Sunday, September 13, 2015

Mt. Whitney Hike June 2015

Hiking to the top of Mt. Whitney is a major accomplishment for any hiker and doing it in one day is even that more impressive. Mt. Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States and has an elevation of 14,508 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 June, I went with two buddies from work, Bryan and Dustin, to hike Mt. Whitney in one day. The hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney, in one day, was difficult, but extremely rewarding.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to the Mt. Whitney Portal, to hike to the Summit of Mt. Whitney, from the Orange County area, 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. The first time I hiked to the summit of Mt. Whitney my group stayed at the Best Western our first night before heading to our campsite at the Whitney Portal. This time we did not stay in Lone Pine and camped at the Whitney Portal the night before our hike.

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 elevation of the campground will help you get more accustomed to the altitude of the mountain, additionally, 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 14,508 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. The altitude of this section of the hiking trail makes it one of the more difficult sections of the hike.

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. Our group listed as many available days as we could that we were available to do the hike. Additionally, we selected that we were available for both overnight and day trips and were fortunate to get selected. I have now done this hike twice and have had my permit checked by rangers both times, so make sure you follow the rules and get a permit before your hike.

Further Thoughts: The hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney was beautiful the whole way. Our group had perfect weather, which was unseasonably warm for the mountain. The temperatures were in the mid to upper 60s virtually the whole way up the mountain and when we summited we were wearing shorts and a short sleeve shirt, which was night and day compared to the last time I was on Mt. Whitney in 2010 when there was a lot of snow. We only saw small patches of snow once we were above 12,500 feet. There was a slight chance of thunderstorms on the day of our hike and our group got rained on briefly, but fortunately no thunderstorms developed to disrupt our hiking plans.

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, we knew we would likely encounter warmer weather and limited snow. 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 2:30am and then drove up to trailhead and were hiking by 3:00am - 3:30am. We did not summit Mt. Whitney until about 1:45pm and we were off the mountain at 7:00pm. 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 14,508 feet. The high altitude of the mountain is a major factor in keeping people from reaching the top and you must be in the condition to hike for long periods of time.

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 snow pack 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 are in great shape expect to be about 2 - 4 hours quicker, but make sure to take your time and enjoy the hike and beautiful scenery.

Our Training Schedule for Mt. Whitney: If you are attempting to summit Mt. Whitney in one day here is what our group did to train. Please note our training schedule was interrupted by a massive wildfire that broke out in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Our original plan was to do 3 hikes to Mt. San Gorgonio. If you are spending multiple nights on Mt. Whitney, you can modify the schedule by spending the night on Mt. San Gorgonio.

Three weekends before your Mt. Whitney hike: Hike Mt. San Gorgonio via the Vivian Creek Trail in one day.
Two weekends before your Mt. Whitney Hike: Hike Mt. San Gorgonio via the Vivian Creek Trail in one day.
One weekend before your Mt. Whitney Hike: Hike Mt. Baldy Via the Ski Hut Trail in one day.
Day before hike: Camp at the Whitney Portal Campground and a small training hike to explore the trail and area around the Whitney Portal.

MORE TRAIL WRITE-UPS ON RILEY WILDERNESS PARK


June 2015 (This Post)

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