dressed in khakis and a collared shirt (very casual-friday). He had done this trail every year for the past many decades, and he knew exactly where we’d be able to find water on the driest stretches of this trail. He sticks in my head as vividly as the view from the top!

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