LA’s Guide to Summiting Whitney, Part II – What to Expect on the Trail from Whitney Portal to the Summit of Mt. Whitney (Pre-Day One, and Day One)

Most people request a permit for the traditional, tried and true Whitney Portal ascent to the summit. If it is not winter, this ascent involves one thing and one thing only: walking (or if you prefer the fancy term, mountaineering). The trail leaves from the parking lot at Whitney Portal at eight thousand feet and ascends eleven miles to the summit at 14,496 feet. From the summit it is, again, eleven miles back to the parking lot for a grand total of

twenty-two miles and around twelve thousand feet of elevation gained and lost if one reaches the summit. It is perfectly possible to do the hike in one day; I have done it twice, and while it makes for a long day, it is still a fun experience. The nice thing about doing the hike in one day as compared to an overnight trek is that you get to carry less weight. However, from Whitney Portal, people do the hike in increments of one to three days, and possibly more. The trail is the same no matter how long you take, but I guarantee the longer one takes, the more weight one will carry!

With those points in mind, a sample two-day hike to the summit should roughly look like this:

Day Pre-One (Before the Hike): As most people have to travel to Whitney to climb it, my main suggestion is that if you are planning to climb the mountain, you arrive as early as possible the day before you are supposed to leave. For example, if you are planning to hike Whitney on a Saturday, arrive at the Whitney Portal as early as possible on Friday. This allows one to acclimatize as much as possible, which is a large bonus during the hike. As an added benefit an early arrival gives you the opportunity to select one of the better campsites in the Backpackers camp at Whitney Portal!

Day One: I like to get an early start on the trail. It allows me to hopefully get in front of any large groups on the trail, and it allows me take my time, should I require it during the day. I don’t consider the hike to Trail Camp a long hike at approximately six and one half miles, but another advantage to leaving early is that I arrive at my destination sooner, which allows my body more time to rest, recuperate, and acclimatize. The trail to the summit leaves directly from the Whitney Portal parking lot/campground area. The first three miles of trail loops around mostly tree covered switchbacks. At around four miles, the trail arrives at Outpost Camp.

On a personal note, I don’t recommend camping here on a two day trek, because that means one has to walk eighteen miles the next day to summit and return! If you’re considering this as an option, what I would recommend is just summiting Whitney in one day, because its only four miles more, and you will have to carry a lot less gear! Outpost Camp does have one of two composting toilets on the trail, and good access to water. From Outpost Camp it is roughly two and one half miles to Trail Camp, where I suggest spending the night on a two day climb. Almost immediately after Outpost Camp, you will pass above the treeline for the rest of the hike; according to my map and memories, this is somewhere around the five mile mark.

From Outpost to Trail Camp the trail heads upward through a series of steps and switchbacks. At Trail Camp the trail briefly levels out next to Consultation Lake. Trail Camp is roughly six and one half miles up the trail, and good spot to camp because it’s next to a reliable water source (Consultation Lake) and a good spot to acclimatize (Trail Camp is at around 12,000 feet) for the final push to the summit on Day Two.