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Mt. Whitney Day Hike, Inyo National Forest, California

So you want to climb Whitney? You're not alone.  Each year, more people bag the summit of Mt. Whitney than probably any other peak in the country.  Anyone in reasonable shape with some level of determination can follow the well-beaten trail to the top.  We'll show you how to do it in one day.


Overview:

Reports vary, but the summit of Mt. Whitney is either 14,494' or 14,497' above sea level.  Either way, Mt. Whitney is the highpoint not only of California, but of the entire lower 48 states.   This statistic, together with the fact that there is a relatively easy ("your grandmother can do it") trail right up to the summit, makes this the most sought after mountain high point in the country.

The Day Hike:

The easiest and most popular way to get up the mountain is the eponymous "Mt. Whitney Trail".  Many folks who hike up Whitney do it in one long and grueling day from the parking lot at Whitney Portal, situated at 8,360' above sea level.  This involves an aggregate elevation gain of approximately 6,400' (including about 300' or so on the descent) in a 22-mile round trip.  So, even though the trail itself is "easy" (in the sense that it is well traveled and there is no danger of falling or getting lost), it is a physically demanding hike to say the least.  Compounding the difficulties associated with the length and elevation gain of the trail is that timeless scourge of the mountaineer -- altitude.  Because the Mt. Whitney Trail ascends to the highest point in the continental US, oxygen is a priceless commodity.  Much of the trail -- including the last several miles to the summit -- are over 13,600' in elevation where every step is a challenge.  Many people who leave the trailhead intending to summit and return in one day don't make it, either due to altitude sickness, dehydration, running out of daylight, adverse weather, or they just plain run out of gas.  

Getting to Mt. Whitney:

Mt. Whitney is in eastern California, on the border of the Inyo National Forest and Sequoia National Park.  To get to the trailhead at Whitney Portal, first drive to the town of Lone Pine, which is located on US 395 about four hours north of Los Angeles, and about five hours south of Reno, Nevada.  From Lone Pine, take the obvious Whitney Portal Road about 13 miles to the east.  This road will dead end right into the parking lot for the trailhead.  There is plenty of parking.  You can also camp at the Portal, which may help acclimatize you to the higher elevations to be encountered on the trail.

Wilderness Permits:

Actually, Mt. Whitney is not located in a true "wilderness area" (as defined under the Wilderness Act of 1964), but it is within the special "Mt. Whitney Zone" use area and thus still requires a permit from the US Forest Service to complete the hike.  Permits, however, are difficult to come by.  There is a fixed quota of hikers that will be allowed into the Whitney Zone each day, and demand outstrips supply by about 10-to-1.  This doesn't mean that you only have a 10% chance -- if you are willing to be flexible about dates and forego hiking only on the weekends, then you actually have a decent shot at getting a permit.  For the latest permit information and applications, consult the official website of the Inyo National Forest.

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