The exception to the above is if you decide to make your bid for the summit or just hang out on Mt Whitney during the non quota period. The non-quota period is from November 2nd through the end of April. You still need a permit, but they are more or less there for the asking, since there is no quota in force. But if you plan your trip anytime between May 1st and November 1st, the quota is in force.
PERMIT TYPES - There are two types of permits. The Day Use and the Overnight. The day use permit means that your entire trip must be completed in one day. If your trip will involve more than one day, then an overnight permit is required. To complete a trip to the top of Mt Whitney and back in one day is a challenging undertaking. This is because you will have to travel 22 miles round trip and gain about 6,500 feet of elevation. Needless to say one needs to be in great shape to do this. For more on this subject, check out our write up on Outdoor Conditioning. Secondly (but not often mentioned), is the altitude factor. Since you will be gaining many thousands of feet, in such a short period of time, Altitude Sickness can be an issue if you are subject to that sort of ailment. So choose wisely and know your own limits before you make the decision as to what permit type you will need.
THE LOTTERY - is the best way to get a permit for hiking or climbing to the top of Mt Whitney during the quota period. Applications are accepted Online and will be entered into a computerized random drawing. No preference is given for early applications, but after March 15th lottery applications will not be accepted.
The lottery application requires that you fill in a starting and ending date for your trip, the group size (up to 15 people), and whether you will be day hiking or overnighting. The application has a spot for 15 alternate choices. (And trust me, I would make use of all 15 alternate dates, etc.) You should also consider your group size. The larger the group, the harder it will be to get the date of your choice. So make sure that everyone in your group is committed to going on the trip. Lottery results will be sent out by email before April 1st. If you are awarded one of the dates that you requested, you have until April 30th to accept or decline the offer. After April 30th, all remaining unclaimed dates are canceled and made available for others on a first come first serve basis. The months of July, August, and September usually fill completely by the lottery. This is due to the fact that other months of the year may have snow and ice on the trail or unfavorable weather conditions making it much more difficult to reach the summit.
LOTTERY TIME LINE -
Feb 1st - March 15 - Applications are entered Online at http://www.recreation.gov/ (closes on March 15 at midnight Eastern time)
March 16 - Random lottery begins. New applications not accepted until April 1.
March 23 -Email lottery results sent to applicants.
April 1 -All remaining space is released for web reservations. Acceptance period opens for 30 days.
(opens at 7 am Pacific time- No phone reservations)
April 30 – Last day to accept and pay for lottery reservations. (closes at midnight Eastern time)
May 1 -All unclaimed dates are canceled and released for web reservations at random times.
COSTS - To enter the Lottery there is a $6.00 transaction fee and there is no refunds even if your application is not successful in getting you a spot on the mountain. If you are successful, then there will be an additional $15.00 fee per person in your group. This additional fee is also non-refundable, and only the leader or one alternate can pick up the permit. In other words, it is non-transferable.
WHAT IF I MISS THE LOTTERY? - There is still a chance to get a permit, because people do end up canceling their trip, and the National Forest Service does (after April 1st), make the remaining space available for reservations on a first come first serve basis. So you can either Check In Here each day, or call 877-444-6777 to see if any space has opened up.
PERMIT PICK UP - The deadline for day Use permits is Noon, one day before the entry date. The deadline for overnight permits is 10am on the entry date. Mt Whitney permits must be picked up at the Eastern Sierra Inter Agency Visitor Center. Only the group leader or alternate leader may pick up the permit; the person picking up the permit must be going on the wilderness trip. Permits for confirmed reservations can be picked up one or two days before the entry date or on the entry date. Walk-in permits are only issued to visitors in person. If you have a reserved permit, you should receive a reminder email 14 days before your trip. THIS IS NOT YOUR PERMIT ! You will get your actual permit when you pick it up in person and the Eastern Sierra Inter Agency Visitor Center.
WALK IN PERMITS - can be obtained in person at the visitor center and can be issued for same day entry or for next day entry. Walk in permits are free. During the busy times (8AM, 11AM, and 2PM) a drawing is held for a place in line. The person requesting the permit will be listed as the group leader. The others in the party do not have to be present. Next day entry permits for the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek (for technical routes, such as the Mountaineers, East Face, East Buttress, etc.) are released at 11AM. Walk in permits cannot be held by phone.
REGULATIONS - There are many trail rules and wilderness regulations that you will be made aware of you when you pick up your permit. For the most part, I find that people have no problem with any of the rules such as pack it in pack it out, no camping within 100 feet of water or within 25 feet of the trail, etc. The only rules (in my experience), that I find people do have a bit of a problem with are the following:
- Bear canisters are required on the Mt. Whitney Trail from Memorial Weekend to November 1st. Now you may not like the extra weight and bulk in your pack, but the good thing is that it will not only protect your food (the bears and many other critters) but it will also keep those pesky marmots out of your food. Those guys are all over place, and they can eat your entire food supply in nothing flat if you give them a chance.
- All human solid human waste must be packed out. You may be thinking why can't I just bury it like in other wilderness areas? Well, if you consider that there are over 20,000 people on Mt Whitney each year and that much of the area is solid bedrock, there is simply not enough soil to decompose all the waste. This mandatory rule was set in place in 2006 when the Forest Service removed the latrines from Outpost Camp and Trail Camp. During the first full year of operation in 2007, over 3 tons of solid human waste was hauled off the mountain and in 2012 over 3 1/2 tons were hauled off. Packing out your human solid waste may sound gross at first, but the alternative is worse, and when you pick up your permit, the rangers will supply you with little kits that make this whole matter tolerable. That being said, I would also carry some gallon plastic zip-lock bags so you can double protect the waste bag that you were given at the Ranger Station just to make sure you do not have any problems in your pack.
LOCATION - Mt Whitney is located in the United States in the state of California. It is most easily reached via highway 395 which takes you to the little town of Lone Pine which hosts access to Mt Whitney. Once in Lone Pine you can turn west on Whitney Portal road (located about the center of town). The distance to the trail-head from Lone Pine is approximately 13 miles of steep road. As you travel along this well paved road, you will gain over 4,000 feet of elevation and will be treated to some of the most magnificent landscapes in all of California. The peak that dominates the foreground (that many mistake as Mt Whitney) is actually 12,944 Ft Lone Pine Peak. Mt Whitney is the broad faced peak among several pinnacles located a few miles northwest of Lone Pine Peak.
Hollywood made good use of all this rugged beauty. The Alabama Hills, that makeup the foothills of Mt Whitney, was used by film makers as a backdrop for many early western movies. Several of Lone Pine's local businesses have wonderful historic pictures of movie stars and scenes that depict the early history of the area. The Whitney Portal road is a little over 13 miles in length (as mentioned above), and ends at the Portal where the trail-head to Mt Whitney is located. But if you have time, and before you journey up the steep road to the trail-head, take time out to explore the little town of Lone Pine. Eat at the local restaurants, explore the Alabama foothills, and make a complete outing out of your up and coming adventure.
Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center - is located at the Junction of Highway 395 and State Route 136 2 miles south of Lone Pine (760) 876-6200 or TDD(760)876-6201
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD I SET ASIDE FOR MT WHITNEY?
The answer to the above question is.....well.. ..It depends. Many factors are involved. What month do you plan to summit on? What physical condition are you and/or your entire party in? And on and on. So to answer the above question, I will make it simple. Assents that are attempted during late fall, winter, and early spring (when snow cover can be deep), will most certainly take far more time than summer assents. Few people attempt
Whitney during these months, and those who do are most likely very experienced mountaineers. Therefore, we will discuss summer hikes up the Main Mt Whitney Trail.
If you are in excellent condition, you can do Mt Whitney in a day. Most people who attempt this, start very early in the morning (usually around 3 to 4 AM). This gives them plenty of time to make the round trip. But even though you will be out for only a day, make sure to bring enough clothing and emergency supplies. Weather can change quickly on Mt Whitney. Also, do not forget to bring a good headlamp should you overestimate your physical abilities and get caught out in the dark. Years ago, I read that the record hiking time for the Mt Whitney Trail was approximately 2 hrs and 15 minutes. But this record must have been broken between then and now. If you are not in stellar condition, than you will most likely have to turn your Mt Whitney outing into a backpack.
Most hike up to Trail Camp located 6 miles from the trail-head and spend a night there before going for the top the next day. We talked to a Ranger on a recent trip, and he said that it usually takes people (in good condition) about 6 hours to make the round trip from Trail Camp to the summit and back. For those in average condition, it usually takes about eight hours. But these are only rough guidelines. It may take as much as 10 to 12 hours if you are not feeling too well, or if you have slower members in your party. So be prepared and plan for the worst if you are not sure of your abilities or the abilities of the people in your group. If you plan on going back down to the trail-head the same day you summit, (and you can certainly do this if you have the energy) then your time requirement on the mountain will be 2 days. On the other hand if you have the time you can relax and spend another night out at Trail Camp, and hike out the following morning and make it a three day outing.
Lastly, there is the option of hiking to Outpost camp and spending a night there before hiking to Trail Camp the next day. After another night out at Trail Camp you can then hike to the summit and back to your established camp the following day. Finally, to complete the trip, you can return to the trail-head the following morning. This is a 4 day excursion, but it has the advantage of maximizing acclimatization time to avoid altitude sickness. It also affords a leisurely pace so that you can get the most enjoyment out of your experience on Mt Whitney.
LONE PINE - Plenty of shops in the little town of Lone Pine (located at the base of Whitney) ready to sell you a cool T-Shirt that will congratulate you on your successful hike up Mount Whitney. If you have the time, exploring the little town of Lone Pine at the base of Mt Whitney is certainly worth while. Many of the business establishments are geared for Mt Whitney visitors. Many western movies of the past were filmed in the Alabama Hills and surrounding areas. And if you eat at one of the local eateries, such as the Mt Whitney Cafe, you will see signed photos on the wall of many movies stars of the past. We usually have breakfast in Lone Pine and experience the area before going up to the Portal and setting off on our adventure on Mt Whitney.
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