Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mt. Whitney Hike

Mt. Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States and has an elevation of 14,505 feet. The summit of Mt. Whitney offers tremendous 360 degree panoramic views as far as the eye can see on clear days. One of the reasons for the amazing views is because Mt. Whitney is located only 84.6 miles west-northwest of the lowest point in North America, at Badwater in Death Valley National Park, which is 282 feet below sea level. This past weekend, I went with three buddies, Derrick, Mazi and Jimmy, to hike Mt. Whitney in one day. The hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney in one day was the most arduous hike I had ever had done, especially considering the amount of snow still on the trail in late June.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to the Mt. Whitney Portal, to hike to the Summit of Mt. Whitney, from Orange County, take the 91 freeway to the 15 freeway. Head north on the 15 freeway going towards Barstow. Merge onto US 395 North and follow it all the way to Lone Pine, California. Once in Lone Pine, California, make a left turn onto the Whitney Portal Road and follow the Whitney Portal Road all the way to the Trailhead to hike to Mt. Whitney. The ball park travel time from Orange County to Lone Pine with no traffic is around 4 hours.

Places to Stay: If you are hiking or climbing to the summit of Mt. Whitney, you are going to likely need a place to stay before your hike.  There are two chain hotels in Lone Pine (The town closest to Mt. Whitney), a Best Western and a Comfort Inn. We stayed at the Best Western our first night before heading to our campsite at the Whitney Portal. Our stay at the Best Western was great and the room was very spacious and the price was reasonable. There are other motels in Lone Pine, but these are the two major chain hotels in the town.

Campsites at the Portal: We stayed at the Whitney Portal Campground, which was a great place to camp while attempting to hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney. There are 44 campsites at the Whitney Portal Campground. The facilities were well maintained and the scenery was majestic, considering you have a mountain stream running through the Whitney Portal campground. I would recommend staying here the day before you hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney as well as after your hike to Mt. Whitney.  The price for staying at the campground is very reasonable.

Description of Trail: The Mt. Whitney hiking trail is a heavily traveled trail and is well marked. The hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney is 22 miles roundtrip with about 6,100 vertical feet of elevation gain. In reality hiking from your campsite at the Whitney Portal Campground to the trail makes the hike more like 23 miles roundtrip with 6,600 vertical feet of elevation gain. This is a very strenuous hike to 14,505 feet. You begin your hike at the trailhead near the Whitney Portal Store and go for approximately 3.5 miles to Outpost Camp which sits at an elevation of 10,365 feet. During this section of the hike, to the summit of Mt. Whitney, you have a couple of river crossings and are rewarded with a beautiful meadow right before Outpost Camp. Outpost Camp is an overnight option for those looking to do Mt. Whitney in more than one day.

Going from Outpost Camp, you travel approximately 2.5 miles further to Trail Camp which sits at an elevation of 12,093 feet.  Trail Camp is located just below the 97 - 99 switchbacks. Trail Camp is another overnight option for those looking to hike Mt. Whitney in more than one day. Trail Camp is one of the last areas where you can filter water before making your push for the summit of Mt. Whitney, so if you need water this is the place to filter it.

From this point on, it is approximately 5 miles to the summit of Mt. Whitney and approximately 2.5 - 3 miles to Trail Crest.  Trail Crest is at an altitude of 13,600 feet. Once you reach trail crest you get your first glimpse of Sequoia National Park, which is located on the backside of Mt. Whitney. Once you hike past trail crest, the Mt. Whitney hiking trail becomes extremely rugged and rocky, even more so than before. The Mt. Whitney hiking trail is clearly marked, but it is strenuous making your final push to the summit of Mt. Whitney. This section of the hiking trail is a little deceptive because you can see the summit of Mt. Whitney almost the whole time.  Just remember to keep in mind the summit of Mt. Whitney appears closer than it really is.

You must have a wilderness permit to hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney using the Mt. Whitney Trail. The Mt. Whitney lottery system starts in February of each year. After the lottery drawing has already been completed, you can check in with the forest service as often as you like to see if any cancellations have been made on a particular day. Follow this link to the Inyo National Forest website learn more about the Mt. Whitney lottery system and how to apply for your permit to hike to the top of Mt. Whitney. The permit system is now electronic and is all done through the website, as opposed to the mail in method we used for this hike.

Further Thoughts: The hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney was absolutely majestic. We had perfect weather and the scenery along the entire length of the hike was amazing, especially with the amount of snow that was still on the trail due to the wet winter that we had. Our team all utilized our crampons and ice axes while attempting to make the summit of Mt. Whitney. One of the major things that slowed us down while going down the mountain was the amount of snow melt. The trails in the afternoon became rivers and the snow turned into slush due to the hot afternoon sun.

If you are thinking about hiking to the summit of Mt. Whitney, or if you have your permits, make sure to educate yourself before you attempt to hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney. Become knowledgeable about the trail conditions and weather conditions when you are scheduled to be on the mountain. When we went there was plenty of snow and we used Ice Axes and Crampons. The Whitney Portal Store, click Here, has links to weather information for Mt. Whitney and a bulletin board that is full of information about the hiking trail conditions on Mt. Whitney. During the summer time, make sure to watch out for summer thunderstorms while on your hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney.  Thunderstorms, or other dangerous weather conditions, can develop very rapidly in this mountainous environment. The Whitney Portal Store even has a picture of a tornado touching down near the summit of Mt. Whitney.  If the weather looks really dangerous or bad, it is always best to go down, the mountain will always be there for a climb at a different time.  Bottom-line is from the summit of Mt. Whitney you get 360 degree panoramic views that are absolutely amazing!

If you are doing the hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney in one day, like our group did, I would recommend waking up very early. We woke up at 2:45am and then walked to the trailhead from our campsite at the Whitney Portal Campground. We arrived at the trailhead at about 3:25am - 3:30am where we filled up our water bladders. Our group was on the trail by 3:45am. We did not summit Mt. Whitney until about 1:45pm and we were off the mountain at 9:30pm. Our pace on our hike was significantly slowed down because of the amount of snow that was still on the Mt. Whitney Trail in late June. I would imagine during the summer the hike is a little easier and you could likely save a couple hours.

This is a hike that you must train for or else don't even think about attempting to hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney in one day. The training is a necessity, especially coming from Southern California, because the air is very thin at 14,505 feet. We did three major training hikes that I would recommend for Orange County and Los Angeles hikers if they are going to climb Mt. Whitney. Even with the training hikes it is necessary to spend a night at the Whitney Portal Campground to get acclimatized as well as to complete a small training hike the day before your summit attempt. If you are spending multiple days on the mountain it is probably not as crucial to do as many long training hikes. Additionally, you are going to need a good backpack, sturdy hiking shoes, a method to filter water while on the trail and enough food to give you the energy to hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney.  Make sure to also layer your clothing depending on the weather conditions.  If you are hiking in the summer, remember sections of the trail can be hot, while the summit temperatures could be below freezing.  Here are some season descriptions that are approximate estimates and the actual mountain conditions may vary considerably.  July to Mid-September: Relatively snow free. Severe thunderstorms are possible. Mid-September through October: Shorter days and cooler weather. If storms occur, they may include wind, cold temperatures and snow. Patches of ice may form in some locations. November through March: Snow accumulates. By March it may be up to several meters deep. Winter mountaineering equipment and skills are necessary for safe travel.  April through June: The snowpack is receding. Winter mountaineering equipment and skills are necessary for safe travel.  The bottom-line is you need to pay attention to the Whitney Portal and bulletin board for actual trail conditions and you need to properly train yourself for this hike.

Food at the Whitney Portal Store: Before you go on your hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney, I would suggest trying a hamburger or cheeseburger at the Whitney Portal Store as they are very good. Also, the morning after your hike, you might want to try the breakfast at the Whitney Portal Store. They have a great breakfast, in particular the huge pancake they are known for is pretty tasty. If you order the pancake make sure to split it with someone as it is about the size of a medium pizza and can serve probably 3 - 4 people.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 6,134 ft. (Very Strenuous), Distance: 22 Miles Roundtrip (Very Strenuous). From the campsite area it is more like: Elevation Gain: 6,600 ft. (Very Strenuous), Distance: 23 Miles Roundtrip (Very Strenuous).

Time to Complete the Hike to Mt. Whitney in One Day: If you have trained: Expect to take around 10 hours getting to the summit of Mt. Whitney and 8 hours getting down off the mountain. If you go during the summer time or are in great shape expect to be about 2 - 4 hours quicker that the 18 hour time estimate.

Suggested Training for Mt. Whitney: If you are attempting to summit Mt. Whitney in one day here is what our group did to train. If you are spending multiple nights on Mt. Whitney you can modify the schedule by spending the night on the two San Gorgonio Hikes as doing the long strenuous hikes is not as important.
View Mt. Whitney in a larger map

15 comments:

  1. Lucky you to have a clear day at the time. I've hiked it twice, once on July 10th of this year and once in August of 1984, both times I was the clouds, being pelted with hail.

    But nothing can diminish from the experience.

    Nice trip report. Looks like a lot of snow in your pics near Trail Camp that wasn't there a few weeks later.

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  2. My husband is 70. His only exercise is to walk a half hour in the morning and play golf about 3 times a week (cart - not walking). He has a date to climb Mt Whitney in Oct this year. I think it is a mistake. My main concern for him is altitude sickness. One other person plans to go with him and that's iffy. What is your advice? Should he do it or not?
    Fran

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  3. I've hiked up Mt. Whitney twice (the last time I was 50 years old) and really loved the experience. The weather can change quickly as my wife and I discovered last time. Rain, hail, snow... we had it all and loved it! The view from Trail Crest was my favorite and the trail from that point is pretty manly. I can't wait to go back one more time...

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  4. Fran,

    I can't make a comment on whether your husband should go or not. Mt. Whitney is a strenuous hike that one should be training for on our tall local mountains, like San Gorgonio. It is hike that he should be training for if he is going to hike it in October. I would have him try the suggested training schedule on the website which will be a good indicator of whether or not he is ready for Whitney.

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  5. Congratulations on your ascent - hope to be there myself soon. Great pictures. Keep up the good work.

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  6. What a beautiful weekend! I went to hike in Mt. Whitney in 2007

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  7. Congratulations Thanks for the summit i like your Mt. Whitney trip image article and experience thanks fore sharing

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  8. I am planning a Whitney summit solo hike this summer if I can get a lottery permit. I am starting to train now because I was grounded for a year due to family circumstances. I am female and 50 worried about the altitude not the challenge. Loved your blog,

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  9. Just hiked San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek, made the round trip in 10 hours...heading for Whitney on 7/10/12 and will post again. Wish me luck!

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    1. Good Luck! That is a pretty good time for doing Vivian Creek.

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  10. Great write-up and photos, but no account of Whitney would be complete without mention of the infamous "WAG Bag".

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  11. Thanks for sharing your Experience its make me excited to summit again thanks

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  12. I hiked it twice this year ( 2014 ) We got a permit for 6/3 and made it to the upper campground befofe my hiking partner quit on me. There was several feet of snow and he did not want to go any farther. I went back on 7/15 with another friend and we went all the way to the summit and back to the upper campground on the first day. We got up and hiked out the next morning. Most of the snow was gone and it was a nice hike. I am 65 yrs old and I can't say whether the 70 year old should go as I don't know him I will say if it is something your gut tells you that you must do then prepare yourself and go for it. Going up San Goronio this weekend. Dave

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  13. I just summited Whitney on 9/30/14 and it was amazing, exhausting and worth every sore muscle. I turned 50 this year and this was my first Whitney climb and I can't wait to do it again! Thanks for all your hiking advice Brian & Ashley, I love your blog. Hope to see you on the trail someday, I'm the other girl wearing a Chicago Bears hat.

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  14. Great write-up of this fabulous hike! I had the pleasure of completing this hike as a day hike last summer. I wrote about it here:
    http://www.fuel4play.com/2014/10/mt-whitney-in-one-long-glorious-day.html
    Happy trails!

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Ashley and I encourage and welcome our readers to submit comments about their experiences on the trails we have posted on our blog or about their own hiking experiences in general.