Mount Whitney Trail to Lone Pine Lake is a 5.1 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Whitney Portal, CA that features beautiful wild flowers and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible from June until October. Horses are also able to use this trail.
No permits required for hikers going no further than Lone Pine Lake. Day hikers going beyond require a day-use permit, obtained from the Mount Whitney Ranger Station in Lone Pine. Overnight hikers require a wilderness permit. Hikers bound for the top of Mount Whitney are controlled by a strict quota system and need to reserve a space far in advance. Fantastic views of Mount Whitney!
Lone Pine Lake is the furthest that one can venture up Mount Whitney without the necessary permits. This section of the trail offers a great sample to climbing Mount Whitney. Additionally, even the base of the Mount Whitney trail is above 8,000 feet; this makes for a great altitude trek.
My father and I drove to Lone Pine from Los Angeles. The impending storm on Saturday (11/26) left us no time to properly acclimatize, which (in hindsight) most likely decreased our enjoyment of the trail. It was also below freezing during the eve of winter.
The trail immediately starts out at a moderate incline, as it will remain until Lone Pine Lake. During November, it's likely that there's going to be a dusting of snow and it's practically guaranteed that there will be sections of ice. We encountered both even before the first creek crossing.
The Mount Whitney trail cuts through Lone Pine Creek less than half a mile in. The creek is relatively narrow and can be easily crossed with two or three careful steps. Since the temperature was in the mid 20s, part of the creek has a thin sheet of ice atop its surface. Additionally, the creek is active.
The trail continues to gain elevation via a series of short switchbacks. I started to feel fatigued around this point since I was unaccustomed to the thin mountain air (I had been in L.A just hours before.) At this point, views of Inyo National Forest start to open up.
The trail continues to a second creek crossing. The creek is not shown on the map, which is somewhat ironic, for it's multiple steps wider than the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. The stagnant sections of this creek were covered in a sheet of ice, while the rushing sections were swelling and thus required an extremely careful crossing.
The trail then continues on a longer collection of switchbacks. This section is littered by trees, though they occasionally open up to views of the valley below. An intimidating, massive wall of rock is in your sight as you head south on the switchbacks. Thor Peak is visible as you head north.
As the switchbacks cease, the trail enters a wooded section. There's the third, and final, river crossing: Lone Pine Creek. There are seven or eight split-in-half logs that serve as a bridge over this creek. During the winter (even in November) the creek is characteristically frozen.
Due to time constraints ("time constraints" meaning "impending sunset"), my father and I opted against descending to Lone Pine Lake. Our descent down the trail was much quicker than the ascent, and we were able to manage a two hour round trip.
Overall, an elevation trek mixed in with a great (free) taste of Mount Whitney makes for a wonderful hike. Make sure to bring multiple layers (and gloves) if hiking anytime not in the summer months. Have fun!
Nice hike to get a taste of climbing Mt. Whitney, although it isn't the most scenic hike in the Eastern Sierra or Owens Valley area. It was very windy which made it rather cold when we arrived at the lake. Don't be afraid to take breaks even though it isn't a particularly long hike -- the high altitude can really affect you without you even noticing.