Hiking Mt. Whitney
Every year thousands travel to Whitney Portal with their hearts set on attaining the summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States.
By far the most popular route on Mt. Whitney is the hiking trail built in 1904. To maintain the wilderness character of the hike and to prevent overcrowding there are daily quotas for the trail during the peak season.
Permits are required year-round for all overnight hikes and for day hikes past Lone Pine Lake.
Trailhead Location: Whitney Portal can be reached by driving 13 miles west of Lone Pine on Whitney Portal Road. Whitney Portal Road intersects Highway 395 at the traffic signal in downtown Lone Pine. The road is usually open from May to early November. In the winter, the last 6 miles of the road are not plowed.
Trial Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous, depending upon your experience and skill level. The trailhead elevation is 8,365 feet. The elevate at the summit is 14,497.61 feet. At high elevations, altitude sickness affects many people. You can put yourself in danger by pushing yourself past your physical limits. Headaches, dizziness and nausea are symptoms that should not be ignored. If you begin showing signs of altitude sickness you should descend to a lower elevation immediately. View the trail map.
Wilderness Risk: Of the thousands of people that climb Mt. Whitney, many are unaware of the inherent risks associated with being outdoors and on their own. You are far from help should you have a mishap. Remoteness and changing weather may compound problems that otherwise could be manageable. Everyone has a personal responsibility to maintain self-sufficiency in the Wilderness. For a safe trip, assess the skills and abilities of every member of your group, prepare for a variety of weather and plan for every contingency. Create your own "good luck" by being well prepared and making prudent decisions.
Weather: Summer days may be warm at lower elevations, but at higher elevations it will be cooler. You may need a down jacket in July, when it is 90 degrees at the trailhead. Even in summer the following conditions may exist: rain, wind, lightning, snow, ice and below freezing temperatures. Afternoon thunderstorms are common and may show no warning of their arrival. These storms build quickly and can occur daily. If clouds appear before noon, precipitation is likely to happen. Above tree line it is difficult to find shelter from lightning strikes. At the first signs of lightning, assess your situation and decide if you should turn around. Check the weather forecast before you start your trip.
Season: Most people hike the trail from mid-July through early October when the trail is free of most snow. However, ice patches and snowfields may exist on the trail at any time.
Equipment: Equipment needs vary according to the time of year, the condition of the trail and your mountaineering skills. Layered clothing, rain gear, good boots, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat are advisable. At anytime of year one or more of the following may be recommended: crampons, ice ax, snowshoes, skis, ski poles and walking sticks. You and every member of your party should know how to use this equipment properly before hiking up the mountain. Only you will know what your specific equipment needs are for a successful hike. Be aware; you may need an ice ax on a section where another can easily walk without one. Knowledge of your safety gear may mean the difference between life and death.
Water: Water is available near the trail as far as Trail Camp. Carry water to the summit, as there is no dependable source of water after Trail Camp. The presence of Giardiasis in backcountry water poses a serious health problem. Filter, boil or chemically treat all drinking water.