Mt Whitney in One Day!


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Mt Whitney is the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States at 14,508 ft (elevation varies depending on where you read). The trail head starts at 8,360 feet and gains over 6,000 feet. This is a 22 mile round trip hike, and if done in one day, is considered an extreme hike. Typically it takes hikers 12-16 hours to complete. Took me 14.5 hours.  In order to do this hike in one day, you will need to do it partially in the dark! Many hikers choose to obtain an overnight pass that allows them to camp in one of two campgrounds in the Whitney Zone. Hikers choose this method as it allows themselves to acclimate to the elevation change and decrease the possibility of altitude sickness.  Why some get this and others don’t is unknown. Training at higher altitudes helps decrease the possibility.  I did not get sick, I didn’t take medicine to prevent it, and the last time I hiked at 10,000 feet was the year before in Yosemite. Many on the trail I passed were impressed that I didn’t get sick doing this in one day. A few men noted it must be my genetics. I was a little too oxygen deprived to come back with a snappy response on that one. Anyways, I have no answer for you on this. I just went into the hike expecting to not get sick.

You will start your journey at the visitor center. Picking up passes your reserved early on or via the lottery are obtained here, not at Portal Store. The view of Mt Whitney to the left of the flag pole at the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center.

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I had wanted to hike Mt Whitney for a while and knew I had to get a permit. Like many permitted hikes, it is not easy  to get one! A lottery is held starting February 1 – March 15 of each year with remaining spaces open to web reservations on April 1st.  I did not have one. I decided to take a risk on the same day lottery. This means if you want a Mt Whitney day hike pass that is only good for the next day, you need to show up for the 2 pm daily lottery. Do show up by 1:45 pm. What happens now depends on the number of people who drive to the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center (you need to be in person for daily lottery) and the number of cancellations.  I drove from Phoenix… 7 hours!  I arrived on Friday August 11th late that morning for the lottery. There was 5 others who were there, and enough cancelled reservations that we each got a pass! I was hiking on my own this time. The ranger said we were lucky as some days there are 20-30 people who show up and only 10 cancellations! Had that been the case, they would have had us all draw numbers from this can and number 1 gets the first permit, and so on till they run  out. 0124c18392d00c101f6b4b5d08ec47336b82a0d4b6

You will get this permit that must be placed visibly on your pack and you also must carry the visitors permit paper they give you for day use with you at all times within the Whitney Zone.  You also get a Wag Bag .  You must carry out all your human waste.

Now that I had my permit, up I went to the trail head! This is about 13 miles away, turning south at the light in Lone Pine.  Lone Pine has stores to fill up with food and definitely thrives off the hikers coming through. I decided to get a last meal at the Mexican restaurant in town. Fill up with water before you head up the campground and trail head (fill up at the visitors center). The water supply at the trail head had notices that it was contaminated with e coli and needed to be boiled first.  You don’t want to boil 3 liters of water.

There is plenty of parking, which is first come first serve and there is areas to camp overnight. You are not supposed to sleep in your car. This is an active bear area, and both nights one bear was in the area looking for food. You can not leave any food in your car, and you must store all food as well as your bear container in the bear boxes. Cars have been heavily damaged by bears trying to get to food left in cars.

There is a store at the trail head, where you can stock up on some items as well as get a t-shirt or souvenir. They have a small grill, where you will want to get a cheeseburger or vegeburger once you are done–as long as you get back before they close!

One of my favorite signs, but take heed!  Make sure you have enough water on you and a filter.  I did start out with 3 liters of water, which many suggested was good for the entire trip. However, I only had 250 ml once I got to the top of Mt Whitney. I am usually better at guesstimating this but it ended up okay still. Since there was a large snow pack this year, the 1600 feet of 99 switchbacks below the trail crest had a small stream running from it. This however was about 3 miles from the top, and about 2 hours away.  The nearest water source other wise is at Trail Camp at the lake, which was about 1/2 mile further down.  I had thought about getting extra of water in my nalgene on the way up but didn’t. Hindsight, I should have. There were many people who were asking for water on the way back down.  I knew I was okay, having drank all the water, I felt hydrated .

You can buy a map at the visitors center and you can also ask for the map not suitable for navigation. It is nice to have the mileage and elevation as you go. If you hike a lot, you won’t have any trouble keeping and finding the trail.

I woke up at 3:45 am (having everything ready to go!) and set out on the trail at 4 am. By this time, I was watching head lamps dance up the hill in front of me. It was fun to watch lights ahead and behind you as you progressed up. What did I wear? I worn hiking pants, a t shirt and a long sleeve shirt. I had my light fleece jacket as well as my wind/water proof jacket. I did bring light gloves (made for hiking). It was definitely cool at 45-50 degrees starting out but soon I took off all but the short sleeve and long sleeve shirt. Jackets went away until I got to the top.  It is very cold, and can be windy up there. My nose, like others, started to run during the last 1.9 miles. I never used the wind proof jacket, but it is so light weight I take it every where with me.

The fun thing about starting in the dark for a few hours is that you get to attempt water crossings in the dark! Here is one in the dark with a picture I took on the way back in the day light for comparison.

And the log one.

There were many more, but it was getting lighter out!  It was wonderful to watch the sunrise hiking up.

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Once you pass the Lone Pine Lake turn off (you don’t hike by lake, but do hike past the sign to turn off), you see the Whitney Zone sign. The one picture is above the sign, looking down on Lone Pine Lake.

Here, you start to see hikers slow down, take breaks and you get to talk to different groups. Along the way, people pass you, you repass them, it’s not about who gets up the fastest, but just getting up. Information states that only about 1/3 of people who attempt to get to the top make it! Take breaks and eat. I only brought bananas, apples, water, energy gel with caffeine, Pro Bars, and Cliff Bars. I had maybe 2,500 calories on me. I am not out to lose weight, but find that over eating doesn’t make me feel good. I made sure I ate something, even if only part of a bar, every 1-1.5 hours. Eating a little something always makes me feel better. Overeating can cause issues such as cramping. If you are hiking constantly, your blood is shifted to your legs and arms, not your stomach, so keep that in mind on what and how much you decide to eat. When you eat, blood flow does shift some to your stomach to work on that food!

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The next major mile stone is Outpost camp, the first area to stop and camp overnight. There are fewer people camping here, but it is in the trees and has a creek running through it. It is much further away from Mt Whitney, so many rather camp over at Trail Camp.

There was a lot of water on the way up, and in many places the trail had water running over it!

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One of my favorite pictures on the way up! The sunrise hitting the peak and it’s reflection.

If you were unsure, this trail has a ton of switch backs. It feels like mostly switch backs however those are not the best pictures!  Mirror Lake below.

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This hike was absolutely beautiful! There was many pretty areas along the way. Snow pack feeds this creek below. The red on the snow is an algae that thrives on freezing water. Called chlamydomonas nivalis, it is something you don’t want to eat unless you want a laxative effect!

Animals up here were limited to squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, and dear.

From here, you are out of the tree line!! The Sierra Nevada sub-alpine zone is 9,500-12,000 feet in the southern range. Both Consultation Lake and Trail Camp are at about 12,000 feet.

You can see the camp ground which is pretty popular and very open to your neighbors- little privacy. Trail Camp is at the base of the last large set of switch backs before the trail crest. In the picture with the tents, you can see Mt Whitney to the far right, and the trail on far left… it looks nicely sloped but don’t let that fool you, 1600 feet up 99 switchbacks!! It doesn’t look that bad does it?!? Just add ice in some areas and creek across parts of trail and you are set. I did, as well as most hikers, have trekking poles which I am thankful for! This takes a few hours to get up. During parts of this hike up it feels like you are not making progress. The mountains are so grand that everything seems tiny by their size.

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Looking down at Trail Camp (picture with tents) after hiking the 99 switch backs and up 1600 feet. Elevation is now 13,600. Oxygen 59% level.  I hadn’t mentioned oxygen level till now, but if you are interested in the decrease in oxygen level, here is a good source of information.

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And here is the trail crest! Congratulations, I am at 13,600 feet! YAY!

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Then the most soul sucking things occurs. You have to hike down about 150 feet to the Mt Whitney trail head.   Serious, after climbing up, and thinking you only have 900 feet of elevation gain to go, any amount down is sad.

You also see this sign. People have died from lightning strikes on top, so heed this warning! I was very excited to see I had only 1.9 miles left, however, this part of the trail is horrible! Some parts of it is clear, but it is mainly large rocks that you are stepping on and over. Trekking poles get stuck, feet get stuck, so be careful. It is also hard to see the trail in the distance as you are trying to figure out what route you will go to get up.

Depending on the time of year and snow fall, there can be snow up here still. There was a large snow field on the last part and prior hikers made a short cut that went straight up before the snow field. Hikers who didn’t pay attention and followed the trail into the snow turned back as the snow was icy and no one had crampons with them. Hikers had stacked little stacks of rocks to note temporary trail markers. The second picture is a picture of the snow field from earlier in the trail. You need to hike to the high point in the one photo to get to the top!

There is honestly no better feeling than when you finally see the cabin on your way up.

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The cabin is called the Smithsonian Institute Shelter completed in 1909. Scientist built it to study high altitude phenomena before high altitude flight was possible.

With a renewed sense of energy after seeing the cabin, you now make it to the top! Peak 14,508 depending on source. Oxygen level is 58%. Make sure you sign the visitors log!

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It took me 8 hours to make it to the top. You want to stay as  long as you can to savor the view, but you know the oxygen is much thinner now, and you want that cheeseburger before the store closes.  There was a forest fire in the distance as well. After about 30 minutes, I headed back.

This was an amazing hike, and I made it back into the Whitney Portal Trail head at 6:30 pm–about 6 hours to get back. I, like many, were on a mission to get back so didn’t stop much. My calves were sore by this point, and unfortunately had a blister (I bought new boots today to resolve that!). This extreme day hike was surely worth everything minute though!

Back to the portal. Feeling good now! And then to the store for food. Not much could have tasted better than this after that hike!

Categories: California, Day Hikes, National Parks, Overnight Hikes, Uncategorized

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