Location: Lone Pine, CA (Inyo National Forest/Sequoia National Park)
Distance: 22 miles round-trip
Rating: Very Difficult
Mt. Whitney requires a permit to hike the trail as well as camp overnight. Obtaining a permit requires patience. Since it is a lottery system, I suggest choosing several dates in advance just in case you do not get your first option. Our group of four only had 3 permits (I joined in later). The dates for our hike had already been taken up, but you can check on a daily basis to see if people have dropped out of their permit slots. Luckily, a permit opened up and I was able to join the group on the dates they were going to be hiking/camping. See Permits for more information on how to obtain a permit for Mt. Whitney.
Before the hike, we went on a couple smaller hikes to get used to our overnight gear and hiking shoes (See Horsetail Falls Trail & Flume Trail). I recommend at least one larger hike about a month beforehand to prepare yourself for the challenge of Mt. Whitney. We made a checklist of what gear we needed for this hike, which included overnight packs, five 32 fl. oz. water bottles, a water filter, freeze-dried meals, various snacks, two sleeping bags, sleeping bag pads, blow-up pillows, our tent, and all the “details” which you can find at A Quick Checklist. I also brought extra contacts, eye solution and glasses. Extra clothing (besides socks of course) were completely unnecessary, but I brought them anyways. I ended up only switching my shirt after the second day. I can’t stress enough how important it is to bring leggings and a jacket. It gets COLD at night. Oh! Lastly, don’t forget your “potty” bags. Yes, you read that correctly. When you check into the Visitor Center before your hike, they will provide you with these.
The Night Before
We drove down to Lone Pine, CA from Sacramento on a Thursday night (about a 6-hour drive). We met my boyfriend’s sister and brother-in-law at a little motel in Lone Pine where we stayed the night before our hike. We had planned on staying two nights, but were informed that we could start our hike earlier than planned when we made it to the Visitor Center the following day.
Our group started the hike half a day earlier than planned around 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon via the Whitney Portal. We didn’t know what to expect and had planned on hiking to the first campsite. There are two campsites; one about 2 miles in (Trail Camp?) and one about 6 miles in (High Camp). Two of us hiked ahead of our group and during the first section of the hike (before you reach the first campsite), there are several switchbacks. Prepare for a steep climb that will make your legs burn. Once we made it to the first camp, we decided to try and make it to High Camp – due to a combination of not knowing how much further we had to go and being burnt out by the first section of the hike, this was the hardest part of the hike in my opinion. After passing the second camp, you will encounter a non-stop upward climb on large, uneven boulders. I really appreciated my hiking shoes most during this part of the trek.
Around dusk, we made it to High Camp and set up the tent. As we got ready to climb in the tent and fall asleep, the altitude sickness set in. I had a pounding headache. Luckily, we were able to sleep it off and made sure to drink plenty of water. High Camp is located at the base of the infamous ’99 Switchbacks’ section of the Whitney Trail, so you have a lovely view of the challenge that awaits you for the second stretch of the hike. High Camp is the last place on the trail that you can fill up on water.
We woke up around 9 a.m. and started hiking up the switchbacks around 9:45 a.m. after eating breakfast (our freeze-dried meals).
The 99 Switchbacks take you up the side of a mountain with a rapid elevation gain. After scaling the side of the mountain, we came across the Trail Crest. Here is where we began the section of the hike along the face of the mountain. The “Whitney Windows” are along this stretch of the hike and offer beautiful glimpses of the valley below.
Once again, we began to experience altitude sickness about halfway along the ridge. Both of us had pounding headaches, so we stopped to eat and drink some water.
Before we knew it, we had made it to the top of Mt. Whitney. The hours of hiking uphill and scaling the mountain were worth it when we saw the incredible views. We had a 360° view of The Inyo National forest AND The Sequoia National Forest. We hung out on the summit for a good hour with our group and then headed back to High Camp. The views on the way down were just as amazing as they were coming up. As the sun set, the temperature began to drop. Thankfully we brought our jackets with us, which I 100% recommend. When we reached the switchbacks, I felt another headache setting in. After hiking down the switchbacks and back to High Camp, I passed out in the tent and didn’t wake up until sunrise the next morning.
On the third day, we woke up and sat outside of our tent, wrapped up in our sleeping bags as we watched the beautiful sunrise (pictured below). This is by far one of the most amazing experiences I have had while hiking. After the sun rose, we packed up all of our gear, including our tent, and started heading down the mountain (the same trail we hiked during Day 1). At this point our legs were heavy and we were as dirty as ever, but the weather was perfect and we made the most out of hiking back down towards Whitney Portal. Once our group made it to the Portal, we jumped in our cars and headed back down to Lone Pine, CA to find the Pizza Factory restaurant. We loaded up on as much pizza as we could get our hands on.
*Note: The Mt. Whitney hike can be done in a day, an overnight trip, or a multi-night trip, depending on your comfort level and experience. We chose to do the hike in three days so we could take our time. We originally had permits for an overnight trip but were able to switch to multi-night when we checked in at the Visitor Center. It depends entirely on availability.