At 4421m, Mount Whitney is the highest elevation in the lower 48 states of the USA. Amazingly, it is only 136km from Death Valley, the lowest point in North America.
The eastern slope of Whitney is far steeper than its western slope. From the East, a return trip to the summit takes only one day. The Whitney Portal trailhead starts just east of the town Lone Pine. The hike is about 36 miles with a total gain in elevation of 16249 feet and a total decent of 17827 feet.
A hiking permit is required. It is highly recommended to apply for the permit as early as possible since the hike is extremely popular and crowded.
View of Mount Whitney from the Whitney Portal camp ground / Chicken Spring Lake
The approach from the West is much more scenic and rewarding. It takes several days depending on the entry point. Hiking permits as much easier to come by. A very nice three day hike starts from the Cottonwood lakes via Cottonwood pass. It is the best to have two vehicles for this hike. Leave one car at the Portal and take the second to follow Horseshoe Meadows Road to the Horseshoe Meadow Campgrounds at an altitude of about 3000m. Take the trailhead towards Cottonwood Pass. Here the trail merges with the Pacific Crest Trai. At this point, the trail is comprised of deep sand mixed with horse manure. Hiking with a heavy backpack can be strenuous at times. Right after the pass, Scenic Chicken Spring Lake is reached.
From there is s crosses the slopes of Cirque Peak at constant altitude until it starts to descend towards Rock Creek. The trail is now cooled by the shade of tall pines. The meadows at Rock Creek are of mesmerizing beauty and an awesome place to spend the first night. Day starts with a lovely easy walk along Rock Creek. Water supplies can be replenished here. A pump with filter is recommended. Just when you think this hike is a walk in the park, the trail will turn north with a rather steep switchback ascent towards Guyot Flat. The trail winds long the slopes of Mount Chamberlin until Crabtree Meadow were it meets John Muir Trail. This is the ideal spot for the second night. Try to be there early and to hike up into the valley between Mt. Young, Mt. Hitchcock and Mt. Whitney as far as you can. You will find nice spots covered with lush meadows and trees.
Pacific Crest Trail / Upper Crabtree Meadows
Even during summer, temperatures drop below zero at night. Your water bottles could be frozen in the morning. It is recommended to store them inside your sleeping back so that you have something to drink in the morning. Get up early because this will be a long day. At 3400m, meadows give way to boulders. You are now in the vicinity of Guitar Lake and the steep wall towards the rim between Mt. Muir and Mt. Whitney comes into full view. With a little imagination you can picture yourself in the Western Cwn hiking up to the South Col of Mount Everest. The switchbacks towards the Trail Crest are perhaps the biggest challenge of the entire tour. Reaching the crest is a deceptive accomplishment. Don’t be lured into thinking that it is done. The hike around Mt. Muir to Mt. Whitney along the rim is gentle but high altitude. The final stretch is across a waste field of large rock blocks and sheets.
Guitar lake from the switchbacks towards the Trail Crest / Summit hut
You will see the summit hut and just behind it you will reach the ledge with a breathtaking view down to the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine and into Nevada. You made it ! The hike down to Whitney Portal is a breeze but fairly long. If you started to 6 a.m. at Crabtree Meadows, you will be down around 7 to 8 p.m. From here you need to get back to Horseshoe Meadows to pick up the vehicle you left there three days earlier.
View from the eastern slopes of Mount Whitney towards the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine