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Mt Whitney

The Mt Whitney Trailhead - is actually better known as the Whitney Portal, and outside of a few main starting points in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, it is probably the busiest trailhead in all the Sierra Nevada. When entering the parking area, pay close attention to the signs. Some areas are for day use, and others are for overnight backpackers. Make sure you park your vehicle in the correct space (depending on your plans). Nothing would be worse than to return from your trip up the mountain and find your vehicle towed away.

Mt Whitney TrailMake sure to remove all food and scented items from your vehicle before you leave. Bears have no problem breaking and entering your car or truck. I even heard of one incident where a bear broke out the windshield of a car, tore out the back seat, and got into a ice chest in the trunk. The bear then exited the vehicle by busting the truck lid. Needless to say, the car was totaled.

The Rangers at the Lone Pine station warned us that even empty containers such as ice chests, igloos, and other colorful containers can trigger the bears interest and prompt a break-in. Knowing this, it is best to keep a neat interior. If you are unable to get all these types of items out of sight, then make sure to cover them up with a dark colored sheet or blanket. This applies to empty (clean) containers only. Containers with a scent cannot be hidden from a bear, and if the bear can smell something (and they have very powerful abilities to detect the faintest odors) then there is a good chance they will break into your vehicle to investigate.

You can use the Whitney Portal to sleep in your car or truck (or along side your vehicle) to begin your adjustment to altitude. But be warned, this particular parking lot hums both day and night. My friend Russ (shown in the below left hand photo), along with all the rest of us, hardly got any sleep at all do to the zoo of activity that went on all night. People preparing for both day excursions and overnight trips up the Mt Whitney Main Trail, and have no bones about making all the noise they want regardless of the hour. One guy at about 2 AM dragged a full ice chest across the parking lot making an incredible racket which woke all of us up. Nevertheless, we most often leave Los Angeles after work, and get as high as possible in order to get started on the acclimatization process.
Sleeping at the PortalOn our last Mt Whitney trip we opted to avoided the Portal parking area, and went up to nearby Horseshoe Meadows (Cottonwood) located at 10,000 feet. The Horseshoe Meadows parking lot is the starting point for Mt Langley, and is pretty quiet during the night. In the morning we simply drove back down to Lone Pine, got some breakfast, and drove back up to the Portal in order to start our adventure up Mt Whitney. If you are coming from the North on Highway 395 you could use the Onion Valley area at 9,200 feet, or even further to the north, is the North Lake parking area out of Bishop at 9,500 feet. Campers, Motor Homes, Travel Trailers and other types of specialty overnight setups are not allowed in the Portal parking area. These overnight setups must use the family camping areas located further down the road. A camper shell on a pickup truck is about as elaborate as you can get in the main parking lot overnight areas.
There are restroom's and bear proof storage lockers located at the Whitney Trailhead Parking Lot. Food and scented items that you leave behind should be clearly marked with your name and placed in one of these bear proof storage lockers. Please do not use lockers for trash, and make sure to remove your items before leaving the Portal area after your trip on Mt Whitney is concluded.
Another landmark located at the Portal parking lot is the Whitney Portal Store. I spent a little time browsing the store and found that they stocked many last minute items such as stocking caps, batteries, water bottles, energy bars, etc. They also rent bear canisters (A requirement on Mt Whitney) and have last minute fishing supplies. The Store has a shower that you can make use of for a fee.

The Whitney Portal Store also has a grill that serves a limited variety of food, soft drinks, and of other beverages. Eating at the grill can be a treat if you have the time and appetite. Breakfast can be an experience. They serve a huge (thick) 10 inch pancake (for $3.00) and for a few dollars more you can add some eggs. For lunch or dinner you can get hot dogs, burgers, and chicken sandwiches. The burgers are giant and come with fries. Cost is around $8.00 The chicken sandwiches also come with fries and cost is about $9.00 A breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the Portal can be a wonderful change of pace after living on nuts, berries and freeze dried food while on the mountain.

Store Hours Are As Follows:  May 9am-6pm, June 8am-8pm, July 7am-9pm, August 7am-9pm, September 8am-8pm, October 9am-6pm. Closed November - April. The kitchen and grill hours are the same as store hours.
Once you are done with all your preparations at the Portal, the old wooden Mount Whitney Trail-Head sign points the way to the beginning of the well maintained 11 mile path to the top of Mt Whitney. The Mt Whitney Trail is world famous.

There is also an interactive section within an open timber structure that contains several signs and plaques that give you information and warnings. The information gives mileage readings (for key points of interest on the trail), the signs also caution you about fast changing weather conditions, lightning, and other dangers. Our page on Getting Started and our page on Trail Camp contain much more information on the above subjects.

You can also see that Mt Whitney is a part of the Inyo National Forest which covers an area of over two million acres. The Inyo National Forest not only contains Mt Whitney, but is also home to many beautiful landscapes such as Mono Lake, Mammoth Lakes Basin, and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest located just to the east in the White Mountains. The Inyo National Forest also contains nine Congressionally-designated Wilderness areas, comprising over 800,000 acres of land. Most of the forest is in California but it includes about 60,700 acres in western Nevada. It stretches from the eastern side of Yosemite to south of Sequoia National Park.

The Portal also has a cool scale that enables you to weigh your pack. My friends pack (to the right) weighs in at 54 lbs for a 4 day trip on Mt Whitney. Needless to say, the less weight the better. I would consider 54 pounds on the heavy side but a four day trip will afford you plenty of time to get from point to point making weight slightly less of a factor (other than sore shoulders). If you find that you are carrying more weight than you would prefer this would be a good time to make last minute adjustments while you are still close to your vehicle.

The enormous granite walls (shown in the above left hand image) that surround the parking lot seem insurmountable in terms of their great height. But just wait.....it won't be long before you will be looking down on the tops of these walls like ant hills.

The Whitney Portal is an experience all it's own, and if you have the time, the area is well worth exploring!