The trail is certainly not the only way to the top and if you are looking for something more adventurous (and you have the skills) you can skip the well worn path to the summit and take the more difficult routes. (Permits are still required)
John Muir himself made his first summit up Whitney via the Mountaineer's Route. (The prominent class 3 section up the steep snow chute located just to the right (north) of the main East Face Route
And that's not all. There are also many direct east face climbing routes that will challenge even the most advanced climbers.
So whether you are an ambitious day hiker, backpacker, or highly trained climber, Mt Whitney has a route especially designed for you!
The two main reasons why people do not reach the summit of Mt Whitney, is because of Altitude Sickness (number one reason), and Lack of Conditioning. Because Mt Whitney tops out at over 14,000 feet (and most people come from locations that are near sea level), altitude can be a real problem. Many a hiker/climber has been turned around on Mt Whitney due to altitude sickness. Next, Mt Whitney requires one to be in good physical condition in order to get to the top.
You will have to hike over 20 miles round trip and gain over 6000 ft of elevation to get the job done. This requires good physical stamina to say the least.
If you would like to learn more about the above important topics, please visit our sections on Altitude Sickness
and Outdoor Conditioning
. Also, if you are planning your trip during the winter season, check out our write up on Hypothermia
WHAT WILL I NEED TO TAKE ALONG FOR AN OVERNIGHT TRIP
I have included the following information on equipment due to the fact that I get so many questions from people about what they should take along for a summit bid on Mt Whitney. There are certainly those well conditioned individuals who can (and do) make the round trip up Mt Whitney and back in a day. And some of these hardy individuals take no more than gym shorts, tennis shoes, and a water bottle (this is certainly not recommended, even for a day trip).
While others decide to spend several days and nights on the trail and take everything along except the kitchen sink (not recommended either)
. So to help out a bit, I have put together the following that I would consider a minimum to take along for a hike to the top of Mt Whitney.
- Hiking boots and a well fitted full size pack (in early season add an ice ax and crampons).
Note: I would consider the above a minimum. Storms can come up at any time and if you are not prepared, they could become life threatening. For winter conditions more gear would have to be added. Absolutely no cotton clothing. Cotton will have no insulating value if it gets wet, and it will quickly wick warmth away from your body. You can substitute "Down" for fleece, but make sure that your water proof layer is in tact if you choose this option. Like cotton, down is useless when wet.
Water filter: (Filtering your water supply is a must on a heavily populated mountain such as Whitney
Headlamp: (make sure you have spare batteries). If you are caught out in the dark by underestimating your assent and decent time. The headlamp can be a life saver if this should happen.
Drinking Water: At least three Liter (approx 3 quarts) capacity water bladder with a drinking tube. I would highly recommend the @Camelback. It makes for a fantastic lightweight day pack on summit day and fits nicely into your main pack. On most of my wilderness backpacking and climbing trips, I place the @Camelback into my main pack and use it for my water supply. On summit day, rather than taking my heavy main pack to the summit, I simply remove the little lightweight day pack out of my main pack and head for the summit. It has all the water I need plus enough storage room for lunch and other essential items. You could certainly use water bottles, but I find a drinking device such as a @Camelback to be superior because getting your water bottles out can be a hassle and you then become less likely to drink.
Bear Canister: for safely storing your food. (A requirement on Mt Whitney) Not only does it keep the bears out, but equally important, it keeps the pesky marmots from ripping up your gear and eating you out of house and home. These critters are everywhere on Mt Whitney. Especially at Trail Camp where the pickings are good.
Food: See this Link HERE for suggestions. Try and go as light as possible but have a sufficient amount for your trip. (Obviously) Also add a lightweight stove and fuel to the list if you plan on cooking. Don't forget matches or some other way to ignite the fuel.
Human Waste Sacks: provided at the Ranger Station (All solid human waste must be packed out). This is now a requirement on Mount Whitney.
Assorted Items: Sun Screen, Bug repellent, and other toiletries, along with sun glasses, First Aid Kit, and Pocket Knife.
Sleeping bag: (Down or synthetic). Along with the bag, you should carry a lightweight insulating pad and place it between the ground and your sleeping bag to eliminate the cold from coming up from the ground and into you!
Tent or Bivy Bag: to protect you and your gear in case of rain night or day. (Again storms can come out of no where, and I have come across even experienced hikers and climbers who got caught out in storms. A couple of guys nearly lost their lives due to this oversight. Wet gear is deadly. Also, the tent or bivy bag protects you from the wind.
Map and compass (even though it is unlikely that you will get lost. Lots of people on the trail throughout the quota period).
Large Trash Sack: to cover your pack if it should rain in the night.
Camera: You won't want to miss the opportunities to document your trip.
- Synthetic or wool socks
- Fleece pants or some other equal for protecting your legs in the cold.
- At least one fleece (or equal) jacket (2 layers if you are subject to getting cold)
- Hat that can add warmth to the head area (and also provide sun protection).
- @Gortex or other breathable water resistant/proof Jacket and pants this combination can also act as a wind barrier. (Very important)
- Lightweight synthetic or wool long underwear.
- Pillow case. (Great for stuffing your jacket and clothing into. Makes for an outstanding pillow with hardly any extra weight)
Well, that's about it. The above may seem like an overkill, but I assure you it is not. Whitney is a serious mountain and even though it has a trail to the top people have and will, unfortunately, lose their lives by taking the mountain too lightly. So be prepared. The above is just a guideline. Be sure to double check other sources and make sure that you have all the items you need for your trip.
Also check out the following page: Whitney High Camp
It contains other points of information and safety tips. Please take careful note of them. Also take some time out to check the general climbing safety notes located at the following link: Climbing Safety Basics
Each of us is responsible for our own safety in the wilderness, and even though I have been hiking and climbing for over 30 years (and been up Mt Whitney multiple times), I am still not above forgetting an item here and there. So check out other sources before setting out on your adventure. Double check and make sure you have everything you need for the trip. Forgetting important items can make the difference between a great trip, and an exercise in misery (or even worse).
So in conclusion, be safe, and have a wonderful trip. It will be a lifetime memory for you!