The 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 Mountains.
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.
Make 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 off the
truck lid. Needless to say, the car was totaled. 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 and 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. Russ (to the
left along with the rest of us) hardly got any sleep at all do to the zoo of
activity at all hours. People preparing for both day excursions and
overnight trips up the Mt Whitney Main Trail 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 us all 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. On the 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, Motorhomes, 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.
They also have 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. The
chicken sandwiches also come with fries and cost is about $9. 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 9-6, June 8-8, July 7-9, August 7-9, September 8-8, October 9-6. 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 Trailhead sign points the way to the
beginning of the well maintained 11 mile path to the top of Mt Whitney.
There is also an interactive section (shown at the top of this page on the
right hand image) within an open timber structure that contains
several signs and plaques that give you information and warnings (that
you need to be aware of) before you start up the trail. The info gives
mileage readings (for key areas on the trail), and cautions about fast
changing weather conditions, lightning, and other dangers.
The Main Page and the High Camp Page on this website explains some
of these warnings.
The Portal also has a cool scale that enables you to weigh your pack.
Dave Marunich's pack (left) 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
All in all, the Whitney Portal is an experience
all it's own, and if you have the time, the area
is well worth exploring. The enormous granite walls (shown in the above 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
Mt Whitney - Trailhead timberlinetrails.net