Summiting Whitney in a day?

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Summiting Whitney in a day?

Summiting Whitney in a day?
Question: I want to climb Whitney in a day. Can you please tell me how long the hike is and whether it is advisable or not? I have never climbed anything as big before. Can you tell me when the best time of year to go is? Thanks!

Shahzad Hasan
Cerritos, California

Mount Whitney
Adventure Adviser: Literally thousands of people make their way up 14,494-foot Mt. Whitney each year. With temperatures in the 60s and a snow-free summit, August and September are the best months to make the trek. The 11-mile summit trail is well-maintained and well-marked, so you won’t have any trouble navigationally, but the 6,000-foot elevation gain may be rough on the lungs. Altitude sickness and extreme fatigue aside, 22 miles with an intense climb is a heck of a day hike for most people, so those who do it tend to be extremely fit and acclimated. That said, the majority of hikers choose to climb Whitney over a couple of days. Call the friendly rangers at the Mt Whitney Ranger Station (760-876-6200) for advice, trail updates and general information.

Whether you’re climbing Whitney in a day or camping en route, permits are required for everyone on the trail. One-hundred and fifty day-hike permits are granted each day, and you can reserve one up to 24-hours in advance. In addition to the day hiker permits, rangers give out 50 camping permits daily. Although securing an overnight wilderness permit can be its own challenge, with it you can stay at one of two basecamps en route, adjust to the altitude, and summit without excess weight. Hikers generally spend a night or two at either Outpost Camp, 4.8 miles along the trail, or the higher up Trail Camp, which is 6.2 miles from the start. For permit information and reservations, call Inyo Forest Wilderness Reservations (888-374-3773; 760-938-1136).

If you’re set on reaching the top in a day, be sure to take the proper precautions. Since high-altitude sickness is a real danger, at the very least plan to arrive the night before in order to acclimate before attempting the hike. Call ahead and book one of the terraced, creek-side campsites at the Whitney Portal, the area’s most-popular site (800-280-2267). Poke in at the campground store (the owner has reportedly made the summit more than 50 times) and listen to others’ tales of the summit. Plan on starting your hike around 4 am, and expect to spend 16 to 18 hours round trip. Your goal should be to leave the summit by noon to make it down before dark and to guard against the area’s frequent electric storms — Mt Whitney’s granite rock is a prime conductor during the lightning storms that often creep into this area mid-afternoon. Other advice? Drink lots of water (making sure to purify any stream-fed water against giardia), pack enough food, load on the sunscreen, and bring warm clothes as the weather is finicky and changeable. Might want to pack a headlamp and flashlight, too, in case you don’t make it all the way down by sunset.

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