Whitney or Won't We?

A Whitney Trail Alternative
  |  Gorp.com
Mount Whitney
Mt. Whitney

If the idea of stomping up the Mt. Whitney Trail alongside hundreds of hikers is about as appetizing as crowding onto the 7:30 train on a Monday morning, consider reaching the summit via one of the backcountry routes. One of the best options is a multiday, 42-mile backpacking trek through some of the grandest high country in the Sierras.

The hike begins on land in the Inyo National Forest outside of Lone Pine, California, and rolls through the southern portion of the John Muir Wilderness. You'll set boots on portions of both the Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail. A wilderness permit is required for all overnight stays. During the quota period of the last Friday in June through September 15, permits can be reserved by calling (888) 374-3773 or (760) 938-1136, or by faxing (760) 938-1137. Like the main Whitney summit route, the phone lines are open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and permits cost $3 plus $1 per person. While this is one of the more popular trails in the area, especially on weekends, the daily quota of 60 people per day keeps waffle-stomper gridlock to a minimum.

The trailhead for Cottonwood Lakes and the exit point at Whitney Portal are more than 30 miles apart, so arrange a car shuttle before lighting out. To reach the trailhead from Lone Pine, drive three miles west on Whitney Portal Road to Horseshoe Meadow Road and turn left. Continue about 20 miles up this precipitous two-lane to the signed parking area for the section of Cottonwood Lakes Trail leading to New Army Pass. The hike begins at 10,090 feet, so expect a headache if you haven't acclimated properly.

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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