Mt. Whitney is the highest mountain peak in the lower forty eight states.  It reaches an elevation of 14,496 feet.  It is located in a wilderness section of the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains and is very accessible to any person who would like to hike to its summit.  Preparation and safety precautions are crucial for a successful trip.  We have outlined some things to think about here, but be sure to do your own research.  We don’t cover everything you need to know before taking this trip.  When prepared, hiking to the top of Mt. Whitney can be an extremely rewarding experience and a recommended “Bucket List” item.

Mt. Whitney from High Camp.  August, 2009.
Mt. Whitney from the trail above Trail Camp. August, 2009.

DRIVING DIRECTIONS  Whitney Portal is 237 miles from Ventura.  From the city of Ventura take the126 fwy east to the 5 fwy south to the 14 fwy north to the 395 freeway northy to Lone Pine.

Trail between Boy Scout Camp and Trail Camp.  August, 2009.
Trail between Outpost Camp and Trail Camp. August, 2009.

CAMPING  Whitney Portal is a campground a half mile from the start of the Mt. Whitney trail.  This campground has family and group sites.  It is 13 miles from the town of Lone Pine, California.  Restrooms at Whitney Portal are primitive pit toilets, but roads are paved and sites each have a picnic table, drinking water, a firepit, and a grill.  Campers are required to put all food and scented items in bear boxes to avoid bear break-ins.  Sites at this campground must be reserved ahead of time.  Reserve online: There is fishing adjacent to the campground in Whitney Creek and there is a small store at the Whitney trailhead.  The store sells t-shirts, and Mt. Whitney memorabilia, camping necessities, cold drinks, and hot food.

Lightweight set-up, tarp with ski poles.  Trail Camp. August, 2009.
Lightweight, fair weather set-up; tarp with ski poles. Trail Camp. August, 2009.

WEATHER  Weather in the mountains can be unpredictable.  As a general rule, it is advisable to be off the summit by noon on any given day, but keeping an eye on the sky is wise.  When clouds build, a storm is on its way and it is very dangerous to be on the summit of Mt. Whitney during a storm, especially when there is lightening.  During summer months the Whitney trail can be very, very hot during the day, especially at the lower elevations.  Often, nighttime temperatures drop drastically, so it is important to be prepared!  Also, if there is snow, be prepared to travel safely on it.  Snow travel requires specific equipment.  Take a look at the Mt. Whitney webcam to get some idea of what it going on on the mountain right now!   Mt. Whitney Webcam

Mt. Whitney Trail between Boy Scout Camp and Trail Camp. August, 2009.
Mt. Whitney Trail between Outpost Camp and Trail Camp. August, 2009.

HIKING/BACKPACKING  Hiking to the summit of Mt. Whitney can be done in a day…a very long, difficult day, or as an overnight backpack trip.  The trip is 22 miles round trip.   Because Whitney Portal is at about 8,000 feet elevation, the affects (affects?) of altitude are felt from the beginning.  The first established backcountry camp, Outpost Camp, is at around 10,000 feet, and the Trail Camp is at around 12,000 feet.  Planning for a three day trip is a nice way to do this.  One idea is to hike in 6 miles and camp at the higher Trail Camp the first night, hike 12 miles via the summit the next day, camping at the Outpost Camp the second night.  The third morning, hike out the remaining three miles.

Getting Water from Consolation Lake at Trail Camp.  August, 2009.
Purifying Water at Trail Camp. August, 2009.

Keep in mind that hiking at altitude can make a person feel sick.  Eating little bits at a time and sipping water can help ease the symptoms of altitude sickness.  Common symptoms include headache, nausea, and fatigue.  From the start of the trail at Whitney Portal, the trail to the top of Mt. Whitney is steep, rocky in many sections, and exposed in others.  Some months of the year, there is snow on the trail, but in later summer months, the trail is clear and water is plentiful.  It is essential to purify any water before you drink it, of course.  Also, wilderness regulations require that every hiker carry out their solid human waste.  Bags are provided for this purpose at the Visitor Center when you pick up your permit.  Also, keep in mind the bear situation.  Wilderness regulations require every backpacker to carry bear canisters for food, trash, and toiletries storage at night. These can be purchased at outdoor stores (I can think of one that carries them!….Bear Vault Solo, Bear Vaults) or rented at the Lone Pine Visitor’s Center.

Mt. Whitney Summit.  August, 2009.
Mt. Whitney Summit View. August, 2009.

To hike or backpack in the Mt. Whitney backcountry zone, a wilderness permit is required from the InterAgency  Visitor’s Center one mile south of Lone Pine.   Because this area has quotas, the number of permits issued are limited.  The best time to secure a permit is in February.  The Mt. Whitney lottery is for those wanting a day use or overnight use permit in the area between May 1st and November 1st.  Some walk-in permits are held aside and can be obtained the day before or the day of a trip, but there is no guarantee.  Check in with the Lone Pine Visitor’s Center for walk-in permit availability.  Day use permits allow hikers to start hiking before dawn and finish on the same calendar day.  Overnight permits are required for trips that will last one or more nights. For each day, 100 people can obtain a day permit and 60 can obtain an overnight permit.  Wilderness Permit Information

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