Planning for Mt. Whitney

Best Time to Hike


January to April - If you are equipped for winter mountaineering, this would be quite the adventure! But for most of us, Whitney is a summer hike.

May & June - There is always snow on Mt. Whitney in June, especially in early June. Do not go in June or before unless you are prepared for mountaineering conditions.

July - Depending on the snow pack, there still may be snow on the trail, but overall it should be clear. There are a few water crossings on the way up, some of them will be harder to cross earlier in July than later in July. Late July, there will still be bugs, but the weather will be warm, and the trail will be snow-free for the most part. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in July.

August - This is the best time to go! But as you can imagine, it will probably be very difficult to get permits for August. There will be fewer bugs, the days and nights will be warm, the water crossings will be easier, and there will be little to no snow on the trail. Keep in mind that afternoon thunderstorms are still common in August.

September - Early September is also great, right around Labor Day. After that, the crowds die down, and all of the spring/early summer worries about bugs and water crossings should be better by September. But it does get cold at night. In late September right around the first day of fall, there has historically been a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada’s. So be prepared for the possibility of that.

October - There will be some snow on the ground, some ice on the mountain, the nights will be cold if not freezing. Crampons or microspikes are highly recommended.

November & December - There’s snow on the ground, the nights are below freezing, high possibility of snow storms. These are not ideal months to be on the mountain. Depending on the snow level by this time, mountaineering experience may be needed.

***Regardless of what season you go in, thunderstorms and snow storms can happen at higher altitudes. It can also get cold and windy at the peak. Make sure to check the weather before you go. You can use Mountain Forecast to check the weather for the altitude.

Camping


There is a campground at Whitney Portal, the kind you drive up to with a fire pit and toilets. If you are day hiking Mt. Whitney, I highly advise to acclimate first and camp at Portal. You want to avoid altitude sickness, trust me, I’ve been there.

If you decide to overnight to Mt. Whitney you have two campsite options on the mountain from Whitney Portal. Outpost Camp is 3 miles in and sits at 10,000 feet, this is a beautiful campsite with a waterfall. Or Trail Camp which is about 6 miles in, and sits at 12,000 feet and it’s closer to the summit, which makes it easier the following morning.

Rules in the Whitney Zone


Fires are not allowed in the Whitney Zone. WAG bags are required for human waste. And follow Leave No Trace Principles and pack out all of your trash. Whitney Portal is an active bear area, store all scented items in the bear lockers in the parking lot. If you are backpacking, bear canisters are required.

Acclimation

Acclimate! Take it slow, give yourself time and acclimate! I can’t say this enough. I have gotten altitude sickness on the way up to Mt. Whitney, twice. Don’t do it! I made the mistake of driving up from sea level, sleeping in my car for a few hours and starting to solo hike at 2am. It was an amazing experience! But I got altitude sickness, and didn’t make it and had to turn around. I’ve also made this mistake a third time on a different trail (read the story). Please learn from my mistakes.

Instead of spending time at Whitney Portal before the hike, go up to Mammoth and hang out there, Go do another hike nearby like to Kearsarge Pass. Just make sure to hang out at altitude at least for a day or two to acclimate, especially if you live at sea level.

I also always take Boost Oxygen with me. I found out about them in a store in Mammoth and they have been an amazing resource to help with the acclimation process. It won’t help if you already have altitude sickness, but it’ll help with some of the dizziness and other minor symptoms (read more).

Itinerary Ideas from Whitney Portal

Day 1: Hike to Outpost Camp or Trail Camp, set up camp and hang out/acclimate.

Day 2: Summit Mt. Whitney and return to camp.

Day 3: Hike out.

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Day 1: Hike to Outpost Camp or Trail Camp, set up camp and hang out/acclimate.

Day 2: Summit Mt. Whitney, head down and grab your things and hike out.

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Day 1: Camp at Whitney Portal.

Day 2: Day hike to Mt. Whitney and return to Whitney Portal.

Getting the Permit

Permits are required for both overnight and day trips on Mt. Whitney. Here’s everything you need to know about getting one, and what to do if you don’t win one through the lottery.

Jenny KotlyarComment