• Giant Sequoia Trees

    Sequoia & Kings Canyon

    National Parks California

Climbing Mt. Whitney

Moon over Mt. Whitney photo © by Jim Baumgardt, Image Counts, www.ImageCounts.com
Moon over Mt. Whitney.
Photo © by Jim Baumgardt, Image Counts, www.ImageCounts.com
 

Accessing Mt. Whitney
Many visitors to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are interested in seeing Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the "lower 48" states. However, Mt. Whitney is on the east side of the Great Western Divide, a chain of mountains that runs north/south through the center of Sequoia National Park, "dividing" the watersheds of the Kaweah River to the west and the Kern River to the east. Because many of the snowcapped peaks in the Great Western Divide reach altitudes of 12,000' (3657 meters) or higher, it is impossible to see over them to view Mt. Whitney from any of the roads on the west side of the Sierra. The best place from which to see Mt. Whitney is the Interagency Visitor Center on Highway 395, just south of the town of Lone Pine on the east side of the Sierra. Highway 395 can be reached via Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park (open summer only), or by going around the southern end of the Sierra from the town of Bakersfield. There are no roads across the Sierra in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Know Before You Go
Mt. Whitney is the most frequently climbed mountain peak in the Sierra Nevada, if not in the U.S. Because of this, the National Park Service, along with the U.S. Forest Service (which manages the Whitney Portal Trailhead), have implemented a permit system to minimize the impact of day-hikers on the Mt. Whitney backcountry. All hikers entering the Mt. Whitney zone, including day-hikers, are required to obtain a permit-either your park wilderness permit if you are entering the zone from the west or an Inyo National Forest Whitney Zone permit if you are entering from the east.

Mt. Whitney can be most directly reached by a 10.7 mile (17.1 km) trail from Whitney Portal, 13 miles (21 km) west of the town of Lone Pine on the east side of the Sierra. Ice axes and crampons are needed in spring and early summer, but technical climbing equipment is not usually necessary between mid-July and early October. The elevation at the trailhead is 8360' (2550 meters). The elevation at the summit is 14,494' (4418 meters). Altitude sickness is an illness that can occur when at high altitude (typically above 8,000 feet or 2,400 m). Symptoms of mild to moderate altitude sickness include dizziness, fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, and rapid heart rate. The best treatment for altitude sickness is to descend to a lower altitude.

Permits for this trailhead must be obtained through the Inyo National Forest. Please read the reservation information provided by the Forest Service if you are interested in going to Mt. Whitney from Whitney Portal. Contact the Mt. Whitney Ranger District, PO Box 8, Lone Pine, CA 93545, 760-876-6200, for additional information about this trailhead.

There are other routes besides Whitney Portal from which to reach Mt. Whitney. These leave from less heavily-used trailheads, but require a longer hike to reach the summit. The High Sierra Trail leaves from Giant Forest on the west side of Sequoia National Park, and takes a minimum of 6 days (shuttle trip) or 10 days (round trip) to complete. The Sequoia Natural History Association's bookstore offers books and maps for planning hikes to Mt. Whitney and elsewhere in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon areas. Remember, backcountry permits are required for all overnight travel in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

 
Aerial view of Mt. Whitney and Mt. Langley.
Aerial view from the west looking east up the Whitney Creek drainage over Mt. Whitney (high peak on left) and Mt. Langley (high peak on right).
NPS Photo

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