Ascent of Mount Whitney on 2013-08-23

Climber: Peter Stone

Others in Party:Jill Stone
Twm Stone
David Stone
Ceri Stone
Patrick Stone
Date:Friday, August 23, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Mount Whitney
    Elevation:14498 ft / 4418 m

Ascent Trip Report

I've wanted to climb Whitney for many years, for all the usual reasons. However, planning a trip and getting permits for the whole family from a foreign land is a challenge even in the age of the internet. Not least making the choice between a very tough day-hike or a physically easier but logistically more complicated multi-day hike. As a family with younger children (age 11 and up) I knew they wouldn't be able to complete the full 22 miles, with 7,000 feet of ascent, in just one day and still enjoy it; but for an overnighter the permits are fewer and I wasn't sure how much of their own kit and supplies they'd be able to carry.

In the end we opted for a 3-day/2-night trip sleeping at Outpost Camp each way so as to minimise the carrying of weight above 10,000 feet. In retrospect I'm sure this was the correct decision. Outpost Camp has other advantages over Trail Camp too: a lower altitude (better for sleeping), less busy, more sheltered, warmer, prettier and wooded. The only disadvantages of using Outpost Camp are the longer summit day (13.8 miles Outpost Camp to summit round-trip, rather than 9.4 miles return from Trail Camp, but still much better than a 21.4 mile day-hike), the fact that sleeping there makes it more difficult to make the trip a one night trip (but why rush it, an overnight permit allows you to stay as long as you like, only the entry date is fixed) and the fact that some inconsiderate noisy day-hikers do pass through very early in the morning disturbing your sleep

We'd spent the previous week in the White Mountains (camping at Grandview Campground, visiting the bristlecone pines, and climbing White Mountain Peak and Boundary Peak) so our acclimatisation was good, but we couldn't leave for the mountain until we'd sorted out some logistic issues. Firstly we had to use our Lone Pine hotel's wi-fi to check our son's GCSE exam results and confirm acceptance by email of a place at his first choice school for A-levels. This completed we ate a hefty breakfast and then visited the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center just south of town to pick up our permit, 6 WAG bags and 2 (rather bulky) bear cannisters. After shopping for extra supplies at Joseph's Bi-Rite we left all unwanted food and perfumed items at the Whitney Portal Hostel to avoid the need for storage at the trailhead. We then drove the 13 miles up to the Whitney Portal parking lot. It was very busy so had to use the overflow section. We hit the trail at 13:45. The lower wooded section and Lone Pine Lake are very pretty so it was good to see them in the daylight. We made Outpost Camp at 17:00 and set up our tents before tucking into supper.

The next day we set off just before sunrise at 05:45 with a nearly full moon to aid our journey. The trail itself is marvellously constructed and easy to follow even in reduced light. The grade steepens from this point but we were at Trail Camp by 07:45 and were surprised to see ice in August on some of the small pools. After filling up with additional water and eating part 2 of our breakfast we embarked on the infamous switchbacks up to Trail Crest. However, despite being long and a little tedious they are well graded and not nearly as dispiriting as some suggest. Entering the Sequoia National Park at Trail Crest gives a completely different and even more spectacular set of views, but someone arriving at this point with a gun or a dog is obliged to turn back according to the NPS sign. One then has to lose a little altitude on the western side of the crest before making the final traverse and gradual ascent up to the 14,508 feet top (latest survey data). We summitted at 11:45 and spent around half an hour there signing the summit register, taking photos, chatting with some of the assorted crowd, counting benchmarks, inspecting the Smithsonian Institution Shelter and entertaining a marmot. We were back in Outpost Camp at 16:45, so for a mixed ability family it was an 11 hour summit day: 6 hours up and 4.5 hours down.

After a solid night's sleep we exited the next day, breaking camp at 06:30. A steady hike back to the trailhead and we made it into Lone Pine in time to have a celebratory brunch at the very welcoming Alabama Hills Cafe.

Distances & Elevations:
The Inyo National Forest folk give out a useful sheet with your permit with the following information to help plan your hike:
Trailhead: 0 miles, 8,360'
Lone Pine Lake: 2.6 mi, 10,000'
Mt Whitney Zone: 2.7 mi, 10,000'
Outpost Camp: 3.8 mi, 10,500'
Trail Camp: 6.0 mi, 12,000'
Trail Crest: 8.7 mi, 13,600'
Mt Whitney Summit: 10.7 mi, 14,505'

Permits (correct as of 2013 but things change, please check the latest situation for yourself):
The application process by lottery in February/March is well described on the and Inyo National Forest websites. I'm told small parties can usually pick up day-hike cancellations/no-shows midweek from the Interagency Visitor Center, even in July/August, but as a party of 6 wanting overnight permits and flying in from Europe I wasn't prepared to take the risk. I've been entering the lottery by post and more recently online for many years in the hope of getting a slot: 2013 was the year I got lucky. Actually ‘lucky’ isn't quite the correct word; rather than once again submitting just one application we used some simple statistical analysis of previous lottery results and worked out the number of multiple entries we had to make to have a realistic chance of success; $6 for each entry but overall a negligible proportion of the total cost of a climb. Of note we didn't have our permits checked at any stage anyway - don't know how common that is but perhaps stealth ascents are possible or even commonly achieved (not that the perpetrators would advertise it on this website perhaps).
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
The Smithsonian Institution Shelter atop Mount Whitney (2013-08-23). Photo by Peter Stone.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:7138 ft / 2175 m
    Extra Gain:500 ft / 152 m
    Round-Trip Distance:21.4 mi / 34.4 km
    Route:Mount Whitney Trail
    Trailhead:Whitney Portal Trailhead  8360 ft / 2548 m
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Cool, Calm, Clear

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