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Learn about the Inyo NF Permit Reservation Process
Although Mount Whitney is legally located in Sequoia National Park, it is most accessible from Inyo National Forest trailheads. The most popular route to the summit is the Mount Whitney Trail (also known as the Main Mount Whitney Trail or MMWT). The most direct route to the summit requires mountaineering skills to go up North Fork (NF) Lone Pine Creek to the Mountaineers Route (MR).
Wilderness Permits are required year round to hike in the Mt. Whitney Zone. Though many Inyo National Forest trailheads have entry quotas on the number of overnight hikers allowed per day, both the MMWT and North Fork routes also have a quota on the number of day hikers in the Mount Whitney Zone between May 1 and November 1. Because of the popularity of the main trail during the quota period, a lottery is held each spring to determine the people who will get day hike and overnight wilderness permits in the quota period and their entry dates. Since 2008, day hike permits for the North Fork part of the Mount Whitney Zone are also included in the lottery. People who do not enter the lottery can still check for openings and cancellations later in the year if they are flexible in their travel plans. As noted in Whitney Permits - Pleasant Surprise, you have an excellent chance of getting a permit just by showing up at the Visitors Center a day early.
The lottery does not apply to overnight permits for the North Fork/Mountaineers Route or the John Muir Trail. Those routes can be an option for people who have the required skills and are properly equipped. People with winter mountaineering skills can also take advantage of the non-quota period between November 2 and April 30 to get self-issued permits at the Visitors Center (permits are required all year but there are no restrictions on the number issued during the non-quota period). It is important to research trail requirements and restrictions before making any plans to summit Mount Whitney. People without winter mountaineering experience should not attempt to hike on the upper trail when there is snow/ice present, even if they reserved a date inside the quota period (see Fall Conditions on the Main Whitney Trail). It also is important to understand the wilderness permit process and develop a strategy to either apply for a permit reservation or risk getting a walk-in permit from a cancellation where appropriate. See the decision tree in Wilderness Permit Options for help in selecting a permit strategy. The following table also summarizes the permit reservation options.
Inyo National Forest has different rules for reserving permits, depending on which trailhead you begin your trip and whether you stay overnight during the quota period of May 1 to November 1. For the Main Mount Whitney Trail, you need a permit to stay overnight on the trail and to day hike above Lone Pine Lake. For the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek you also need a Mount Whitney Zone day hike permit to day hike above Lower Boy Scout Lake. As noted earlier, the lottery only applies to day hikes in the Mount Whitney Zone and to overnight hikes that originate on the main trail. The reservation fee is $15 per person (See the next section for further clarification on Lone Pine Lake). People entering the Whitney Zone via the North Fork (Mountaineer's) route (or via Trail Crest from another Inyo National Forest trailhead) still have to pay a $15 fee for overnight reservations, but the application process is similar to overnight reservations for other trails. Remember, there is no fee for walk-in permits; the reservation fees cover the costs of processing all the permit requests that get submitted and maintaining the Wilderness Permit Office. Also, after the lottery is complete (in April), you can call the Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permit Office at 760-873-2483 between 8 am and 4:30 pm for permit availability information.
Here is a tabular summary of the information on the Inyo National Forest wilderness permit page for the quota period (Note: There are different rules for hikes that originate inside Sequoia National Park):
|Entry Point||Permit Required||Lottery||Earliest Application||Fee|
|Main Trail||Yes||Yes||February 1||$15|
|North Fork (MR)||Yes||No||6 Months before entry||$15|
|Other Hikes in Whitney Zone|
|Hikes Outside Whitney Zone||Yes||No||6 Months before entry||$5|
|Entry Point||Permit Required||Lottery||Earliest Application||Fee|
|Main Trail (above LP Lake)||Yes||Yes||February 1||$15|
|North Fork (above LBS Lake)||Yes||Yes||February 1||$15|
|All other trails||No||N/A||N/A||N/A|
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Learn the layout of the main trail
Here is a synopsis of the four major sections of the main trail. Aside from the rocky sections above Mirror Lake and three forks, the trail is pretty easy to follow once most of the snow has melted.
From Whitney Portal to Lone Pine Lake:
The trail goes through the hallway of information signs, and after about 4 switchbacks the trail heads straight back for several hundred feet. After crossing Carillon Creek (with a stone path) the trail turns right and goes east about 1000 feet before turning back west at the next switchback. The trail then traverses back above the previous segment, crosses the Carillon Creek again, continues west over the trailhead, and eventually crosses North Fork Lone Pine Creek. (If you are taking the main trail, ignore the cut log just before North Fork, as it is the unmarked entrance to the North Fork/Mountaineer's Route). Just after North Fork there is a sign for the John Muir wilderness (with the old trail hidden on the left), followed by 10 switchbacks, a traverse, and 14 more switchbacks before you head into a shaded/forested area as you approach Lone Pine Lake. You eventually will pass over another creek via a series of flattened logs and emerge into a clearing with the fork to Lone Pine Lake on your left. If you have the time, you can hike downhill for a couple of minutes on a short trail to the lake. Several hundred feet after the junction you will see a sign stating that you are entering the Mount Whitney zone and that a permit is required.
Note: Lone Pine Lake is a common stop for people who just want to get a glimpse of the trail. People can day hike up to the lake without a [day hike] permit, because it is outside of the Whitney Zone. Nonetheless, a main trail overnight permit is still required to camp near the lake, because the lake is in the John Muir Wilderness. Although you technically could hike just up to Lone Pine Lake on an overnight hike, you still would have to pay the $15 per person reservation fee if you wanted to reserve an overnight permit for the main trail. Most of the people with main trail overnight permits camp their first night at either Outpost Camp or Trail Camp. If you reserve a main trail overnight permit and then decide when you arrive that you want to camp an extra night at Lone Pine Lake, check at the Visitors Center when you pick up your permit to see if there are openings on the previous day. Note that Overnight permits are good for 14 days -- you are not required to exit on your stated exit date.
From Lone Pine Lake to Trail Camp:
The trail traverses across a series of flat areas/plateaus at ascending elevations with a series of switchbacks between each level. The first plateau is the Lone Pine Lake area. After the fork to the lake, 15 switchbacks take you up the wall of the canyon to the next level. The second plateau is Bighorn Park where you may encounter some muddy areas on the trail as the creek meanders through a flat meadow. At the far end of Bighorn Park is a waterfall, a creek crossing, and Outpost Camp before another creek crossing as you exit the area. There is no toilet facility. The next level is Mirror Lake. Above Mirror Lake the trail goes above the tree line and transitions into a path carved in the rock face. In this area the trail is more rugged as you gain elevation on the knolls (between two canyons) up to Trailside Meadow and eventually up to Trail Camp. (Note: No overnight camping is permitted at Mirror Lake or at Trailside Meadow). There are several overlooks of the area as you go up, and eventually you will have several views of Consultation Lake to the south. Later the view to the south will be masked by rock as you pass through the main part of Trail Camp (next to another small lake). There is no toilet. Wag bags are issued at the Visitors Center when you pick up your permit).
From Trail Camp to Trail Crest:
The trail passes through Trail Camp delineated by a rock boundary and then enters the 97-switchback area (see Wayne Pyle's map in Excel). After switchback #9 there are two turns in succession that are about 90 degrees, but only the first one is enough to count. Between switchback #23 and #24 (or beyond #25) there is a spring that usually has water in the summer. (Note: This is the last source of water on the route, so you should plan on carrying about 3 liters of water with you from this point on). After switchback #45 you will enter the area with the cable railing (Note: The cables area is dangerous when covered with snow and is one of the last areas on the trail to clear in the summer. Keep that in mind when you decide when to hike). After switchback #97 there is a longer traverse over to Trail Crest that eventually goes a little downhill at the end (you will notice this going back). At Trail Crest there will be the back of a FS sign (13,600 feet) followed by the front of a NPS sign for Sequoia National Park that says "Pets and firearms prohibited." At Trail Crest, you also cross over to the west side of the ridge line.
From Trail Crest to the Summit:
There are four main sections to this part of the trail. The first section goes on the back side of the ridge downhill to the John Muir Trail junction and continues up the right fork to the Mt Muir area (This is one of the areas with the most severe drop-off on the left side and where trekking poles can help out a lot). After passing a window, the next section of the trail goes up several switchbacks on a less severe slope (more uniform boulders) as you approach the ridgeline and traverse north. After going right around a bend the third section is more concave and looks somewhat like a lake bottom with redder rock, several rock columns, and various drop-offs along the way (more like section 1). After another bend you will enter the final concave section and see the summit in the distance. Like section 2, the drop-off to the left is less severe. Nonetheless this is the area where persistence pays off, since you are so close and yet so far away as you traverse across to the base of the peak and then hike up to the summit. (Also keep in mind that there are several sections of the trail on your way back where you hike uphill). While there may be shortcuts up the right side of the peak, the main trail cuts across the base (including a probable snowfield) and goes up on the left side of the peak.
As for mileages on the main trail, you will find different mileages for the same landmarks posted on a number of web sites. One major reason is that the USDA Forest Service lengthened the trail by about 0.3 mile in 1977 (see Bob R's info) by changing the marked trailhead from the end of the portal loop (see WP Store area) to the current location before the WP Store. The route from the new trailhead is straighter and not as steep as the old trail, but you have three extra creek crossings along the way. The old trail is still maintained and starts between the stop sign at the far end of the loop and the big rock in front of it and comes up to the new trail directly below the John Muir Wilderness sign (see note above). As noted in Photos: Whitney mileage markers, there are places on the trail where mileages from the old trailhead are marked on different rocks in one-mile increments. The original trail was 10.7 miles long and the new route is 11.0 miles long. You can read more about the story in several books about the Mount Whitney trail. You also can find some links to video clips from the trail posted at Mt Whitney hiking and climbing videos. Here are some approximations for different landmarks:
|Whitney Portal (new trailhead)||0||8,360|
|Lone Pine Lake (fork)||2.8||9,950|
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Learn facts (and discern myths) about the "windows"
Beyond Trail Crest, the trail lies on the west side of the ridge line and most of the drop-off is on your left side. There are several places, known as windows, where there is a momentary drop-off on the right side of the trail as well.
Although there are a lot of stories floating around about the windows, the trail is flat and at least four feet wide in the areas next to the openings on the east face (and there are rocks/boulders next to the trail). Many windows extend several feet from the trail before they drop off. They should not be any more of a problem than the rest of the trail. Of course, trekking poles are a good idea on the upper part of the trail because of the uneven terrain.
Actually, the trail is more of a scare just beyond Trail Crest where the trail is cut into the back side of the cliff. As you descend to the John Muir Trail junction, there is a vertical "wall" on your right, a steep drop-off on your left and straight ahead you can look down toward Guitar Lake (the trail curves to the right at that point so you have a drop-off in your forward view). At the windows you can at least look straight ahead and ignore the side views, while you cannot easily ignore the drop-off below Trail Crest. In 2004 a couple of people in our group decided to turn back after going several hundred feet beyond Trail Crest. This is an area where trekking poles can help out a lot.
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Learn more about altitude sickness
Here are some links on altitude conditioning:
- Getting ready for the altitude
- Altitude and Diamox
- Diamox for mountain sickness
- Altitude sickness medication
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Pick up a book/video about the trail
There are several books on the subject of hiking Mount Whitney at book sites such as Amazon.com. You can click on books and search for Mount Whitney. The book Mount Whitney: Mountain Lore from the Whitney Store by Doug Thompson, Elisabeth Newbold (Paperback - December 1, 2002) has Doug Sr. from the Whitney Portal Store as one of the authors.
You can download the Inyo National Forest 4-page booklet that is sent to those who receive a trail permit reservation here: Hiking the Mt. Whitney Trail
There is a video of the main trail produced by Peter "hikealongpete" Wagenleitner that is available for about $25 at Trail Video. There are links to 0.1 mile interval clips from the video posted on the Whitney Trail Video threads. (Part 1 Part 2 Part 3)
For those interested in the North Fork route, there is also a video on DVD at Climbing Whitney in Winter - The Mountaineer's Route.
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Check other web sites
Here are some general links on Mount Whitney posted by other members:
- Summit Post
- Day Hiking Mt. Whitney
- The Mt. Whitney Day Hike & Backpacking Page
- Mt. Whitney and Eastern Sierra Hiking Blog
- Mt Whitney Information, Message Board, Links
- To Newbie Day Hikers, From The Whitney Veterans
- To Newbie BP'ers, From The Whitney Veterans
- Mountaineer's Route info links
- Mountaineer's Route
Here are general links to the government agencies involved with the trail:
Here are some additional links to general hiking and backpacking forums:
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Decide on a good time of the year to hike
Most people hike the trail in the summer months, when the risk of snow on the trail in the 97 Switchbacks (including the cables area) is minimal. Even so, there always is a risk of unexpected events and adverse weather no matter what time of the year you go, and every year is different. If you are concerned about having enough daylight and yet want to minimize your exposure to ice on the trail, July can be a good time to go (but there may be a lot of days with unstable "monsoon" weather). Note: In 2005, the cables area was still covered with snow in early July. If you are hoping to see as little snow as possible and have a long lasting LED headlamp, August or September may be a good time to go (depending on the weather). If you want to celebrate the next anniversary of the trail, go in mid-July (The 100th anniversary was July 2004). If you are looking for more information on winter hiking, check out Winter Orientation Questions for Whitney First Timers.
Once you decide the time period to hike, you can decide if you want to have moonlight. If you would like to have the moon up in the morning when you start your hike, pick a date several days after a full moon. If you would like to have the moon up after sunset, pick a date several days before a full moon. You can also calculate moon almanac information for your date on various web pages such as the US Naval Observatory sun and moon data page.
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Decide whether to day hike or stay overnight
Both day hikes and overnight hikes have their advantages and their disadvantages. Overnight hikes let you acclimate at different elevations and let you see more of the trail in daylight. Day hikes give you less exposure to temperature/elevation extremes and require less equipment. See further discussion on day vs overnight hikes.
Another thing that overnight hikers need to consider is where to set up camp. Trail Camp is a popular location because it is just over half-way to the summit. Nonetheless, if you stay overnight at Trail Camp, you can easily spend 12 hours up at 12,000 feet before you start your hike to the summit. That can promote altitude sickness in some people. On a day hike, you probably will not stay more than 10 hours above 12,000 feet (and about half of that time you will be hiking downhill). Some people counter the high elevation of Trail Camp by staying one night at Outpost Camp followed by one night at Trail Camp. Other people stay two nights at Outpost Camp and day hike the second day (15 miles round-trip) from there. Outpost Camp is less rugged than Trail Camp, and you do not have to lug gear over the rocky two-mile stretch of trail between Mirror Lake and Trail Camp if you day hike from there. If you want to avoid people, you also can camp near Lone Pine Lake or Consultation Lake. (Camping is prohibited at Mirror Lake and at Trailside Meadow).
Unless you are an experienced mountain backpacker, you probably would find a day hike easier to plan for your first hike on the main trail. Don't assume that a 6-mile backpack trip to Trail Camp is easy (see Barely made Trail Camp). You also have better odds of getting your desired entry date with a day hike, since the daily quota is higher and the demand is less for day hike permits. Just be sure to train well, acclimatize before starting the trail, and carry along some emergency supplies just in case something unexpected happens (See the reports 3 ladies survive the night outside, storm on July 28, storm on August 15).
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Develop your pre-hike conditioning strategy and set your group limit
Although most sections of the main trail are not very steep, you still gain over 6,000 feet in elevation on the way to the summit. Most people take several months to train for a Whitney hike with a variety of aerobic exercises and progressively longer uphill hikes to increase their endurance level. If you do not have any hills in your area, you can still do uphill training by going up and down a series of steps (One summer when I was on travel for work I alternated stairwells in my hotel). Many people in southern California train for Mount Whitney by hiking up the Vivian Creek Trail to Mount San Gorgonio a week or two before Mount Whitney, since the elevation gain is 5,500 feet in about 8 miles (Day hike permits are required. See permit info. Also, check the following topic for links on San Gorgonio and San Jacinto). Other people like Half Dome in Yosemite NP because of its 4,800 foot elevation gain in about the same distance or Clouds Rest because of its 5,900 foot elevation gain (and fewer people). Nonetheless, the summit of Half Dome is only 8,800 feet, so a hike from Tioga Pass up to Mount Dana (from 10,000 feet up to 13,000 feet in 3 miles) the day after Half Dome would give both distance and elevation conditioning.
Regardless of your conditioning plan, it is always a good idea to team up with somebody who has done the trail before on your first hike since a number of things need to be considered as you experience the trail. If you do not have that option, a previous post by another member suggests doing a dry run day hike up the lower part of the trail (see dry run) before your main trip if you have the time. The whole idea is to not push yourself too far too fast even if you have done plenty of training hikes. As noted in other posts, it is not that hard to get a walk-in permit for a day hike. You also can hike up to Lone Pine Lake without a permit and can train on the trail to Meysan Lake from the Portal.
Another thing to consider is setting a firm limit on the size of your group before you get to the point of filling out your permit application. Although a group can contain up to 15 people, the FS recommends a group size of four people since two people can go for help in an emergency (and one person can stay to provide assistance). Practically speaking, it is hard for large groups to stay together above Trail Camp without impeding each other's progress, and you decrease your odds of getting a permit for your desired date when you add more people to your group. It also is harder to work out contingency plans with a large group of hikers. See what happened to a family of eight that got separated on the mountain. The easiest thing to tell any extra friends who pop in out of the woodwork after you submit your permit application is that, "The mountain will still be there next year."
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Prepare a Mount Whitney Lottery Application
As noted in Learn about the Inyo NF Permit Reservation Process, you need a wilderness permit for all overnight trips and for day hikes up the main trail past Lone Pine Lake and up North Fork past Lower Boy Scout Lake (but not for day hikes originating on other trails). There are daily entry quotas on a number of trailheads between May 1 and November 1, and you have the option of reserving a permit in advance or taking a chance that there will be permits available when you arrive in Lone Pine. See Wilderness Permit Options for more information on these strategies. The following paragraphs amplify Step 4, which covers the Mount Whitney Lottery.
Due to the heavy demand for main trail overnight permits and Whitney Zone day hike permits, 100% of the quota space is reservable, starting with a lottery held in February/March of each year. Starting in 2012, lottery applications need to be submitted on the Recreation.gov website using the procedure in Options Step 4.
To maximize your chances of success in the main trail lottery, you should enter as many entry dates as possible on your application and submit your application online by March 15. Up to 15 possible entry dates can be specified in a single lottery request. Submitting more dates will require multiple lottery entries. A $6 transaction fee is charged for each lottery request submitted online. In addition, multiple lottery entries are each subject to the $15 per person reservation fee if they result in a permit reservation. Saturday entry dates in the summer months usually have the most demand, so try and plan your trip to begin on an alternate day of the week. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are usually the easiest dates to get, if you can work your schedule accordingly. Here are some additional posts on the subject: Mt Whitney Main Trail Lottery starts February 1, Permit Lottery
If you submitted a lottery application in February or early March, you probably should see something arrive in the mail sometime in late March or early April (see Lottery Results Received). You will either receive a confirmation letter or a rejection letter. If you receive a confirmation letter, you will need to pick up your permit at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center up to two days before your hike (so try and work out your travel plans so that somebody can pick up the permit during the day). Starting in 2007, day hike permits also need to be picked up by noon on the day before the entry date or the space will be declared a no-show and released to other hikers. If you received a rejection letter, you still have not exhausted Steps 5 and 6. You may be able to reserve another date by checking the Recreation.gov website in April. If you have the flexibility in your travel plans, you also may be able to get one of the walk-in permits that become available (from cancellations and no-shows) at the visitors center the day before your desired entry date (see Whitney Permits - Pleasant Surprise and Walk-in permits for the Whitney Trail).
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Develop your acclimatization plan
The campground at Whitney Portal is only at 8,000 feet elevation. You can acclimatize better if you can camp above 9,000 feet elevation. To find out more about campgrounds in the Inyo National Forest, go to the Inyo NF Campground page. Here are some areas to look for that are over 9,000 feet (starting with the campgrounds closest to Whitney):
|Horseshoe Meadow Area (Cottonwood)||10,000 feet|
|Onion Valley||9,200 feet|
|North Lake||9,500 feet|
|Rock Creek Lake||9,600 feet|
(and other campgrounds near Tioga Pass)
Horseshoe Meadow is a fairly popular acclimation point for Whitney hikers with two backpacking campgrounds (Cottonwood). Here is a link to a discussion on Horseshoe Meadow.
If you are looking for more developed accommodations (with beds) and do not mind the drive, you can also check out Rock Creek Lake and Bishop Creek that are at least 9,000 feet in elevation. You can also read how a couple of people acclimated in different locations at Acclimatize without camping.
As for warmup hikes, there are high altitude trails near many of those campgrounds. Look at the following topic on hiking options for several ideas. It all depends on how high up you want to get and how far away from Lone Pine you are willing to drive (see additional discussion on Mono Pass and Mt. Dana for higher elevation hiking). A hike to Lone Pine Lake or to Meysan Lake is very convenient for people staying at Whitney Portal.
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Determine if you need campsite reservations at Whitney Portal Campground
Whitney Portal Campground is in a very convenient location for hikers to stay the night before their hike, since it is only two-thirds of a mile away from the main trailhead. Nonetheless, only 25 of the family sites are reservable between late-May and mid-October, and they can be reserved on the Recreation.gov web site as much as 6 months in advance. (Note: Under the reservation system change in 2007, the rolling window changed from 8 months to 6 months).
For popular hike dates, it is possible that all the reservable campsites may be booked when the results of the lottery are mailed out. If you cannot reserve a site in the Whitney Portal campground when you get your permit confirmation, there are 17 reservable sites at Onion Valley campground and 27 reservable sites at Lone Pine campground. (See Inyo NF Campgrounds for more details on each of the campgrounds).
Even if you do not reserve a campsite in advance, there are still are a number of first-come-first-served (FCFS) campsites in the area. You still may be able to get one of the 18 unreservable campsites at Whitney Portal if you check-in with the campground host early enough on the day of your arrival. The walk-in campground across from the main trailhead has 10 backpacker sites and is rarely full. Horseshoe Meadow has 30 backpacker sites in the Cottonwood walk-in campgrounds. In addition, 40 percent of the sites at Onion Valley and Lone Pine campgrounds are not reservable.
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Make Travel Plans
Your primary airport options lie to the north and to the south of Lone Pine. (You can use airports to the west such as OAK, SJC, SFO, FAT, SMF, or MOD, but the trip to Lone Pine is longer, as noted in Driving in from the west). You have a lot more airport options if you come in from the south, but the terrain is mostly desert and can get HOT on summer days (particularly in Death Valley). The route from Reno is longer but is generally at higher elevations and more scenic. You also can make stops in Lee Vining or Mammoth Lakes and make side trips to Mount Dana and Yosemite NP (if Tioga Road is open). AAA members can also get information on the area between Bridgeport and Lone Pine with their Eastern Sierra Guide map.
There also is limited bus service from Reno Airport to Lone Pine as well as transportation connections further south. For more information see Using bus/train service. You would still need to work out transportation to the Portal from Lone Pine. Whitney Portal is about 12 miles west of (and about 4,600 feet higher than) Lone Pine.
Here are the approximate distances of various airports from Lone Pine along with some airport information links. I stopped at Palm Springs, since it is about the same distance away as Reno. I also included some general aviation airports that are closer than Inyokern. As noted in the other posts, the driving times are affected by a number of factors besides distance. I-405 and I-5 can get pretty jammed during rush hour, and I-15 can get a lot of traffic as well. For additional information on California freeway exits see Exit Numbering.
Commercial airport north of Lone Pine
Reno (RNO) - 257 miles (US-395)
Commercial airports south of Lone Pine
Inyokern (IYK) - 70 miles (US-395)
Bakersfield (BFL) - 165 miles (Cal-178, Cal -14, US-395)
Burbank (BUR) - 197 miles (I-5, Cal-14, US-395)
Ontario (ONT) - 197 miles (I-10, I-15, US-395)
Los Angeles (LAX) - 215 miles (I-405, I-5, Cal-14, US-395)
Las Vegas (LAS) - 224 miles (I-215, I-15, Nev-160, Cal-190, Cal-136, US-395)
Long Beach (LGB) - 232 miles (I-405, I-5, Cal-14, US-395)
Orange County (SNA) - 237 miles (I-405, Cal-55, Cal-91, I-15, US-395)
Palm Springs (PSP) - 259 miles (I-10, I-15, US-395)
General aviation airports
Lone Pine (O26) - 1 mile
Independence (2O7) - 16 miles (US-395)
Bishop (BIH) - 60 miles (US-395)
Eastern Sierra Transportation Authority provides limited bus service up and down US-395. There is limited bus service between Reno Airport and Lone Pine. The Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) also provides bus service between Merced and Mammoth Lakes via Yosemite National Park when Tioga Pass is open. Check out the following links: Eastern Sierra Transportation Authority, CREST Lone Pine-Reno, YARTS. For hiker shuttle service in the Lone Pine area, look at the following links: Bob E/Mount Whitney Shuttle, Mammoth Shuttle, John Pennington and Dave Sheldon, Wilderhouse Shuttle, High Sierra Transportation. NOTE: The shuttle services are only accessible certain times of the year, so don't be surprised if you cannot reach anybody months in advance of your date.
To find out more about other mass transit systems in California go to the California Transit Links web site. See Sea To Summit for information on a member's trip south using Kern Regional Transit and Metrolink. You can also take the Metropolitan Transit Authority trains on the Red Line, the Blue Line, and the Green Line to get to a shuttle stop for LAX, and now there is Flyaway bus service between Union Station and LAX.
The route from Reno is at higher elevations than the southern route, and the route is more scenic than the desert route to the south. US-395 starts at around 4500 feet in Reno and climbs as high as 8138 feet at Conway Summit just north of Mono Lake before going back down to around 4000 feet around Bishop. The highest elevations are between the California-Nevada Line and Sherwin Summit (just south of Tom's Place). Here are the approximate milages from Lone Pine of several landmarks:
|257||Exit 65 (Terminal Way in Reno)|
|230||Carson City (at US-50 E)|
|227||Carson City (at US-50W to Lake Tahoe)|
|191||California-Nevada Line |
|123||Mono Lake Visitors Center & Lee Vining|
|122||Cal-120W (to Tioga Pass/Mt Dana/Yosemite)|
|103||Crestview Rest Area|
|96||Cal-203 (to Mammoth Lakes and Devil's Postpile)|
|82||Tom's Place (to Little Lakes Valley and Mono Pass)|
|57||Bishop (at Cal-168W to Lake Sabrina)|
|43||Big Pine (at Cal-168E to Bristlecone Pines)|
|26||Division Creek Rest Area|
|16||Independence (at road to Onion Valley)|
Here are links to several attractions along the way:
|Lee Vining Area||Visitors, Mono Lake, Tioga Pass Resort, Mount Dana,|
Tioga Gas Mart/Whoa Nellie Deli
|Yosemite NP||Park, Lodging, Services, Road Conditions|
|Mammoth Lakes||Visitors, Area Info, Ski Area, Devils Postpile NM|
|Tom's Place||Tom's Place Resort, Rock Creek Lake area|
|Bishop||Visitors, Bishop Creek area, Schat's Bakery|
|Big Pine||Visitors, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountain|
From the Ontario Airport area, the route is urban until I-15 starts gaining elevation. Once you go over Cajon Pass, the remaining route up US-395 is mostly desert with only a few places to stop for gasoline (also parts of the road are two-lane highway). There are gas station/convenience stores at Pearsonville, Coso Junction, and Olancha. Stop at the Interagency Visitors Center to pick up your wilderness permits as well as get general information on other attractions in the area. Here are the approximate distances of several landmarks from Lone Pine.
|196||I-10 exit 55 (Archibald)|
|193||I-10 exit 58A to I-15 N (I-15 exit 109A going back)|
|163||I-15 exit 141 to US-395 N|
|70||Inyokern Airport (IYK)|
|65||Cal-14 merge (from LA)|
|44||Red Hill (a colorful landmark)|
|40||Coso Junction Rest Area|
|2||Interagency Visitors Center (Cal-136)|
From Bob Hope/Burbank Airport, I-5 north (Golden State Freeway) merges with Cal-170 (Hollywood Fwy), crosses the 118 freeway, merges with I-210, and merges with I-405 (San Diego Fwy) before the exit to Cal-14 (Antelope Valley Fwy). From LAX, I-405 crosses two other freeways before merging with I-5 (Note: from rental car agencies you can also take Airport Blvd north, turn right on La Tijera, and left on I-405 to avoid a lot of airport traffic). All the freeways can be jammed during rush hour. Once you get on the 14 freeway, you leave LA and enter Santa Clarita before going into less developed canyon areas after Sand Canyon Road. As you approach Palmdale, the route leaves the mountains and becomes desert the rest of the way. Mojave is the last major stop before Lone Pine and is where the freeway becomes a desert highway (now mostly four lanes, but still with several two-lane stretches by Inyokern and Olancha). Red Rock Canyon SP is a popular OHV area (and there is an info station at Jawbone Canyon). Route 14 eventually merges with US-395 after Inyokern Airport. Here are the approximate distances of several landmarks from Lone Pine.
|214||I-405 Exit 46 (Century Blvd., LAX)|
|197||I-5 Exit 149 (Hollywood Way, BUR)|
|183||Cal-14 Exit (I-5 Exit 162)|
|89||Red Rock Canyon SP|
|->||(see previous table for remaining landmarks)|
It is not any shorter coming from the west side of the Sierra Nevada than from Ontario Airport. Of the three commercial airports in the SF Bay area (SFO, SJC, OAK), Oakland is the easiest to access. The shortest route from the SF Bay area is Cal-120, and in 2005 it was closed until June 24 (from the winter snow). Cal-108 through Sonora Pass is also closed in the winter, but it usally opens earlier in the spring (Check the CalTrans road condition link for the current condition of the highway. Also look at Route 108 for more tips). The most reliable route is to head south and take Cal-58 through Tehachapi, since that route is mostly freeway and four-lane highway, and any winter storm effects are only temporary. Of course, you have to go out of your way for that convenience (see quickest route from SF).
Yosemite National Park has some beautiful views along the way. If you go that route (and pay a $20 park entry fee), you might as well add 34 miles to your trip and visit Yosemite Valley if you have the time (by going straight at Crane Flat).
Here are some approximate milages from Lone Pine for Cal-120 starting with the freeway exit in Manteca (east of Oakland and south of Sacramento).
|276||Manteca (Cal-99 exit to Cal-120E)|
|257||Oakdale (Cal-108 merges with Cal-120)|
|228||Chinese Camp (Cal 49 merges with Cal-120)|
|188||Yosemite National Park (W Entrance)|
|180||Crane Flat (Left turn)|
|133||Tioga Pass (E Entrance, Mount Dana)|
|122||US-395 (continue route from Reno)|
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Lone Pine Layout
Here is the general layout of Main Street in downtown Lone Pine (Note: The data was based on an unofficial visual survey taken in December 2005 and does not include every storefront in the business district). Aside from Statham Way, Tim Holt, and Gene Autry, most of the street names are listed on the right side of the map. The only traffic signal is located at Whitney Portal Road (about 0.2 mile south of the 58-mile marker on US-395 for Inyo County).
DOWNTOWN LONE PINE
| Sierra View MH & RV Park
| Frosty Chalet (closed)
Carl's Jr. Restaurant | Dave's Auto Parts
& Shell Gasoline | El Dorado Savings Bank
STATHAM WAY ---------------------------+--------------------------- LOCUST
Mt. Whitney Motel | Mobil Gasoline
Lone Pine Budget Inn |
(760-876-5655) | Double L Bar
Lone Pine Thrift Shop | Lone Pine Drug Store
Lloyd's Boots | Silver Star Real Estate
Expresso Parlor |
Jake's Saloon |
Lone Star Bistro |
Subway Restaurant | Bonanza Mexican Rest.
----------------------------+--------------------------- MOUNTAIN VIEW
Joseph's Bi-Rite Market | Gardner True Value/SpGds 760-876-4208
Totem Cafe | Wild West Show Gallery
Indian Trading Post | Old Lone Pine Hotel
| Slater Sporting Goods 760-876-5020
| Elevation Mountaineering 760-876-4560
(to Portal)<===========================X--------------------------- WHITNEY PORTAL
Mt. Whitney Restaurant | Seasons Restaurant
| Merry Go Round Restaurant
Lone Pine Rocks & Gifts | Lone Pine Sporting Goods 760-876-5365
Alabama Hills Cafe <= | Whitney Portal Hostel 760-876-0030
Pizza Factory | Historic Dow Hotel &
Bakery (closed) | Dow Villa Motel
TIM HOLT ----------------------------+
Car Wash | High Sierra Café(closed)
Portal Motel |
GENE AUTRY ----------------------------+
McDonalds +--------------------------- MUIR
Trails Motel | Lone Pine High School
| Mt Whitney Admin Office
Lone Pine Film Museum |
To the south there are more services such as:
Best Western Frontier Motel (about 1 mile from center)
Comfort Inn (1¾ miles)
Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center (2 miles)
Mount Whitney Golf Course
You also can get information on the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce page. People can now get permits at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center.
There are about 10 restaurants as well as a couple of saloons in Lone Pine. Note: The High Sierra Café (formerly PJ's) is closed. The Mount Whitney Restaurant has a lot of b&w photos on the wall from the movie days. As for restaurant chains, there are Pizza Factory, Subway, McDonalds, and Carl's Jr restaurants in town. See Best Food in Lone Pine for a more complete list. There also is a small supermarket in Lone Pine (Joseph's Bi-Rite) if you need to buy groceries.
Note: The Whitney Portal Hostel is now open in downtown Lone Pine. There are several posts on the subject of lodging in Lone Pine such as Lodging Recommendations. A topic in 2003 has a list of motels and phone numbers in a post near the bottom, and the Chamber of Commerce site has a LP Lodging page. The Comfort Inn is the newest motel but it is not in the center of town. The Best Western Frontier Inn is on the southern edge of town and has good reviews posted by members on other topics. The Dow Villa Motel is right in the center of town and also has good reviews (Note: Please do not confuse the Dow Villa Motel with the Historic Dow Hotel even though they are next to each other and have the same owners. As noted on the Dow Villa web page, the hotel is not AAA rated and the historic rooms are not air conditioned).
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Whitney Portal Layout
Whitney Portal Road starts at the traffic light in Lone Pine and gains about 4,600 feet in about 12 miles of road as you head west. The rise is very subtle at first, since the terrain is at a fairly constant slope of about 300-400 feet per mile. (It is easy to think that you are level, until you try accelerating, plus you will need to watch your downhill speed when coming back). When you reach the end of the Owens Valley, the road traverses across the first cliff face (right for almost a mile and then left) and then enters the canyon leading to Whitney Portal along Lone Pine Creek. The main Whitney Portal Campground is about two-thirds of a mile from the trailhead and the WPS. Beyond the WPS there is a day use parking loop for Portal visitors. On the left side of the trailhead area there is parking for hikers and backpackers (and the walk-in camp area). See the next two sections for more information on the Portal area.
Here are the approximate distances of several landmarks from US-395 in Lone Pine.
|0||3730||US-395 (at Whitney Portal Road)|
|3.1||4550||Horseshoe Meadow Road|
|6.5||5700||Lone Pine Campground fork|
|9.2||7050||Left Hairpin Switchback|
You can learn more about individual sites in the Whitney Portal Campground at the Recreation.gov web site. The family campground is about two-thirds of a mile down the road from the Whitney Portal facilities as you can see on the Recreation.gov map:
Note: there are several errors on the Recreation.gov Web site:
- The name of the creek should be Lone Pine Creek.
- The S-curve [with two 180 degree turns] in the road is just past the group campground.
- Only the reservable sites are shown on the map (the FCFS sites are not displayed).
Some sites are larger than others, and several sites do not have a lot of space for tents (and are designed for short RVs. See additional discussion on campsites). Some sites are also not reservable (About 18 sites are first come first served. Note: Just because they are FCFS does not mean that all sites will be available on any given day. Most people stay at least two nights. There are also 10 walk-in backpacker sites located across from the trailhead that are first come first served, if there is no room in the campground). Each site has a picnic table and a fire pit. Most sites also have a small charcoal grill (I did not see one in three sites, but there could be more without one). There are water spigots in several locations, but the only restroom facilities are pit toilets (that were installed in 2003). There are no electrical hookups. The only shower in the area is two-thirds of a mile up the road at the WPS, and the pay phone at the store is on a shared phone line.
In 2013, more walk-in sites were built, just below the backpacker overflow lot. See this description: Sleeping in your car at Whitney Portal
The Recreation.gov site states that the bear boxes are 18" high, 18" deep, and 50" long, but they were upgraded about the same time the new pit toilets were installed (2003). The new boxes look the same as the boxes that were originally installed in the group sites and the outside dimensions are about 30" high, 34" deep, and 48" long. The old boxes could barely hold a medium sized ice chest, but the newer boxes should have enough room to store your toiletries and scented items as well as your food. You definitely want to make sure that your bear box is properly latched since bears are very active in the area. In 2004 they got in one of the boxes that was not properly latched and somebody reported a missing camera.
After the campgrounds, the road switches back twice in a S-curve before heading toward the Portal area. As you approach the Portal, you will see parking on your left, along with signs to the backpacker area. The Mount Whitney Trail trailhead is on the right side of the road and the Whitney Portal Store is located just past the trailhead. At the WPS, the road becomes a one-way loop around a pond. The loop crosses the main outlet from the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, loops to the left by the old trailhead, and comes back around next to the main part of Lone Pine Creek (on the south side of the pond). There, you can view the cascading waterfalls on the creek.
At the Whitney Portal Store grill, you can get a huge "10 inch" pancake for about $3 and get eggs for a few dollars more at breakfast time. For lunch and dinner you can get hot dogs, burgers, and chicken sandwiches. The burgers are huge, come with fries, and cost around $8. The chicken sandwiches also come with fries and cost about $9. The store hours are posted on the WPS home page.
May 2006 Update: The store hours listed on the home page should be correct in 2006. They changed in 2004, and in July 2005 the hours were 8 am to 8 pm (with grill orders ending at 6:45 pm). You can see a 2005 post on Portal Store/Food and a post on WPS showers.
Aside from the grill, the food items in the store are mostly cold beverages (including beer), energy bars, and snacks. (Note: Fountain beverages are no longer available). On our last trip, we did not bring along a lot of food and ate all of our evening meals at the Whitney Portal Store grill. It was a lot more convenient considering the bear activity in the area. The store also sells "last minute supplies for hiking, camping, fishing, and related items for the portal visitors" and rents out bear canisters.
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New Interagency Visitors Center/Wilderness Permit Pickup
The Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center is located about two miles south of downtown Lone Pine at the junction of Route 395 & Route 136. The building opened in May 2006 and is about five times as large as the old building. (The old building did not look much bigger than a roadside kiosk from the main highway, and the new building reminded me of a barn in a field at first glance when driving up from the south). People now pick up their wilderness permits at the Visitor Center. (The Mount Whitney Ranger Station in downtown Lone Pine is only used for administrative purposes).
In addition to wilderness permit pickup, you can go to the Visitor Center for general information on a number of attractions in the area such as Death Valley or White Mountain. They also have a bookstore. Their hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, 7 days a week, with extended hours in the summer.
Note: You cannot pick up your wilderness permit at the Visitor Center more than two days before your entry date. Reservations are also subject to cancellation (and the permit space can be reissued) if permits are not picked up by the required time, so plan your trip accordingly. In 2007, the pickup deadline is noon on the day before the hike for day hike reservations and 10 am on the day of the hike for overnight reservations. If you cannot pick up your wilderness permit before the visitors center closes, contact the Visitor Center (760-876-6200 or -6222) and go to the information booth on Route 136 (about 100 feet east of the gate) when you arrive (see Mark's experience).
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Finding weather and road reports
On any given day, the weather can change unexpectedly and storms can roll in while you are on the trail (see Fear on the Top and Storm on July 28). Although weather reports are no substitute for good planning, you can get area weather information at the sites listed on the WPS weather page or Good area weather links. If you acclimate at the Portal, you can also get last minute reports from hikers hanging out by the WP store in the late afternoon.
If you are driving across the Sierra Nevada from the SF Bay area or the San Joaquin Valley, you can check for road advisories on Route 108 or Route 120 online. You can get advisories for these and other state highways by entering the route number on the CalTrans web page or by calling 1-800-GAS-ROAD (427-7623). If you like interactive maps, you can go to Central California and Eastern Sierra map pages. The condition of Tioga Road is also posted on the Yosemite road condition page.
Checking snow water content
You can get a rough idea of how much snow is in the Sierra Nevada by checking the California Department of Water Resources Snow Water Content Plot. The third plot is for the Southern Section.
Keep in mind that there still will be patches of snow in the trail area even as the plot approaches zero. In 2005, there was plenty of snow on certain sections of the main trail the beginning of July (when the plot was almost zero).
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There are a number of posts on the topic at the following thread on Trekking Poles. It pretty much depends on whether you view hiking as "recreation" or as "work." People who hike for recreation buy trekking poles to make the trip less work.
From my experience, I have hiked the upper trail three times with a single ski pole and once with a pair of adjustable trekking poles. Going uphill it seemed a little easier to walk fast with two poles. At the same time, I had to be careful not to trip on my poles when going downhill (so one pole may be better going downhill). I certainly would not do the upper trail beyond Trail Crest without at least one pole because of the uneven terrain. The pole(s) can also come in handy in a pinch.
My suggestion is to try using a set of old ski poles (or a single ski pole, from a garage sale or a thrift store) before you buy a set of expensive trekking poles. If you like using two ski poles, then consider the alternatives. Collapsible trekking poles are a lot easier to carry on your pack and adjust to fit the slope/terrain. In addition, the more expensive poles are made of lightweight alloys (or carbon) and many come with spring-loaded shock absorbers. As noted in hiking poles, you can even buy mislabeled trekking poles at WalMart at a discounted price. Also check out the discussion on whether to use rubber tips.
It always is a good idea to bring a variety of lightweight clothing since you never know if it is going to be cloudy, sunny, or windy at the top. There also is the possibility that a hail storm or an electrical storm can develop in the afternoon. Wearing polypropylene underwear can help since it has a good dynamic temperature range and it wicks away moisture. You can get it under different brand names such as Capilene by Patagonia at places such as REI. Bring a hat with a chin strap, gloves, and a rain poncho since it can get windy or wet along the way. You also can get tips on what to take with you if you hang out at the Whitney Portal Store before your hike.
The main Mount Whitney Trail is not your typical day hike. Every year there are stories of hikers getting rescued from somewhere on the trail and occasionally you hear stories about fatalities. On my second hike up the trail, one of the people in my group was airlifted out of Trail Camp. As a general rule, day hikers should carry along enough supplies to survive a night on the trail at temperatures near freezing (or worse in the colder months) in the event of an emergency (see 3 ladies survive the night outside). While a post on survival skills is beyond the scope of this thread, it is a good idea to take along either a space blanket or a lightweight bivy sack, an assortment of first-aid supplies, a warning device such as a whistle, and a long lasting LED headlamp. See Other Packing And Hiking Message Boards for additional sources of information.
Day hikers are not required to carry bear canisters as long as they always keep their food with them. Canisters are required for overnight trips and can be rented at either the Visitors Center or the Whitney Portal Store. If you need other hiking gear, the Whitney Portal Store sells some last minute items, and there are four sporting goods stores in downtown Lone Pine. Also check out stove fuel and alcohol for discussions on buying fuel. Elevation and Lone Pine Sporting Goods also have a limited supply of mountaineering gear available for rental.
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As noted in WP Store and Grill, the Whitney Portal Store grill is very convenient for people staying at the Whitney Portal campground. The store also sells cold beverages, energy bars, and snacks. The closest supermarket is Joseph's Bi-Rite market in Lone Pine.
Be sure to use the bear box lockers for any food that you store in the Whitney Portal area. If you are staying in the family campground that should be easy, since each campsite has a bear locker. It is harder for people who park near the trailhead to empty their vehicles, since there are only a limited number of lockers available and the lockers have to be shared with everyone else. See Trailhead Bear Lockers, Theft problems, and Portal theft for storage issues at Whitney Portal. See Food Storage for more information on bear canisters.
Water is available at many places along the main trail up to an elevation of 12,400 feet. (There is a spring by switchback 25 in the 97 switchbacks). Bob R has posted a list of reliable sources in a PDF file at Whitney Water. Here are some links to threads on water conditioning info: Water Quality, Water Filters #1, Water Filters #2. As a general rule, people should take about 3 liters of water with them above Trail Camp.
When you pick up you permit at the visitors center, each of the members of your group will be given a wag bag to collect your human waste during your hike. Additional information is posted on Wag Bag. You also can see an illustration of a wag bag at the Phillips Environmental site.
There are no showers at the Whitney Portal Campground. There is a single shower at the Whitney Portal Store that is available for a fee. For more information, see the post on Showers. If you are near Lone Pine, you can also check on the Boulder Creek RV Park south of town.
Service in the area has improved in recent years. Here is some additional history from my experiences. In 1994 somebody in our group with an analog phone could call from the summit. In 1999, I borrowed a Pacific Bell digital phone from a friend and had no coverage, but somebody at the summit was able to make calls with AirTouch (which ironically was once owned by Pac Bell). In 2000 I bought a tri-mode (digital CDMA and analog) phone with a national calling plan from AirTouch right as it was merging with GTE and Bell Atlantic under the new name Verizon. AT&T wireless was also coming out with national plan service (and had an IPO early that year). Pacific Bell eventually merged with Cingular and in 2004 AT&T wireless merged with Cingular. When I upgraded my Verizon tri-mode phone in 2004, the agent was able to show me a map of the digital coverage zones around Lone Pine on his computer.
While I was only able to get analog service from the summit in 2000, I was able to get good digital coverage in 2004 from near the edge of the cliff. Even though I had good signal strength, it still took several attempts to make a short phone call, most likely due to the limited capacity of the circuit.
If you do take a cell phone with you to the summit, please practice good etiquette. Do not turn it on until you need it, and keep your calls short.
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As noted in Learn more about altitude sickness, it is important for most people to acclimatize at high altitude for at least 24 hours before attempting the Mount Whitney Trail. In the post Develop your acclimatization plan, it is noted that Whitney Portal is not necessarily the most desirable place to acclimatize, but it is very convenient for people who want to hang around the Whitney Portal Store and the trailhead. At Whitney Portal you can also do a warmup hike up to Line Pine Lake (and take pictures during daylight hours) or a warmup hike to Meysan Lake. Regardless of whatever plan you came up with, you should drink plenty of water as you acclimatize to avoid dehydration.
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Plan when to leave
Start time is most critical for day hikers, since their goal is to hike 22 miles in a day while overnight hikers only have to hike 3.8 miles if they stop at Outpost Camp. The best time to leave on a day hike depends on a number of factors, including the amount of time it will take you (and the rest of your group) to hike up to the summit (and back) with all of your breaks included. Certain sections of the trail are relatively smooth while other sections of the trail require some rock hopping and will slow most people down. Some people can handle the altitude above Trail Camp without significant effects while others have adverse effects. Residual snow on the trail may be an additional delay factor in early summer. Also, above Trail Camp it is harder for people in a group to stay together without impeding each other's progress (since you have limited sight of the trail).
As a rule of thumb, you want to plan to be at the summit by noon and leave the summit by 2 PM. That gives you some extra time to play with in case your trip up takes longer than expected (most likely) and hopefully will give you enough time to avoid any afternoon storms that may materialize (especially in July and August). For most people (particularly people in mixed groups), that means leaving the Portal by 4 AM. Although that is before sunrise, there are long lasting LED headlamps on the market that use little power, and a headlamp is a good backup to have in case somebody in your group cannot make it down to the Portal before dark. Also, if you want to be able order a burger at the grill, you will need to leave the summit early enough to be back down before the grill closes (In July 2005, 6:45 PM was the time that the last grill order was taken, but the hours are longer in 2006). See How to Day Hike Mount Whitney and Day hike best time to leave for further discussion on the topic.
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Develop a contingency plan
A contingency plan is easier said than done, since most hikers are focused on making final trip arrangements and packing their gear as the hike date finally approaches. Yet, a lot of things can happen on the Mount Whitney trail, especially with a large group of hikers. It is better to have agreement up front on what everybody's roles and responsibilities are in an unexpected event than to wait until something happens on the mountain. Some basic questions to ask are, "What do we do if we get separated?", "What do we do if somebody is lagging behind the rest of the group?", "What is the turnaround time for our ascent?", "What do we do if somebody gets injured?", and, "When do we turn back if there is a threat of rain?" See Hikers Walking Into Lightning Storm. Someone Tell Me Why!, Family of eight gets separated, Fear on the Top, and What can go wrong on Whitney. Also see Backcountry Lightning Risk Management
Believe it or not, my first two hikes up the main trail ended later than expected due to people in our groups having problems walking back to Whitney Portal (see report on previous trips). On my first trip, I was the only person in our group to accompany the affected person down from Trail Camp. It turned out that we were the only people in the group who were staying an extra night at Whitney Portal, and the rest of the group split to get to their motel rooms in Lone Pine. Fortunately, a couple of people in the group came back to the campground the next morning to check up on us.
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