Whitney or Won't We?

Acclimate or Else
  |  Gorp.com

Acclimating to high altitude is a necessity before the hike, and the most convenient place to do it is at Whitney Portal campground, set at 8,000 feet, just a quarter-mile from the trailhead. As soon as you book your permit, reserve your campsite online or by calling (877) 444-6777.

Once you've mastered these logistics, the hike might seem easy by comparison. But just because this trail is extremely popular, it's not to be taken lightly. One of the keys to hiking safely in the High Sierra is acclimatization, giving your body ample time and fuel to adjust to high altitudes. Because of the dramatic elevation gain on the Mt. Whitney Trail, spend as much time as possible at altitude prior to beginning your hike, and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Do not expect to drive up from Lone Pine and begin hiking-without getting sick.The trailhead is located 14 miles west of US 395 in Lone Pine via Whitney Portal Road. Adjacent to the trailhead is the Mt. Whitney Store, a small T-shirt shop and snack stand, and the last place to inquire about current trail conditions.

If you plan on completing the hike in one day, give yourself at least 14 hours, longer if the trail is not completely clear of snow and ice.The hike begins by climbing gently, switchbacking past stands of bone-dry sagebrush and sinewy pinyon pine. After crossing Carillon Creek, the path splashes through the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek .8 miles from the start, offering stunning over-the-shoulder views of the sunrise above the White Mountains through the V-shaped canyon mouth.

Two more miles of moderate climbing through a thickening forest of willow and lodgepole pine lead to a perky waterfall formed by Lone Pine Creek. Just around a corner the cutoff to Lone Pine Lake, a cerulean pond just off the main path, leads down to the left. Mt. Whitney Trail continues westward, the forest thinning to reveal jaw-dropping views of the vertical granite walls so characteristic of the Eastern Sierra. The path levels out at Bighorn Meadow and soon reaches Outpost Camp (3.6 miles, 10,360 feet), an often-crowded overnight spot with a solar latrine. This is one of two areas on the trail open to camping. Fires are prohibited.

From Outpost Camp, Mt. Whitney Trail climbs aggressively toward Mirror Lake (4.3 miles, 10,640 feet), resting in a large cirque below the towering ramparts of Thor Peak. You lose sight of Whitney's summit here, but the view of Mirror Lake from the trail as you climb the southern wall of the cirque is literally breathtaking. For many flatlanders, this is where the thinning air becomes all-too apparent as you boulder hop along the now treeless trail. This is also where your acclimatization and hydration pay off. Learn the signs of Acute Mountain Sickness (nausea, dizziness, headache, fatigue, and disorientation are most common) and heed them well. If one of your group becomes ill, the best assistance you can offer is to escort them down immediately.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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