How to Hike Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney is the highest point on the United States mainland. It is located in California and is 14,505 feet (4,418.69 m) above sea level at its highest point, although the hike begins at 8,360 feet (2,548.13 m) above sea level if approaching from the east, at Whitney Portal. Those who intend to hike this mountain must obtain a permit to do so during certain times of the year and must be in good physical condition. The following is a guide on how to hike Mount Whitney from the east.


  1. 1
    Obtain a permit to hike Mount Whitney.
    • If you intend to hike the mountain between May 1 and November 1, a permit is required.
    • Contact the Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center at (760) 876-6200 or see the Inyo National Forest Service website for details on how to obtain a permit. The rules for obtaining a permit vary depending on how long your hike will be and when you intend to embark on it.
    • The application to obtain a permit for the popular summer months must be submitted by February 15 to enter a lottery system, which is how the recipients of permits are determined.
    • You should receive a response with regard to the status of your permit application by early April.
    • Mt. Whitney may be approached from other trailheads north, south and west of the peak but all of the other trails involve several days of backpacking. Permits may be obtained through Inyo National Forest and Sequoia National Park.
  2. 2
    Plan your hike.
    • Learn about acute mountain sickness (AMS), how to recognize it and what to do if you develop symptoms. AMS is a very real concern, especially for those attempting to hike Mt. Whitney as a day hike. The risk of developing AMS can be reduced by staying at an intermediate elevation such as Whitney Portal for two nights prior to the hike.
    • Get as physically fit as you can. The hike is strenuous, with a large elevation gain, so start training several months before the hike. Try to hike steep hills and take long hikes to simulate the long hike to the summit.
    • Assemble your gear and make a checklist so you don't forget anything.
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    Dress appropriately to hike Mount Whitney. It may be warm in the desert on the east side of the Sierra but at over 14,000 feet the temperature will be much colder and afternoon thundershowers are possible. Wear breathable synthetic, wool or down clothing, not cotton.
    • Wear sturdy hiking boots and synthetic or wool socks.
    • Bring warm pants and a rain jacket, even if it is warm and dry down below. Bring a lightweight down jacket or fleece for additional warmth.
    • Wear a hat to protect your head from the sun and/or keep your head warm in cold conditions. A baseball cap will suffice on warm days, but you should bring a fleece or wool hat in case it is cold at the top.
    • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun.
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    Pack the appropriate supplies to hike Mount Whitney.
    • Pack plenty of water. One gallon (3.79 L) should suffice, but pack extra if you typically become thirsty often during hikes. There are water sources along the way so bring a water filter or other purification method.
    • Pack a flashlight in case you have to hike at night, whether you intend to do so or not.
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    • Pack a bear canister. This is a bear-resistant food-storage device that will help keep bears and other wildlife from eating your food.
    • For breakfast and lunch meals, pack foods with high amounts of carbohydrates. The human body breaks these down quickly and they will help fuel your body for your hike. Bring bland, easily digestible foods as your appetite may decrease at altitude.
    • For dinner meals, pack foods that contain plenty of fats and proteins. Fats help insulate the body for the lower night temperatures and proteins help rebuild the muscles and tissues that wore down during the day.
    • Pack a Wag Bag and toilet paper, as all solid human waste must be taken off the mountain with you.
    • Pack a sleeping bag and a tent if you plan to stay overnight.
    • Take a trail map and a compass or GPS device. The trail map will guide you during your hike and the compass or GPS device will help you navigate if you become lost.
    • Pack sun screen and insect repellent to protect yourself from the sun and insects.
    • Pack a first aid kit that includes bandaids and over the counter medications such as ibuprofen.
    • Pack an ice-axe and crampons if you are hiking during the winter. Crampons are traction devices that improve the ability to maneuver on snow or ice.
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    Hike Mount Whitney.
    • Mount Whitney is located east of Lone Pine, California off of US Highway 395. View directions on how to get there on the Internet or call (760) 876-6200 for directions.
    • Drive from Lone Pine to Whitney Portal, where the trail begins.
    • Stay on the trail at all times. Use your map to verify your location.
    • There is an elevation gain of 6,137 feet (1,870.56 m). If you develop symptoms of acute mountain sickness stop and evaluate whether you can go on, depending on the severity of symptoms, time of day and other factors.
    • The hike is approximately 22 miles (35.41 km) round trip.
    • Most people take 1 to 3 days to complete this hike.


  • Make sure that you are in good physical condition, as there is a large elevation gain over rocky terrain and potential problems that can be caused by the decreased amount of oxygen at high altitudes. Two-thirds of those who attempt to hike Mount Whitney abort the hike without finishing it.


  • The last several miles of the trail are above 13,600 feet (4,145.28 m) in elevation. Oxygen is somewhat scarce at this altitude, so the difficulty to breathe will be greater and greater as you near the summit.
  • Know how to recognize acute mountain sickness[1] and descend if you develop symptoms.

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Categories: Backpacking and Hiking