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 and 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. It can still be cold and windy at the summit. Be prepared for sudden weather shifts.

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 mild, 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. It can still be cold and windy at the summit. Be prepared for sudden weather shifts.

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. Even with good overall temperatures, it can still be cold and windy at the summit. Be prepared for sudden weather shifts.

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 and 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.

Rules in the Whitney Zone

  • Fires are not allowed in the Whitney Zone.

  • WAG bags are required for human waste.

  • 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.

  • Permits are required past Lone Pine Lake (3 miles in). Rangers check, don’t go without a permit. Here’s how to get one.

  • If you are backpacking, bear canisters are required. Store all of your scented items in them, don’t leave scented items in your tent or backpack. On the trail marmots will chew through your pack or tent.

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. To book a campsite at Portal, visit recreation.gov. If the campground is booked, try and get a walk up or keep checking for a last minute cancellation.

If you decide to overnight to Mt. Whitney you have three campsite options on the mountain from Whitney Portal. To “book” these, you just state on your permit where you’ll be camping.

  1. Outpost Camp is 3.5 miles in and sits at 10,400 feet, this is a beautiful campsite with a waterfall. If you are more sensitive to altitude or don’t have time to acclimate before you start, camp here.

  2. Consultation Lake sits at around 11,700 feet and is near to Trail Camp. It’s much prettier and less crowded than Trail Camp.

  3. 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.

If you’re going cross country and continuing on to do a section of the John Muir Trail, you can camp to the West of the summit. The first campsite to the West of the summit is Guitar Lake and the second is Crabtree.

Read through my backpacking pack list to make sure you have all your essentials for camping.

Get A Map

Always carry a map into wilderness areas. You never know what could go wrong and you don’t want to get lost. I recommend this National Geographic Trails Illustrated Mount Whitney Map.

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.

Understand the Trail

Read through my trail report to get an understanding of the different landmarks along the trail and what to expect.

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 alread

Where is Whitney Portal?

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