Hiking Mount Whitney | Advice to Reach this 14er Summit
Mt Whitney is the tallest peak in the lower 48 states, but it’s not a technically challenging mountain to climb. It’s graded as a class 1 hike from trailhead to summit top, however it’s a long 22 miles round-trip, with more than 6,000 feet of elevation gain. Because the mountain is so popular, you’ll need a permit if you plan on hiking Mount Whitney during the best summer months.
Click here to learn more about the lottery permit system. Only climb outside of the permit season if you’ve got serious mountaineering experience and know how to use an ice axe and crampons. Once you’ve got your permit, prepare for hiking Mount Whitney with my route guide below.
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Hiking Mount Whitney: Fast Facts
Hiking Mount Whitney via the Mount Whitney Trail
Mt Whitney is a busy mountain. Hiking Mount Whitney requires a permit during the prime climbing season during the summer. You can learn more about the lottery and permit system here. If caught without a permit by rangers – who patrol the trail regularly – you will receive a MASSIVE fine. To increase your odds of getting a spot, try to pick weekdays, earlier or later in the season. Single day permits are also easier to get.
Once you’ve got your permit from the National Forest office in Lone Tree, head to the Whitney Portal to start hiking Mount Whitney. I recommend spending a night at the campground to acclimate. You can learn more and reserve a site here. There are also hostels available in Lone Tree if you aren’t a fan of camping..
If you are hiking Mount Whitney in one day, you need to start very early, around 2-3am, to ensure to you make it to the summit and back down to tree line before too late. You can get a more leisurely start if you have two days for your trip. Head out on the Mount Whitney trail along a series of switchbacks as you begin to climb up the steep valley towards the summit far ahead.
A little over 2.7 miles into the hike you’ll pass a turnoff for Lone Pine Lake. It’s below the Mount Whitney Permit Area boundary so it makes for a good acclimation hike if you arrive a day early. Continue past the turnoff to enter the Permit Area (be sure to have yours with you!) and climb a series of switchbacks.
3.3 miles into the hike you’ll enter a meadow area and cross a creek. Continue hiking Mount Whitney along the trail to reach Outpost Camp 3.8 miles in, around 10,525 feet. This is a great place to spend the night if you have three days to climb, or if you prefer a longer, lighter summit day. Continue from Outpost Camp up more switchbacks to see Mirror Lake at 4.1 miles in.
From Mirror Lake, climb switchbacks up the large moraine opposite the lake, and then follow the trail along Lone Pine Creek. Climb another short switchback 5 miles in as you approach Trail Camp. Passing Consultation Lake on your left, arrive at Trail Camp 5.9 miles in, around 12,000 feet elevation. This is the more popular high camp for shorter summit days.
From Trail Camp, you face the most daunting part of hiking Mount Whitney: the 99 switchbacks (technically there are 97). You’ll follow the trail up these steep sections cut into rock. If you climb in the early summer, be prepared for snow lingering in areas. Microspikes are incredibly helpful. After a good deal of effort, take your last turn at 13,400 feet and hike across and up the slope 150 feet to reach Trail Crest 8 miles in.
You still have 3 miles left to go of exposed hiking near ridgeline. This is a good place to pause and check out the weather. If you see storms building, you should descend to climb another day. Many have been killed or seriously injured by lightning while hiking Mounty Whitney. If the weather looks good, continue right along the ridge from Trail Crest.
Along this section, you have the opportunity to climb a second of California’s fourteeners, Mt Muir. Otherwise, continue along the ridge trail for 3 miles, including several short sections of switchbacks, finally taking you to the summit. You’ll pass the summit house, originally built for research, and find a plaque at the true summit peak, the highest point in the lower 48 states.
Once at the top, enjoy your accomplishment and the stunning views! Be sure you watch for weather and descend with plenty of time to be off the ridge before storms are an issue. Once back to the trailhead, I highly recommend a burger at the Whitney Portal store. I hope you found my Mt Whitney route guide helpful and informative! Good luck hiking Mount Whitney!
Alex is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.
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