Frequently Asked Questions...
by backpackers

Where is Mt. Whitney?
How high is Mt. Whitney?
What is distance I will have to hike to summit Mt. Whitney?
Where is the Mt. Whitney Ranger Station?
There wasn't an answer when I called Mt. Whitney Ranger Station. What do I do?
Do two or more day hike permits equal a backpacking permit?
If I have a backpacking permit can I start my trip any of the days listed on my permit?
What happens if I get caught in the Whitney Zone either with the wrong permit or with no permit?
How do I get a permit?
How will I know if "I hit the lottery"?
How many permits are available on a daily basis?
How much does a permit cost?
Where do I pick up my permit?
What is an Exit Permit or Trail Crest Permit?
Do I need a permit for Sequoia National Park/Kings Canyon if I'm entering either of these parks from an Inyo National Forest trailhead?

Do I need additional permits to camp at either Outpost Camp or Trail Camp?
Are there other places to camp on the Main Mt. Whitney Trail?
Do I need a bear resistant canister?
Can I rent a bear resistant canister in Lone Pine?
Does my permit entitle me to a campsite at Whitney Portal?
If Whitney Portal is sold out are there other places to camp for a couple days near by?
I didn't apply for a permit/I applied but my application was rejected. What can I do to hike The Main Mt. Whitney Trail this season?

Do I need a permit between November 2nd and April 30th?
When it snows where do they close Whitney Portal Rd.?
What are the facilities like at Whitney Portal?
Does a cell phone work at Whitney Portal?
Are bears a problem at Whitney Portal?
What is the service industry like in Lone Pine?
Are there any other trailheads in the area?
What is the trail like?
Does the trail require any mountaineering skills?
Are there any dangerous sections along the trail?
Where is the last place to get water?
How much water should I take up with me up to the peak from Trail Camp?
How difficult are the 96 Switchbacks?
What is the chute?
What is the weather like?
Will my cell phone work on Mt. Whitney?
Who do I call if I need to be rescued on the mountain?
What piece of gear would you not do without when hiking Mt. Whitney?
Where did you buy most of your gear?
Do I really have to acclimatize to the elevation?



Q: Where is Mt. Whitney?
A: Centrally located at the southern end of the eastern Sierra west of Lone Pine with easy access from the Los Angeles Basin (200 to 275 miles), San Francisco Bay Area (300 to 370 miles), San Diego Area (275 to 350 miles) and Las Vegas (220 to 240 miles).

Q: How high is Mt. Whitney?
A: 14,497.61'/4,420M

Q: What is distance I will have to hike to summit Mt. Whitney?
A: It depends on the route you take. The main trail is 22 miles, The Mountaineering Route is under 10 miles, The Horseshoe Meadow trailheads are ~42 miles, Onion Valley is ~47 miles and the High Sierra Trail from Crescent Meadow Trailhead in Sequoia National Park is around 70 miles.

Q: Where is the Mt. Whitney Ranger Station?
A: The Mt. Whitney Rangers Station has moved from Inyo St. and 395 but is not where you pick up your permits. You must go south of town to the Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitors Center. You cannot pick up your Mt. Whitney Zone Permits anywhere else.

Q: There wasn't an answer when I called Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitors Center. What do I do?
A: We would suggest you call the White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop, this might not be the right answer but this what I'd do.

Q: Do two or more day hike permits equal a backpacking permit?
A: Ah, no! Starting in 2001 you and everyone in your group has to have a permit, which is color coded and dated, affixed to your pack. This means the rangers can see from a distance which type of permit you have and the date on that permit. Also, use your common sense if a ranger sees you lugging a big old Marmot Terraplane up the trail and you have a day hike permit hanging from it figure on being turned around and possibly fined.

Q: If I have a backpacking permit can I start my trip any of the days listed on my permit?
A: NO!! If you don't start the day you have listed as a start date your permit is considered invalid.

Q: What happens if I get caught in the Whitney Zone either with the wrong permit or with no permit?
A: You can be turned around or turned around and fined. The fine is $200 for backpacking without a valid permit.

Q: How do I get a permit?
A: You enter the permit lottery on February 1st via fax or mail if you want any chance at all for a prime main trail date from 4th of July to Labor Day, after the lottery in 2006 there were 3 permits left for this two month period. If want to start your trip on any other trail in the Inyo National Forest and conclude it at Whitney Portal call the Wilderness Reservation Office six months prior to the day you want to enter the forest. Those of you who want to do a Trans-Sierra trip originating Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Park you will have to call these parks on starting on March 1st for permits.

If you miss out on the lottery check the Wilderness Permits Date Availablity Page in April. The Inyo will list all the dates not taken in the lottery, mostly May, June and October dates.

Those backpacking permits left will be available to the public on the following dates, do not expect to see any back packing permit available between 4th of July and Labor Day Weekends:

3rd Wednesday in April 23, 2008:        For Trips beginning in May or June

4th Wednesday in April 30, 2008:        For Trips beginning in July

1st Wednesday in May 7, 2008:            For Trips beginning in August

2nd Wednesday in May 14, 2008:         For Trips beginning in September or later

Q: How will I know if "I hit the lottery"?
A: You will be contacted by mail around 3/1 if you are lucky or not so lucky. You can, also, check your credit card billing if you get antsy.

Q: How many permits are available on a daily basis?
A: There are 60 permits/day for the main trail; 25 permits/day from Inyo National Forest trailheads exiting through Trail Crest (this is called an exit or Trail Crest permit) and 13 for the Mountaineering Route. The Main Trail is 100% reservable; all other trails the Inyo holds back 40% of the permits for walk-ins.

The High Sierra Trail starting at Crescent Meadow in Sequoia National Park has a quota of 30/day.

Q: How much does a permit cost?
A: It depends. Advance reservations for the Whitney Zone are $15/person and $5/person for backpacking permits not entering the Whitney Zone. Those who will be entering from another trailhead (Onion Valley or Horseshoe Meadow Trailheads) and entering Sequoia-Kings Canyon on there way to Mt. Whitney will be asked to pay their backpacking permit fee. All walk-ins are free but if you do it's roll the dice and take your chances.

The permits for the High Sierra Trail are $10/person.

Q: Where do I pick up my permit?
A: The Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitors Center at CA 136 and U.S. 395 is the only place to pick up you Mt. Whitney Zone Permits.

Q: What is an Exit Permit or Trail Crest Permit?
A: Although listed as a trailhead on the Inyo's roster of trailhead Trail Crest isn't one. It is the gateway to The Main Mt. Whitney Trail for all other Inyo National Forest trailheads. The Inyo controls how many people enter the main trail from other trailheads at this point rather than having individual quotas for the other trailheads. The 40% holdback of permits for walk-ins applies here.

Q: Do I need a permit for Sequoia National Park/Kings Canyon if I'm entering either of these parks from an Inyo National Forest trailhead?
A: No. The same applies if you enter in a National Park and exit the wilderness at Whitney Portal.

Q: Do I need additional permits to camp at either Outpost Camp or Trail Camp?
A: No. These are not High Sierra Camps like you find in Yosemite where you have to make reservations for food and shelter; they are highly over used trail camps.

Q: Are there other places to camp on the Main Mt. Whitney Trail?
A: Yes, but there is an inconsistency between the Inyo National Forest's website and their literature. The website says anywhere there is a flat spot where you can legally camp, like 100' away from a water source but the literature says Mirror Lake and Trailside Meadow are closed to camping, there were signs stating such at both locations in 2002.

Q: Do I need a bear resistant canister?
A: All backpackers on the Main Mt. Whitney Trail are required to have something bear resistant.

In 2009 the Inyo National Forest canister rules were anything manufactured to be bear resistant. This meant Ursacks were legal. However, Ursack lost its suit with the feds last fall; therefore, check the Inyo's website for what they deem acceptable before bring your perfectly fine Ursack.

If you enter Sequoia, King Canyon or Yosemite National Park from a national forest, their more stringent canister rules apply.

Check the forest or park you will be entering for their requirements.

Q: Can I rent a bear resistant canister in Lone Pine?
A: Yes, at the ranger station and The Whitney Portal Store in Lone Pine or at the Portal for ~$2.00/day. If you are going to be using a canister in the future the Portal Store offers the best price for one anywhere, $49.75 + tax.

Q: Does my permit entitle me to a campsite at Whitney Portal?
A: No, campsites reservations are handled by Recreation.gov. However, there are 16 hiker-in campsites. These sites are good for one night only. Hint...only 1/2 of the multi-day sites are reservable in advance the other half are available at Whitney Portal, see the campground manager. His trailer is located in the family campground near site #34 for 2003. Just be there by noon Friday if you want to assure a site for the weekend.

Q: If Whitney Portal is sold out are there other places to camp for a couple days near by?
A: Yes, the closest is Lone Pine Campground at 5,600' off of Whitney Portal Road. It is your basic forest service campground with running water and bathrooms. However, it will be in the 90's during the day in the summer. Further east are Tuttle Creek, a BLM campground, with no running water and Portege Joe's near Lone Pine, this one is to be avoided at all costs during the summer months. If you want to go to the land of 10,000' head over to Horseshoe Meadow there are about 30 or so campsites between the Cottonwood Lakes and Cottonwood Pass Trailheads.

Lone Pine Campground is reservable the rest are available on a first come; first serve basis.

Q: I didn't apply for a permit/I applied but my application was rejected. What can I do to hike The Main Mt. Whitney Trail this season?
A: After the lottery the Inyo National Forest posts the dates available. The link changes every year, so go their website's Mt. Whitney area.

Q: Do I need a permit between November 2nd and April 30th?
A: Yes, if you enter the Whitney Zone.

Q: When it snows where do they close Whitney Portal Rd.?
A: When the first snow comes the Inyo County places a portable barrier across the road in either of three spots, Los Olivos Rd., Lone Pine Campground entrance or as the road turns north on it's way to the first switchback, there is plenty of parking on the north side of the road at this location (~4 miles short of the trailhead). These signs are universally ignored.

You should exercise caution when going beyond these signs. There is usually plenty of rock fall on the road, more and more as the winter progresses from the freeze and thaw process. The road is not plowed and if you you get snowed or rocked in at the Portal you will see your car again in the spring, more than likely in the Inyo County impound lot.

It is my understanding the Inyo Co. Sheriff can ticket you for ignoring the sign but this is rare but don't say you haven't been warned, I guess it depend on what side of the bed the sheriff got up on in the morning.

Q: What are the facilities like at Whitney Portal?
A: First Class for a forest service campground. Primarily because of the Whitney Portal Store and its owners, Doug and Earlene Thompson. Please support the folks with your patronage.

Q: Does a cell phone work at Whitney Portal?
A: This is a hit or miss thing. Neither my AT& T Wireless nor Cingular phones worked at the Portal as of June 2004.

Q: Are bears a problem at Whitney Portal?
A: Yes, according to the folks at the Whitney Portal Store there are about 3 bears roaming the area in 2003, including a 400 pounder who has be hanging out at the family campground. We further recommend utilizing the restaurant at the Whitney Portal Store. The food is reasonably priced, good and the portions are huge (especially breakfast) and it minimizes the chances of your car being broken into. In 2001 the forest service was aggressively ticketing people for leaving food and coolers unattended in their vehicles to the tune of $150 a pop, and the rangers do check inside your cars.

Q: What is the service industry like in Lone Pine?
A: See our Area Guide. There ain't a lot but there are some good places to eat and stay.

Q: Are there any other trailheads in the area?
A: This is prime backpacking country. If you are looking for an acclimatization hike other than the main trail either head up the Meysan Lake Trail, the trailhead is at the east end of the family campground, or you can head over to Horseshoe Meadow, about 33 miles south of Whitney Portal as the car drives.

If you are a walk-in who doesn't get a Main Trail permit head up to Cottonwood Lakes/New Army Pass Trail and and challenge the 14,023' Mt. Langley.

Q: What is the trail like?
A: Between the Trailhead and Mirror Lake it is fairly easy. The trail is dirt and the climbs are relatively easy. However, the 2 1/2 miles between Outpost Camp and Trail Camp is a mess; steps, unevenness and hard to follow between Mirror Lake and Trailside Meadow. The trail conditions from the Trail Camp to the summit have deteriorated since 2000, when there was major work done in this area. Going was much slower last year than it was in 2004, the last time we hiked this section of trail.

Q: Does the trail require any mountaineering skills?
A: Yes and no. Once the snow clears off the mountain all that is required that you be able to put one foot in front of the other for 22 miles. However, in the spring and early summer you will need some mountaineering skills and winter clothing to hike on this mountain. These items include ice axe, crampons, waterproof/breathable or water resistant pants and gaiters. You will also need to know how to use this equipment before heading up the mountain. Are you prepared for a 1,000' high angle glissade?

In June 2003 and October 2005 hikers were killed as they attempted to glissade late in the day without the proper equipment.

Q: Are there any dangerous sections along the trail?
A: In a word yes. There are three areas you should exercise caution when passing through. They are: between Trailside Meadow and Consultation Lake early in the year before the trail has totally melted, the cabled sections in the middle of the 96 Switchbacks area and the "windows" on the west side. The reason for the cables (at ~12,850') is this area holds ice and snow well into the summer (it returns early in the fall, too) and the trail is canted toward the cables, if there is no ice; there are no problems. We recommend you carry, at minimum, instep crampons for traversing this area early and late (May- Mid-July and once the snow returns in the fall) in the hiking season after a normal winter. The 4 "windows" give some people the willies because there are up to 1,500' drop offs on each side of the trail. The trail is about 5' wide for the first 3 "windows" and it is about 7 to 8' for the 4th "window" (from south to north). If you have problems with heights just look at the ground; not the openings while crossing these areas.

During seven trips through the "windows" we have seen only one person have any kind of trouble passing through these areas.  We have never seen anyone turn around and head down because of them.

Q: Where is the last place to get water?
A: This should not be a concern for a backpacker. There is water at key locations from Whitney Portal to Trail Camp, just look at your maps. From Trail Camp to the summit the only water flows over about 10 switchbacks at the 12,400' to 12,600' level  and is a good source of water for your return if you are runnning low or just want some ice cold water, this source is seasonal and can be gone by late summer after a dry winter, it was dry in September 2004 and 2009.

Q: How much water should I take up with me up to the peak from Trail Camp?
A: A lot depends the ambient temperature, humidity and your own rate of consumption when you depart either Outpost Camp or Trail Camp on your way to the summit. We usually will take 3.7 quarts of water for the 10 mile round trip from Trail Camp, we know this might be excessive but if you get stuck up there for any reason you'll be glad you carried a couple of extra pounds.

Q: How difficult are the 96 Switchbacks?
A: A lot easier for you starting from Trail Camp than for the day hiker starting at Whitney Portal. They just seem never ending.

Q: What is the chute?
A: The chute is utilized early in the season when the 96 Switchbacks are still blocked by snow. The chute is located near the base of the Sierra Crest  and ends at Trail Crest (13,600'). This is a high angle ascent which requires an ice axe, gaiters, crampons, Gore-Tex pants for the glissade back down and the knowledge of how to self arrest. During the summer you can see the trail back to the chute from the trail going up to Trail Crest.

Q: What is the weather like?
A: We are asked this question more than any other question and it is impossible to answer. Here are the tools we use. The Bishop (4,000') temperatures and forecasts. The forecast gives what the weather is going be like in the area. We use the temperature and elevation as base for calculating the temperature at higher elevations (use -4º F /1,000' above the base elevation). We also us the California Water Resources Board's Cottonwood and Crabtree Reporting Stations to confirm the Bishop readings and for historical temperatures, the latter to get an average of the last couple of years temperatures. Lastly, we take a look at the White Mountain Temperature reading a day or so before leaving at about the time we will be summiting for confirmation of the other two sources. All three sources are available on our links page.

Q: Will my cell phone work on Mt. Whitney?
A: This is the $64,000 question. It might, mine didn't in 2001. We saw a guy walking around the summit trying to locate a signal but didn't in 2002. Just make sure you throw the phone in your sleeping bag at Trail Camp or your batteries might drain to zero charge.

Q: Who do I call if I need to be rescued on the mountain?
A: You call the Inyo County Sheriff's Dispatcher at 760-876-5606, program this number into your phone before you leave home. Because you have clear line of many directions on the summit and west side your 911 call not end up with the Inyo Co. Sheriffs Department Dispatcher.

Q: What piece of gear would you not do without when hiking Mt. Whitney?
A: Trekking poles, end of issue.

Q: Where did you buy most of your gear?
A: Currently, we get most of our gear from the following retailers and internet discounters REI, REI-Outlet, Sierra Trading Post and backcountrygear.com.

Don't pay retail for any of this stuff, if you can help it.

Q: Do I really have to acclimatize to the elevation?
A: Our feeling is yes you do and this is confirmed by a Colorado study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine which states 42% of people will have some symptoms of AMS over 10,000'. Risk factors include living under 2,800', previous bouts with AMS and cardiopulmonary conditions. People over 50 are less suspectible and young children are more suspectible. You spent the big bucks to get here spend an extra day or two acclimatizing to give yourself a better chance of success. Personally, we have had AMS problems as low 7,500' and we live at 1,600'.


The Mt. Whitney Backpacking Page
  Home | The Main Mt. Whitney Trail | Spring on Mt. Whitney | New Army Pass to Whitney Portal
  Cottonwood Pass to Whitney Portal | Onion Valley to Whitney Portal | Main Trail Alternative | The Mountaineering Route | Mt. Langley | Gear
  The Light Way | Food | SoCal Training Trips | Planning | Permit Strategies
  Gear & Trail Tips

The Mt. Whitney Day Hike Page
   Home | The Whitney Experience | Mt. Langley | White Mountain | Planning | Gear, Food and Clothing | The Light Way | Day Hiking FAQ | SoCal Training Ideas

Shared Pages

Photo Gallery | Trail Map | Directions | Message Board | Area Guide | Guide Books | Basic Information | Links
Travel on Snow and Ice | Trail Dangers | Finding A Wilderness Experience |  Permit 2008 | The Blog


E-Mail any questions or comments

 
Date of Last Change: 12/22/09