Mount Whitney 14,495 ft 4420 m
Sierra Nevada, California
View of Mount Whitney from town of Lone Pine
Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States but it is not a difficult ascent by the normal route. The trail starts from Whitney Portal at Lone Pine in Owens Valley, California. The ascent is merely a long walk (22 miles/35 km round trip) with no technical difficulty, but with the added challenge of altitude. Elevation gain is about 6200 feet (1890 m). Assuming you are fit, by doing a few other ascents in the area first you should be able to acclimatize enough to ascend "The Big One" in one long day with a light pack (preferable). Expect big crowds and more than a few out of shape people en route. After mid-October there is no quota on day trips and this simplifies planning immensely. Current mountain conditions and permit information are available at the Ranger's office in Lone Pine or at http://www.r5.pswfs.gov/inyo/vvc/mtwhtny/index.htm
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Lone Pine Lake. I began my ascent by headlamp from Whitney Portal parking lot at 5 a.m. October 22 after sleeping in my van in the parking lot. Breakfast was a banana and a bloody dry old bagel from the over-hyped Sheepherder Bakery in Bishop. Because roving delinquent black bears at Whitney Portal will almost certainly trash a vehicle if they see or smell anything that might be edible, I had left all my extra stuff at a cheap motel in Lone Pine where I'd stay upon returning that evening. Lone Pine Lake is the first notable landmark at 2.5 miles (4km). Pretty, eh? It's a pleasant hike to it even if you're not climbing Whitney. No permit required to hike this far either.
Near Mirror Lake I was treated to a beautiful sunrise on Mount Whitney, then I continued on reaching Trail Camp (6.5 mi/10.4km) at 8:30 a.m. Trail Camp (elev. 12,040 ft/3670 m) is the most popular camping spot for an attempt at the top (permit required). It's 4 miles to the top from Trail Camp. Temperature was still well below freezing at this early hour; some folks were just crawling out of their frosty tents.
Leaving Trail Camp in the cold morning air, Owens Valley behind. Looks like fine day for a climb. Mark, from nearby Los Angeles, had camped at trail camp and he accompanied me from there to the top. His lungs weren't used to the fresh air but he didn't cough too much.
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© all photos copyright by the author 1999.