Treadmill Rating (out of 10): 10 out of 10
Distance: 22 mile round trip
Elevation Gain: 6500 feet
Mount Whitney is an amazing mountain to hike. There are many different ways of getting to the top and each has their own unique set of challenges. Let me first start off by saying the one-day hike to the top of Mount Whitney from Whitney Portal (the East Side) is one of the most physically demanding things I have ever done. It is basically a marathon distance at high altitude. With that said it should be mentioned that this is an extremely strenuous hike, you must be prepared for the physical and possibly emotional toll it will take on your body. I have heard from others that at least 1/2 of those who try the single day’s journey do not make it to the top.
This particular hike took place in the summer of 2008. I stayed the “night” at a local motel in the town of Independence named Ray’s Den Motel (highly recommended) about 40 minutes from the Whitney Portal trail head. I slept for about 3 hours and got up at midnight to travel to the trail head.
My hike began at 1:50am at the Whitney Portal trail head. To make it even more interesting I was doing the hike solo (not recommended). I had my standard set of gear with a light day-pack with plenty of water. I made fantastic time on the trail and was at the summit by about 7:30am (I was making great time). My body tends to hit a wall at about 12,000 feet so just above Trail Camp (5am) I had to take a 5 minute break, eat some food, and take some excedrin to help with my headache. Above 12,000 feet (all the way to the top) I was moving much slower. It’s almost amusing how everything feels like it is in slow motion at altitude.
There were very few people on the trail heading up which made for a nice introspection during my journey. I tend to hike without headphones so I can enjoy the sounds around me and to be as keenly aware of my surroundings as possible. After getting to the summit (about 7:30am) I ate a little more, took some pictures, called home, and rested for about 10 minutes. Then I made the long (11 mile) trek to the bottom.
The hike down I encountered hundreds of people making the trek to the top. I gave my usual pep-talk to them and wished them well. The remainder of the hike was rather uneventful, however, I saw far too many people who were ill prepared for what lay ahead of them. They either got on the trail too late or were not carrying the right equipment (food, water, the basics). It is my recommendation that if you are doing the one-day hike you should get on the trail by 2am. This will allow you to get to the top early and back down off the mountain with plenty of time to spare.
I arrived back at the portal around 12pm (noon). Because of the quick hike up and down in high elevation I had mostly lost my voice, it came back after about an hour. My father, Roy, who drove to the portal with me was waiting for me at the bottom so he could take care of my needs (food, etc…) and drive me home. Up until 2011 I have swore I would never do anything like that again, but here it is 2012 and I am considering taking on the challenge again.
Again, I can’t stress enough how physically stressful this hike is on the body. You must properly train and know your body. You need to know when your body is in distress and how to deal with being able to push past your mental and physical limits.
HOW TECHNICAL IS THE HIKE?
The hike isn’t very technical. It is extremely physically demanding but doesn’t require special skills. The trail is extremely well maintained and is frequented by an almost constant stream of hikers. The hike is 11 miles up and 11 miles down. Be prepared for sore knees, ankles, hips, and just about everything else.
I would recommend people 14 years or older for this hike. It is the type of hike where each person needs to know their own limits and they have a good gauge on how their own bodies work so they can know when they are in physical trouble and can ask for help. As mentioned before, this is an extremely physically demanding hike. I would recommend training for several months leading up to this hike. The altitude and physical demands of hiking will tax your heart and lungs. Make sure you are in good physical condition. A single day up Whitney is vastly different from a multi-day hike up Whitney. I have done Whitney 4 times and the one-day is by far the most difficult. Again, I do not recommend young children on this hike. If youth are heading up on this hike please make sure they are well looked after and have trained appropriately.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
The best time of the year for doing the one-day Mount Whitney hike is between June and September. You will want to call ahead to get trail conditions at least 2 weeks prior to your hike and call in every day to get updates. The conditions on the trail can change almost daily. I have been snowed on at the top in July. Be prepared and do your homework before going on this hike. It can be 100 degrees in Lone Pine and 30 degrees at the top. We have been up there in August and had ice on the trail above 12,000 feet.
As mentioned above this hike is extremely physically demanding. Take your time while on the hike. Training is critical for this type of hike. You not only need to be able to walk 22 miles in one day, but you need to be able to do it while your body is in pain and extremely tired. I would recommend several training hikes in your local area of at least 5-6 hours each. Get your body used to walking, and walking, and walking, and walking some more. Train with a day pack on and carry lots of water.
GEAR LIST (day hike)
There are some bare essentials that everyone should take with them up Mount Whitney: good boots, day pack, water filter, 100oz water bladder, hiking poles, light jacket or fleece, rain poncho, medication, sunglasses, sunscreen, hat/cap, good hiking pants (zip-offs are great), good socks, ankle high nylons (wear under your socks), light gloves, and camera. A good assortment of snacks and food is a must. I typically bring a Big Sur Bar, a bag of Cracklin’ Oat Bran, raw almonds, and some fruit. That kind of food works for me at altitude and gives some good energy for my body, but everyone is different. Choose foods you like and that you will tolerate at altitude. Please be prepared.
A wilderness permit is required for any hike into the Mount Whitney Zone. There are overnight and day-use permits available. Permits are usually taken during the annual permit lottery. There can be fines given for people in the Mount Whitney Zone without valid permits. It is very important to plan ahead. Call the Ranger Office if you have any questions. Information on permits can be found here, Mount Whitney Permit Information.