It’s hard to believe, but the highest peak in the contiguous United States does not require climbing gear or experience to reach the summit. Instead, Mt. Whitney gives hikers the chance to hike up to the highest peak in the lower 48 at 14,505 feet in just one day.
As simple as that may sound though, anyone hoping to summit Mt. Whitney should approach the hike with careful planning and caution. The mix of high elevation, dangerous weather, and inexperienced hikers attracted by the peak’s accessibility makes hiking Mt. Whitney much more dangerous than your average hike. If you’re hoping to hike Mt. Whitney, start your preparation by checking out ASO Mammoth’s tips for a successful summit below!
Know How to Get a Permit
Mt. Whitney is located on the southern end of the Sierra Nevada mountains and within a day’s drive of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. As a result of its proximity to large cities and accessibility to hikers, Mt. Whitney operates on a permit system which only allows 100 hikers and mountaineers to attempt the summit every day. In order to get a permit which allows you to choose the day of your attempt, you must enter a permit lottery that opens in February and runs through March.
While there is always a chance to pick up an unused permit from the Interagency Visitors Center by driving to Lone Pine, the advantage of winning a permit is that you get to choose the date of your hike. Mt. Whitney is still under snow and ice up to May and the weather turns cold again in September and beyond, so if you don’t have experience hiking on ice and snow using crampons and an ice axe then you will want to choose a date that will allow you to avoid bad weather.
Know Your Trail
In order to get a permit though, you must know which trail you’ll be hiking and if you’ll be camping on the mountain the night before or will be hiking in and out in one day. For most people, the trail they’ll want to get a permit for is the main trail which offers hiking access to the summit. The main challenge here is simply the distance and elevation gain as well as any snow and ice on the trail. However, for climbers there is the option of the East Face and the Mountaineers Route which provide a challenging but classic climbing experience on one of America’s best mountains.
Know How to Train
Once you have your permit and know your trail, you can begin to train. Unless you’re an avid hiker with experience at high altitudes, your training for Mt. Whitney should start well ahead of your hike. Although you may be tempted to try Whitney without training due to the fact that you only have to hike, the elevation and distance could put you and the other hikers around you in danger.
One of the most common reasons hikers fail to reach the summit is complications due to the altitude. Hikers may have to turn around due to altitude sickness or simply being unable to hike fast enough to summit and descend within a safe time period. You should have experience hiking at altitude so that you know how hard you need to train in order to hike efficiently.
Fortunately, Mammoth Lakes is already at a high altitude and many local hikes go even higher, but Southern California has several peaks that are great practice for hiking at high altitude as well. You also need to know the strain walking over 20 miles in a day puts on your body and your gear, so find a hike near you near Whitney’s distance and work your way up until you can complete it.
Good luck on your summit attempt, and if you need any hiking gear or information come into ASO Mammoth!