Mount Whitney - Alan Thai Photography

101: Essentials of Hiking Mount Whitney

For most of you who want to summit Mount Whitney, I'd argue that the majority of you are in pretty decent shape, and by that, able to run a mile in under 9 minutes. If that's the case, this will be perfect for you.


Let me start this off by reminding you all to adhere to the principles of LNT (Leave no Trace). REI made an excellent write up for this paradigm that I want to reiterate with you all, see the link here.

Distance: 17 - 22 Miles Depending on whether the Switchbacks are Available

Time: ~14-20 hours depending on your skill level and terrain

Difficulty: Very Difficult

Elevation Gain: 6,000+ feet

Hazards: Altitude Sickness

Best Time: Honestly, any time short of winter unless you're a seasoned alpinist

Trailhead: Mt. Whitney Trailhead, Whitney Portal, CA, 93545, USA

Entire Route w/ Chute

Switchbacks vs The Chute

The orange trail mark indicates the normal Mount Whitney Trail. The red indicates the actual trail that Raymond and I took

0. What the heck is this "Chute"?

The "Chute" is a large slab of ice and snow that has accumulated in the area indicated in the photo above to the right.

Should you want to summit Whitney while the 99 switchbacks are unavailable, the only route up the main Whitney trail is up the Chute. It is a ~55-60 degree 1,500 vertical slope that you must summit before reaching Trail Crest.

Should you have to take this route, I highly recommend crampons so that you'll have the ability to kick in your steps.

This is on the summit of the "Chute". It's 1,500 vertical feet of ice and snow. Be prepared, be safe.

1. Getting The Permit

You can't just show up and get your ass to the summit of Whitney without having a permit. Trust me, don't do it. There are two options that you can take to summit Whitney should you choose to do the Mount Whitney Trail

1: Day Hike Permit

2: Overnight Permit (most difficult to get)

When you're confident that you want to hike Mount Whitney and decide whether to do it all in one day (as I did), or to do it overnight (most people choose this method). you'll have to figure out...


How the hell do you even get this permit? KEEP THESE DATES IN MIND:


February 1 - 12:00AM - Lottery Opens!

Here is the Whitney Permit Lottery Website

Here is where you actually apply

The first link will give you a bunch of information, the second link is where you'll be redirected to choose your dates!


March 15 - Lottery Closes


March 24 - Lottery Winners Announced

April 1 - Lottery winners can finally pay for their permits.

OKAY SO THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. WHY? Because I LOST MY PERMIT THIS WAY!!  Luckily we were able to win another chance at the permit later in the year but my gosh it was nerve wrecking not knowing whether I'd be able to climb or not!

You have one month to "buy" this permit that you've won, so the moment April Fools Day rolls in, buy. you. permit.


May 1 - Unclaimed permits go on sale

Now's your chance to reclaim your lottery if you forgot to pay, or you didn't win your initial choice! Check the website at midnight and check your date for availability


But Alan... I didn't win the lottery, I couldn't get my permit... what the heck do I do now?

I would recommend joining the Mount Whitney Hiking group on facebook as it is extremely active, and you can very likely find folks who have forfeited a permit, or have spots available. Additionally you can constantly keep checking the site as you get closer to the date.

Alternatively, you can go get a walk-up permit. For more information on walk-up permits, please refer to this guide that's far more helpful than what I can write up.

Now that you've got your permit... or you plan on doing a walk-up permit... now what?

2. Training

I would plan 3 months out to get yourself ready for this huge undertaking! I would recommend RUNNING or TRAIL RUNNING at least three times or four times a week I also recommend putting in some weight training too. Here's my specific regiment:

1. Squats
3 sets of 5, and 1 set of 10
I float at 225 pounds on my squat or more. I personally like having strong legs, but be cautious about putting too much muscle weight because that will WEIGH you down. The more muscular your legs are, or the more muscular you are in general, the more air your body needs to compensate the additional muscle mass! Your muscles need air too!

2. Deadlifts
3 sets of 5
I normally keep my weight around 275 or more. The idea behind deadlifting is to build the discipline of picking up weight over and over again. As you take your pack off to rest, the constant motion of picking up your pack, putting your pack down will wear you down unless you build strong muscles that the deadlift will help you build

3. Abs

30 second intervals, 4 core exercises, 2-3 sets

First: Flutter kicks
Second: Toe touches
Third: Alternating situps
Fourth: Leg raises

4. Body weight upper body workouts
Pull-ups, dips, pushups, headstand pushups

5. Again, run, run, run
I can't understate this enough, you have to build your aerobic ability to handle the stress of hiking 14+ hours

6. Get your butt into altitude!!!
If you're in the Bay Area, head to Yosemite and just hike around there

Update: My friend Mike brought up a fantastic point about acclimatizing! Mount Langley (sister mountain of Whitney) is considered one of the "easiest" 14'ers in California! So if you want to acclimatize be sure to check it out!

You can drive up Whitney Portal road. After a couple of miles, turn left at a sign to Horseshoe Meadows Road and follow it to the Cottonwood Lakes/Army Pass trailhead.

Here's more information!

7. HIKE A LOT
You need to build body discipline! You can't just show up to Whitney without having done a few long distance hikes! There's a reason why people actually TRAIN for half-marathons or marathons. Mount Whitney is the same way, do training hikes, do speed hikes, just HIKE. You need to get your feet and knees used to the abuse of putting in 15+ miles.

7a. List of places I would recommend as training hikes:

- Mount Langley (another 14'er as mentioned above)

- Half Dome

- Clouds Rest

- Upper Yosemite Falls

- Mount Tallac

- Mount Sizer Loop

- Trail run Mission Peak

- Through-hike the Ohlone Wilderness Trail (30 miles)

- Sunol Wilderness to Rose Peak

- Mount Diablo Summit

3. Logistics

Now let's assume that you've got your permit and your training down and you're ready to tackle this beast of a hike!

What's the best thing to do now? First, determine how you'll manage the act of even getting to Lone Pine. Lone Pine is the town that rests just east of Mount Whitney, this town also has a shop that actually has equipment that you can rent from or purchase! So if you're almost at Mount Whitney and you realize on your way there that you forgot something, you'll be fine so long as you are able to get to the store before it closes!

When you arrive, you'll want to acclimate! I cannot stress this enough, you will not have a successful summit bid if you do not properly acclimatize! I highly recommend arriving a day, or two days prior to your attempt and camp at Whitney Portal. There are a lot of walk-in campgrounds available for you to set up shop it cost about $10? dollars to reserve a spot. So I would recommend arriving a day or two days prior, setting up your campsite, and go for a quick trial hike either toward the summit, or around the surrounding area.

When you are on your way, please remember to PICK UP your permit. Your permit is NOT picked up at Whitney Portal, rather, it is picked up, and MUST be picked up at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center near Lone Pine.

In regards to walk-in permits for next day entry, the station opens up at 8:00am! In the past it used to be that the earliest person would be first in line to be served, however, now it is all on a random basis! So just get there by 8:00am if you want to get the lottery to try to get a walk-in permit. The link provided above goes into great detail the entire process, so I would give that a read as well!


4. Equipment

This really depends on when in the year you decide to go and what conditions the Sierra have faced the current year. For example, in 2017, the snowpack was unbelievably large. So much so that the snowpack continued to baffle hikers on Mount Whitney until late July!

So because this really varies depending on the season in which you plan to go, I'll do a rough break out on equipment list based on the SEASON.

My cousin climbing one of the many hills

Spring

Described as high snow melt and dangerous water crossings. The mosquitos are out, and the snow is still stable to trek across

- navigation (I love Gaia GPS by the way, but I always bring map and compass!)

- first aid kit (and know how to use it too!)

- Crampons (microspikes work as well, but it really depends on how comfortable you feel on the ice)

- Ice axe

- 3 layer system (base layer, mid layer, shell) or 4 layer if you get really cold or plan to backpack (base layer, mid layer, insulator, shell)

- water filtration system (I personally love my Sawyer Squeeze)

- beanie

- hat

- sunglasses

- sunblock (duh, right?)

- gloves

- trekking poles

- sleeping bag or quilt (I'd get one rated down to 20 or 30 depending on how cold you sleep)

- tent if you plan to do this overnight

- helmet (not necessary, but when anything involves ice axes, I was taught to bring a helmet)

- extra socks

- water shoes (seriously, I'm not kidding)

- headlamp with FRESH batteries

- permethrin or bug spray

- snacks, a light lunch at the summit

Summer/Fall

Described as little to no snow left on the trail, water crossing may be flowing fast, but relatively more easier to cross. Mosquitos are still a problem if you rest near a water source. In the fall you'll experience more mild weather, though as you get FURTHER into fall, please adjust your clothing system accordingly, the weather in the high sierra can be very unpredictable!

- navigation 

- first aid kit 

- 3 layer system (base layer, mid layer, shell) or 4 layer if you get really cold or plan to backpack (base layer, mid layer, insulator, shell)

- Shorts or lightweight hiking pants

- Hat

- water filtration system

- beanie

- sunglasses

- sunblock

- gloves

- trekking poles

- sleeping bag or quilt 

- tent if you plan to do this overnight

- extra socks

- water shoes 

- headlamp with FRESH batteries

- permethrin or bug spray

- snacks, a light lunch at the summit

Winter

Described as full on winter conditions (snow, low temperature, unpredictable weather, unreliable forecast), difficulty of navigation due to trail being hidden by snow. This is only recommended for individuals who KNOW what they're doing.

- navigation

- first aid kit

- Crampons

- Ice axe

- 4 layer system (base layer, mid layer, insulator, shell)

- water filtration system 

- beanie

-hat

- sunglasses

- sunblock

- gloves

- trekking poles

- sleeping bag

- tent 

- helmet

- extra socks

- mountaineering boots

- headlamp with FRESH batteries

- snacks, a light lunch at the summit

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