Day Two: If you are still serious about making the summit at this point, you will definitely want to start early because this will be the day that you do the most hiking. It is approximately four miles to the summit of Mt. Whitney from Trail Camp; and from the summit it is an eleven mile walk back to the parking lot at Whitney Portal. While the descent from the summit to the parking lot is substantially easier and faster, I guarantee that this fifteen mile hike will take a lot of time to complete. One also wants to get an early start to avoid being caught in any potential weather that may develop during the day.
From Trail Camp, the trail immediately heads up the ninety-six switchbacks to the trail crest. Trail Camp sits at just below twelve thousand feet, and the trail crest at the top of the switchbacks is at just over thirteen thousand feet. The ninety-six switchbacks from Trail Camp to the trail crest stretch out for two miles. This is the section of trail that has gained the most notoriety of the whole eleven miles as the “toughest section”. I’m not going to lie to you: it is difficult (I personally don’t think it’s that bad, but that’s just me). Barring altitude sickness, or other unknown factors, this section of the climb will probably determine whether you summit the mountain or not. It is steep; it is exposed; the air is thin; and the mountain seems really far away. From the top of the switchbacks it is still two and one half miles to the summit; however, most of the terrain is a gradual upward slant to the summit along the ridgeline. The last half mile is more or less a straight line up to the summit through a series of large slabs and boulders. After that, there’s only the summit hut and blue sky, because there’s nothing higher for thousands of miles in every direction.
I recommend that from Trail Camp to the summit on the second day one only carries the bare essentials – water, food, and extra clothes. Most people leave their tents set up at Trail Camp, and if you store your food in bear canisters (discussed later), you won’t have to worry about marmots chewing holes in your gear. By carrying less gear you save energy and give yourself a small advantage while completing the most strenuous part of the hike. After summiting, you can pick up your gear at Trail Camp, and rest for a little bit if necessary. After that you can walk the rest of the way downhill to the parking lot which should seem like an easy stroll at that point in the day! Once you reach the parking lot, it’s great just to relax and make crazy promises about never walking or climbing mountains again.