Mt. Whitney is not only the tallest mountain in CA it is also the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. This epic beauty of a mountain was my first 14,000 footer experience so this mountain is very special to me. I share below all the knowledge I gleaned doing this experience and share my photo journey and personal reflections at the end.
- Elevation: 14,505 feet
- Mileage: 22 miles
- Elevation gain: over 6100 feet
- Best time: July and August (no snow) or early fall.
How to get there
This mountain is in Lone Pine, CA and is about 4 hours from Los Angeles and around 5 from Orange County, CA. Whitney Portal the entry to the trailhead, campground and trek is about 30 minutes outside of Lone Pine, CA. After taking the 395 for hours you turn left onto Whitney Portland Road in downtown Lone Pine, Ca to get the last 30 minutes to the entry port to the mountain.
There is a trail permit that is needed to conquer this mountain and the rangers take this very seriously here. You can apple for the permit here. The rules and regulations for the permit and lottery system are found here. For 2018 they say they had 16,000 applicants and only 37% got the permit. Apply to the Mt. Whitney lottery between February 1 and March 15 on the website, www.recreation.gov. After the lottery reservations will open on April 1 for any remaining dates. You must pay a nonrefundable $15 deposit for each reservation you try to reserve. Apparently some people find more than one opening if they look at the very end of March and apply right away in April. This is a smart idea if you get the opportunity since it is so hard to get a permit spot. I honestly got so lucky and met a woman who won two of her permits she applied for and gave me the extra permit she had for free! The trail community family taking care of each other is alive and well. Picking up permits instructions here.
|February ? March 15||Apply for Mt Whitney permit on line before lottery closes at midnight Eastern time on March 15.|
|March 24||Lottery results can be viewed, log onto your recreation.gov account and look for your lottery application.|
|April 1||Reservations for remaining dates open online at 7 a.m. Pacific Time (No phone reservations). Web reservations are first come first serve and will stay open for the rest of the season.|
|April 1 –|
|Lottery Winners: Pay $15 per person fee to claim dates won in lottery. You must complete checking out the cart before midnight April 30 or your win will be revoked.|
|May 1||Unclaimed lottery dates are canceled made available for web reservations. Canceled space is released within 24 hours at random times.|
|May 1 – November 1||Quota season when number of people per day is limited|
|November 2 – April 30||Permit issued at visitor center for non-quota season (no reservations)|
This is the closest campground to the trailhead less than a mile away. This area is a part of Inyo national forest in the Sierra Nevada mountains. This is tent camping only no RV or campers allowed. This is a bear watch area and you must be careful and bring the necessary bear box gear for protection. There are metal bear boxes at trailhead for storage but not at the campground. Make reservations at reacreation.gov for a campsite.
|SEASON DATES||SITE TYPE||NIGHTLY/DAILY RATES *|
|April 29, 2019 – October 30, 2019(Peak Season)||Group Tent Only Area Nonelectric||$75.00|
|Tent Only Nonelectric||$24.00|
* Displayed rates do not reflect discounts, taxes, or incremental charges.
Whitney Portal hostel/store
Whitney Portal also has a store that is a handy resource right next to the trailhead for supplies and food. The store is located in by the trailhead and the hostel is located out on the main street of Lone Pine, CA. The hostel offers nice and budget options that are hostel bunk rooms or nicer private hotel rooms. There is a men’s dorm bunk room, a 4 bed private dormitory, private queen and single rooms, a female dorm room and a room with double beds. There are many options for your party or family. This is a good place to stay especially in winter weather that is a still close and nice option. There are showers and even a kitchen to cook as well. You can click to make reservations on their website here. The store sells cool souvenirs of your hike as well as great snacks, drinks and meals. Their burger tastes pretty good after conquering the mountain.
Whitney Portal Hostel & Hotel Hours
8am-8pm Monday through Thursday
8am-9pm Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Whitney Portal Store Summer Hours
****Store is closed during winter months weather permitting.
Whitney Hostel Prices
Dorm rooms start at $32/adult. Private double or queen bed room or the room with a double bed is $82 for up to 2-4 people. The 4 bed private dorm is the same price as well $82/night. The female dorm is $33/night an adult.
Lone Pine Campground
This campground is not right next to the trailhead for Whitney and is a bit farther out with more privacy in the Alabama Hills nature area. It is located on Whitney Portal road 6 miles west of Lone Pine, CA and 7 miles from Whitney Portland area/trailhead. There is a vault toilet and no water. Standard sites are $22/night and group sites are $60/night. Bear boxes are provided and should be used with the bear warnings in the area. There are 42 single campgrounds, 1 double site, and 1 walk-in group site. More information on the campground and questions here. To make reservations at the campground book here.
Whitney Weather and travel conditions
- Road conditions can be checked here. If you want to see the condition of the 395 and the snow and ice coverage on the road before you start driving.
- Mt. Whitney Portal has weather resources updated regularly here.
- There is a live webcam updating here to see Whitney and the conditions here.
Mt. Whitney Map
- This is a great resource from the forest rangers found here. This has camping information for basecamp in Whitney Portal and a very basic outline.
- This is a better quality map of Mt. Whitney by National Geographic that can be found here. This shows the main trail and is a topographic map.
- This is a great map of the 97 switchbacks showing the route and elevation.
- This is a great website with resources of many different kinds of Mt. Whitney maps as well as GPS information here.
I talk about layering below and the clothes layers that are needed even in the summer to stay safe and warm. I also have a full gear checklist for backpacking and camping located here. I believe the boots and the backpack are two of the most important parts of gear and I talk about my personal experiences and preferences. You need to pack a lot of food on this hike because 22 miles requires a lot of energy and you need to bring meat and protein. It would be good to freeze food and have it thaw as you hike besides just having bars. There are also a lot of layers needed for this hike and the conditions of the mountain. have a compiled list of the best backpacking clothes here if you want to check it out.
1 day hiking itinerary
I chose to do this experience in a day. Depending on your fitness level and experience hiking mountains it is safest to normally plan on a 2-3 day trek of the mountain. This is the most famous extreme day hike of 22 miles and over 6000 feet elevation gain. It is possible yet it is very difficult and straining. Do not attempt to hike in a day unless you have trail mileage and experience. The trail averages about 550 ft. elevation gain per mile on the ascent. Once you hit trail camp there is the famous 97 switchbacks on the trail that are death and one of the hardest part of the mountain. Up until this time snow and ice are still very common to find on the trail. You need to wake up at 2:30 am and start the trail by 3 am normally for safety in doing a day hike!
How long does it take?
Hiking Whitney in a day is a fast pace of 5 hours, a moderate pace of 7-8 and a slow hike of 10 hours. The journey back down the mountain is generally 2-3 hours faster than the ascent. Dusk in summer for Whitney is about 8 pm. A very early start is always recommended. My start time was actually around 2:30/3 am.
It is recommended generally to get there at least a day or two before the day you intend to hike the mountain for your body to adjust to the basecamp elevation. This is a nice part of hiking over 2 or 3 days as you camp on the mountain. Your body is able to take time to adjust gradually. This is where altitude sickness happens and can be dangerous especially on the day hike conquering of Mt. Whitney. For professionals in high altitude peaks they generally say their goal is to climb a thousand feet a day when they are hiking something like say the Himilayas. This is not the same intensity or needed for Mt. Whitney. The altitude of the base camp is 8600 feet. Arriving in this the day before and having time the day and night to adjust is helpful. If you can get there two days early you can take a short practice day hike to Lone Pine lake which is near the campground and helps your body further adjust to the elevation. This is about a 3.5 mile hike one way from the campground. This gets you to 10,000 feet and helps your body adjust.
Even in the 2 months of summer hiking without snow the strong winds are freezing on the mountain. There are full 4 level of layers needed with the base layers as well as outer shells. Long sleeve base layers with fleece as well as a middle fleece layer and an outer heavy shell as well as windbreaker are needed. Check this article by REI for proper layering techniques for safety. I hiked in the summer and was still freezing and did not have enough layers on even though there was not snow except for on the top peaks.
You need a water filter to use the lake on the trail to refill any water. There are no water resources and it is a long trek and trail. It is heavy to carry water but you can fill up right before the 97 switchbacks in the lake and even leave some water there of your supplies for the way back down. You always need to have 3 liters of water on you at all times for safety and hydration.
Arriving at the summit for sunrise
If you want a trek to get to the top at sunrise you must start your trek at midnight. There is a detailed article and resources in this article here.
Mid range day hike schedule (7hours)
Ascending Mt Whitney in 7 Hours 10 Minutes example schedule
Elevation, Distance, and Time by Landmark
|N Fork Lone Pine Creek||8810||0.3||0.8||0:10||0:25|
|Lone Pine creek-25 sb||1.9||2.7||0:55||1:20|
|Lone Pine Lake||9960||0.1||2.8||0:03||1:23|
|Bighorn park-16 sb||10340||0.7||3.5||0:22||1:45|
|Mirror Lake-14 sb||10640||0.5||4.3||0:16||2:11|
|Whitebark stump-18 sb||0.5||4.8||0:19||2:30|
|Camping turnout-18 sb||11890||0.7||6.0||0:28||3:16|
|Trail Crest-96 sb||13777||0.8||8.5||0:40||5:18|
|John Muir Trail||13480||0.5||9.0||0:17||5:36|
|* sb = Switchbacks|
If you start the trial by 3 am you should summit then by 10 or 10:30 am. This is about when I started the trail and arrived at the top. This allows plenty of time to head back down the mountain since it takes less time. You will have some time to rest at the summit before making the trek down. One of the tricks is finding a consistant pace and actually not stopping to rest too often. Once you reach the top lay down and give your body some rest. I stopped to rest and have a snack before the 97 switchbacks as well. Other than that I tried to keep a consistant pace of heading towards the top. Also if you take this itinerary you will probably get a sunrise somewhere around Mirror lake that is so beautiful. You will pass the trail camp area right when most of the hikers are probably stirring from their tents and waking up for the trek onward.
2-3 day hike of Mt. Whitney
Day 1: Whitney Portal to Consultation Lake (near/before Trail Camp)
Day 2: Consultation Lake to Summit and Return
Day 3: Consultation Lake to Whitney Portal
Where to camp on trail
This is a less crowded and more private option to trail camp. This one is located before trail camp along the trail and is better for if you are taking 3 days to climb to break up the hike more. I suggest trail camp because it is the most direct on the trail and has the coolest views of the mountains.
This is the most popular and convenient option on trail in front of the 97 switchbacks. This is a good natural stopping point in the climb if you are going to take 2-3 days to hike. This is also better for a 2 day trek option.
A photo journey of Mt. Whitney
I drove to the trailhead and started by 3 am my trek up the mountain. The trail started dark and magic under the canopy of stars with my headlamp. The sunrise came around Mirror Lake which was gorgeous and I came to the epic 97 switchbacks that are the most famous part of the trail by around 6 am. I reached the summit at around 10 am and rested taking in the epic beauty of the mountain. I headed back down to hit the Whitney Portal by 5 pm for a delicious burger from the portal store to celebrate. I rested until about 8 pm and then drove home the 4 hours to sleep in my own bed to rest. This is one of the most wild and challenging experiences I have ever had in my life. This mountain challenged my mind, body and spirit. This is one of the hardest and most sacred journeys I have been on. This 22 mile journey over 14 hours and 6000 feet of elevation ascent to 14,505 feet changed me.
This shared experience in solitude and community of precious stranger trail family was precious. We saw each others pain and weakness all day and were with one another ending the day feasting in celebration. I will never forget this hike and mountain, truly the most beautiful, painful and rich legendary experience physically, emotionally and spiritually. The Sierra Nevadas are truly my favorite mountain range in California!
Face your fears. Challenge yourself. Be pushed to the limit and don’t be afraid of seeing and allowing others to enter into your weakness. This is living in true intimacy and life full and lived well. It was precious as strangers entered deep into my weakness and me into theirs as we became family. Trek into the unknown, it will change you.
I completed Whitney in the same year as I completed the Six Pack of Peaks Challenge as part of my training for preparing to climb my first 14,000 footer. You can read about my experience and how to use those hikes for training in that post. This year for me was a year of mountains.
Mountains have been a physical, spiritual, emotional and mental journey of rich beauty making my soul come alive and profoundly difficult and painful altitude, elevation and crumbly cliff paths in 30 degrees with wind. This last hike brings me deep gratitude for another opportunity of my heart coming alive in love as I am drawn to wonder in, “the perfection of beauty, God shining forth from Mount Zion” psalm 50:2. My heart has been humbled, refined and comforted in these sacred passages learning more about Love himself.
“…the perfection of beauty, God shining forth from Mount Zion” Psalm 50:2
When Jesus climbed the mountain he left the multitude behind. (Matthew 5:1) mountain peaks are never crowded. Why? Because it’s severe terrain and hard work. We don’t like to be uncomfortable or face fear, pain, challenge and our own inadequacy. Not very many people desire to climb mountains.
Mountains cause me to pause. I long to pause. To be silent. To reflect and rest. I was drawn away to behold the beauty of Love himself and be filled with wonder at the most wild joyful adventureous heart this world has ever known who beckons continually with open arms. I have been creating a life rhythm and season of going outside to go inside my heart deep and see my life, heart and the world and people. A rhythm of acknowledging the wonder of life and creating intentional rest for my soul, heart and body that I needed and was craving. I don’t have money, financial stability, riches, an impressive job, or many “accomplishments” in the eyes of the world and yet I have come alive in a vision of simplify. A journey of profound contentment and overflowing joy, gratitude and excitement in the wondrous adventure each moment of life all around. I have come to the revelation of having made it and how rich I am. How simply I can live and how little I need to be happy, define me or make my life farther along. I have never been more rich. Never felt more alive. Never been more whole in love and filled with a purposeful mission and vision that brings life meaning and beauty.
Only Pioneers climb mountains.
Only pioneers climb mountains. People who want to do something that few have ever done before, people who want to get above the multitude and go beyond what has already been accomplished. Pioneers must have vision– vision to see what no one else can see; faith– faith to believe things no one else believes; initiative-initiative to be the first one to try it; courage– the strength to see it through with endurance in discomfort and pain. At the top of a mountain you see the world in a different perspective. You see eternity- you scale a mark left of Love. You see what men in the multitude are too busy and distracted to see. You step out of routine and monotony to behold. Pause. Wonder. Be still. Come alive. People in the multitude get caught up in the make believe world of materialism that they can’t see anything but time and creatures of time and things of time which are soon to pass away. But if you thrust your head above the multitude to see with vision of the mountain you will be resisted and fought against. They don’t want to know there are mountains. They will discourage you from climbing the mountains.
Pioneers must have: vision- to see what no one else can see; faith- to believe things no one else believes; initiative- to be the first one to try it; courage- the strength to see it through with endurance in discomfort and pain.
The greatest life danger in the last year I have been taught by the mountains is actually safety and security, because then you lose that freedom and liberty of the mountain, the wild freedom of the mountain!
We were made to be wild and free in the model of Love himself who is wild freedom. The multitude tames us. The mountain set us free as they make us wild conquering us tamed ones by the comfort and complacency of life and society. Returning to the mountains is a sacred remembrance that Love himself is God. So quickly in the multitude I become God of my life. In the multitude we so often forget Love in the rat race of life that we seem to tower over, until we let the mountains once again tower over us.
“Beaten paths are for beaten men
Mountain peaks are for the pioneers.” -David Brandt
If you take the mountain you will leave the multitudes behind.
So what do you hear on the mountain?
Things that are going to echo around the world. What do you hear in the stillness? Whispers that are going to change the course of history! Whom do you encounter on the mountains? Love himself all around captivating your heart to wonder as you see such purposeful beauty that cannot be by accident of molecules or chance.
Year 2016 was a year of going to the mountains. The mountains have been my greatest teacher and companion on many a week/weekend of solo journeying over countless miles and thousands of feet of elevation. The mountains have whispered to my heart about Love himself and shown me his strength, love, beauty and faithfulness standing firm unmoved and unchanged standing the test of time.
Mountains are home because they are my Dad’s backyard. Papa God, Love himself has such a vast yard with so many mountains. I love being in his backyard with him and say yes to another year of sojourning to the rhythm of love up mountains physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually in life