So many people have helped ease my concerns and/or have given me hints about things to consider when climbing Whitney in a day. So I hope that I can add my experiences and maybe help someone else out.
My two teenage sons, ages 17 and 14 and I, along with a last minute adult tag-along, since our original adult acquaintance cancelled, started the hike up the old trail at Whitney Portal at 1:00 AM. (My husband and daughter couldn't/didn't want to climb Whitney---in that order, so I was looking for another adult to help me in case I got into trouble).
With that said, for us, leaving the portal at 1:00 AM was the right thing to do and taking the old route, although more strenuous, saved us a bunch of time and we never got our feet wet, although we'd met many others who had. And on the return trip to the portal, we sure needed the extra psychological boost at the end knowing that we didn't have to cross yet another stream!
We actually made good time and arrived at Trail Crest around 5:00 AM, just as the sun was coming up. I've never seen a more beautiful sight. Even my teenagers were impressed...and for those of you who have teens, you know how hard it is to get a positive reaction out of something that is not a new video game etc!
Along the trail, there were a lot of spots that still had a little ice, so whoever was the leader, out of the four of us, had to warn the others so that we could make sure we slowed down and firmly planted out trekking poles. We had head lamps and an almost full moon, but it was still hard to see the ice. The weather was perfect. About 40 degrees at the portal and no wind so we pretty much had about 40 to 50 degrees until we reached trail camp. We did lose our way a few times in the dark, but we all fanned out until someone found the trail and it was no more than a minute before we were on the right track again.
We left our day packs at Trail Camp, and even though it was warm there, I had heard others on this forum say that it was cold at Trail Crest, so we took some food and a full bladder of water along with some emergency supplies and our crampons in a very small hydration day pack, and started up the switchbacks. (Note--we never used our crampons. It was comforting to know that we had them and as a mom, I wanted to make sure that nothing happened to my two boys, but several others on this forum had said that you don't need crampons--AND YOU DON'T--and they are heavy to lug around. So take it from a Mom, leave the ice axe and the crampons at home!)
Our tag-along adult was not in tip-top shape so it took us a while to get to Trail Crest. The ice fields are interesting because I sure didn't want to break a leg traversing them, but my boys just ran along the top path while I and the other adult, took our time in the deep trench path...we all made it, but to the boys, it was just another fun thing to do! And yes, we could have put on crampons at that point, but it was just too much bother and you would have to put them on, take them off, put them back on etc at various places along the way.
The last 1.9 miles to the summit was the most intersting. We thought we were about a mile from the summit when we saw the first hiker of the day coming down the trail. We went another 20 minutes and we asked the next hiker how much further to the summit, the answer, "a mile". We went another 20 minutes, the next hiker tells us "a mile". This happened 4 times and it became a joke, even after we crossed the ice field for the summit, people would still tell us it was still "a mile".
We stayed at the summit for quite a while. Both of my boys took a nap and had a little something to eat. Of course we signed the book, looked inside the hut and looked around. But we knew that now the hard part needed to be accomplished. We need to go 11 more miles to get back to the bottom. And intellectually, we all knew that it mostly downhill, but there is some uphill too, but it didn't seem that bad when we were climbing to the summit. However, going from the summit back to trail crest was a great psychological test of our fortitude. There is a lot of uphill and we heard several people in groups at some uphill points, trying to mentally prepare themselves. Our strategy was slow and steady, which was what a lot of people in the forum had advised....and they were right. Our mantra was one foot in front of the other and we all began to resent Guitar Lake since it seemed we were never getting further away from it. It helped the boys to focus on an object and to just keep their feet moving so just like we had the never ending "one mile" to the summit, we now had Guitar Lake and we were trying to find either what was pretty about it or what was wrong with it technically since it didn't have all the features that a real guitar has ....so it kept our minds off the many uphill areas.
Once we started down the switchbacks, we knew it was all downhill, so that was good...but those darn switchbacks just go on and on and on. So then we talked about all the people that we met that were still going up the hill to the summit and that made us feel better.
At Trail Camp, we picked up our day packs, consolidated all of our water since we knew we had enough to get back, plus there are many streams and runoffs, so water is not a problem, and we started back. I thought we would make really good time, but we were really slow. Our tag-along, needed a lot of extra time and I had determined that we would only go as fast as the slowest of us. We were a team and we were going to stay together. We reached Outpost Camp just around 5:00 PM and the mosquitos were relentless! But because of this forum, I was prepared. I took out the insect spray and we doused ourselves from head to toe including our clothes with spray-on insect repellant. We had to even spray our hair since they seemed to be on a mission to bite anywhere they could. We actually had to stop along the way and repeat the process again, since there were whole swarms around us.
Leaving Outpost Camp, we thought that we were home free. But wait! There is some uphill...not a lot, but enough to make you question "why the heck did I do this???? This is supposed to be all downhill and easy!" Of course, on the way up, we were so grateful for some downhill, but we promptly forgot about saying those mental "thank you" prayers now that the trip was reversed!
We made it back to Whitney Portal at 8:00 PM taking the back trail (and thank you all for that back trail tip....we were tired, didn't want to get our feet wet, we still had some light, but we just wanted to get back to the car where my husband and daughter were waiting for us). It was a 19 hour round trip and yes, we could have done it much faster, but this wasn't a race and I wanted us all to stay together. I am grateful the other adult came with us, since it made it far less stressful for me. If for whatever reason, I needed help/advice, I could turn to this other adult and that took much of the worry out of this trip.
In closing this rather "chatty" trip report:
It was a very long, but successful day.
It's not a race, but a journey.
It is a day that I will never forget. If you have teenagers, think about doing something like this with your kids. I was telling my husband, in the car on the way home, how proud I was of my boys....and my boys both chimed up and told their Dad how proud they were of me! That was an even better feeling then summiting Mt. Whitney...so that's saying volumes about how that made me feel!
Leave the crampons and ice axes at home.
Wear layers of clothes and don't forget a headlamp.
Going in the early morning was more treacherous because of the pockets of ice. But it made the time fly and the boys never complained about going uphill, since they couldn't see where they were going in the dark!
Take lots of sunscreen and reapply. I did, but it was harder to convince the boys to rapply as often as I did, so they are a little sunburned.
Wear a hat and sunglasses or goggles. The sun is bright and blinding at times.
Take insect repellant. You will be happy you did....none of us had a single insect bite.
Most of all, have a great time!
Would I do this again, "no"...since I've accomplished one of my dreams--to hike this peak with my boys, in a day. Would I recommend it to others, it's a once in a lifetime adventure, which is priceless!
Thank you again to everyone who has helped me psychologically and informationally, achieve my Mt. Whitney, in a day, dream!