My brother and I hiked to the summit of Mount Whitney in September 2016 as a two-day backpacking trip. The description here is slightly off. The actual distance is 22 miles round-trip from Whitney Portal. I'll try to break up my description of the trail into sections:
Section 1 (Trailhead-to-John-Muir-Wilderness): There is a small general store at the trailhead, but since it is the only option in the area, the prices are outrageous. Plan ahead, and avoid purchasing anything at the general store. The first mile of the trail is a gradual incline. When you reach a sign stating that you're now entering the John Muir Wilderness, you've completed the first mile.
Section 2 (John-Muir-Wilderness-to-Mirror-Lake): After the first mile of gradual incline, you'll hit your first set of switchbacks. These switchbacks will continue for nearly three miles, to a meadow just outside Outpost Camp. Another short set of switchbacks will pick up right after Outpost Camp and will take you to Mirror Lake, about a third of a mile away. Mirror Lake is roughly halfway to the other two campsites, Consultation Lake and Trail Camp, so it's a good place to stop and rest before pushing on.
Section 3 (Mirror-Lake-to-Trail-Camp): After Mirror Lake is another set of switchbacks, these ones ascending a series of ridges overlooking Mirror Lake, Lone Pine Lake, and the meadow outside Outpost Camp. Once the switchbacks end, you'll see a large lake on your left. This is Consultation Lake. Trail Camp is just another quarter-mile ahead.
If you want quiet and serenity, find a place to camp at Consultation Lake and avoid Trail Camp. Trail Camp is busy, and people will be coming and going at all hours of day and night.
Section 4 (Trail-Camp-to-Summit): From Trail Camp, it's four miles to the summit. The first two miles are up a series of 99 switchbacks, so get some rest, drink some water, have something to eat, and get ready. Once you crest the saddle at the top of the switchbacks, you'll be rewarded with an awesome view of the east side of Sequoia National Park and King's Canyon National Park. You'll drop down a bit in elevation, swing around the west side of the summit, and then ascend from the west. I actually thought the last two miles were tougher than the switchbacks, but that might have been on account of the elevation and sun exposure.
Once you hit the summit - CONGRATULATIONS! You're standing at the highest point in the contiguous 48 states.
Well, I'm far from being an avid hiker but I decided to take on the challenge of going up Mount Whitney with a great group of ex-coworkers who I like to call friends. Amidst weather and physical challenges, we managed to stick together and make it to the summit and back in a long 19-hour day. For those that are looking for one of most challenging hikes in the USA without any extravagant gear and extremely rewarding views and scenery, I'd recommend this trek!!! But try to do it in 2 days so you enjoy the views more... :)
Nice, very easy & very short trail. We started around 3pm and only saw one other family. I expect the trail to be very crowded earlier in the day or around sunrise. As we felt like walking a bit longer, we combined several trails into a 4mi loop, beautiful scenery and no other people. Sadly, not all trails are available on alltrails, so we had go consult the park map, trails not very well visible at times. I still recorded the hike (sorry managed to cancel the recording at one point) if you feel like hiking longer.
First time I did it...it was a day hike. Started at a little after 9 am and got back down at 7 pm. We missed the thunderstorm and had no weather problems. Just gray and cool. Of course doing it as a day hike you don't get to acclimate and your feet grow very tired. The last two miles back down were the worst because you know you're almost down but you just keep doing down switchbacks.
Second time we camped at base camp then hiked in and camped at trail camp. Had to set up camp during the storm. it was really cold and windy. There was an intense hail storm too. Then we did the last 5 miles the next day. It was nice. We got down before the storm got bad. Its an intense hike with lots of switchback sections that are all different. You can really get a feel for were you are if you remember all the switchbacks and estimate how much more time it will take you.
8-21-16. Started 12:15am, summited at 9am with an awesome couple who helped me at 3am when I got confused near Trailside Meadow 11,400', completed it at 4:45pm with the same couple (from VA + WV.) I packed too much food and not enough liquid. I had 148 ounces, but probably needed 170+. I took one Tums at Trail Crest 13,600', but never really felt any effects of altitude sickness. Coming down between Consultation Lake + Trailside Meadow I started overheating and had to take off 2 layers. As stated the trail is exceptionally marked, great for night hikers. I did a 4 mile hike Saturday 8-20-16 at Whitney Portal, to acclimate and spent the night down at Lone Pine 3700' elevation. For day hikers, though it got cold 45 degrees and some wind gusts, I would highly suggest at least getting 1/2 up the 99 switchbacks before the sun comes up. Meaning start this hike before 1am. We made it to Trail Crest 13,600' just as the sun came up. Note that although the water is cold at the 23rd switchback, I'd still lean towards filtering it. I drank some but would filter it if I ever came back to Whitney. Also the view from the top down to Lone Pine was smoky, due to fires, but the air you breathe along the trail was not. My GPS showed 23 miles.
I did the main trail with a few friends over two days in August 2016. 22 miles and high elevation make this one tough. We spent a day and a half hiking/camping in Onion Valley to adjust to the elevation. Before I get into my (verbose) full experience, I must say the main trail is one of the best designed, built, and maintained trails I have ever been on; the craftsmanship was very impressive.
We drove up to Whitney Portal and hit the trail by 8:30 in the morning. Climbing up the initial switchbacks, things got hot quick despite the trees. We found ourselves dipping our hats in the cold streams to beat the heat. Shorts would have been the way to go, as mosquitoes were absent.
Mirror Lake turned out to be a great place to stop for lunch and filter some water, as it sits just below the tree line. After refueling, we pushed on to Trail Camp to search for a spot for the night. Luckily, it was early afternoon and most sites were empty. At one point, we were the only ones there. We chose a couple sites on the elevated rock outcropping just to the north. Many of the best spots had discarded WAG bags (shame on those people!), but we found a sandy spot with some protection from the wind and sun. After setting up camp, we make a short side-hike to the lakes that flow into the tarn at Trail Camp.
Tired from the 6 miles uphill and wanting to get an early start, we hit the sack just after the sun went behind the wall. Sleep was difficult at 12,000 from the cold, as my face was exposed in my bag/bivy combo (which also led to a 1AM bloody nose, fun). My two friends who shared a tent said they were nice and toasty.
We got up in the dark and started up the 99 switchbacks (which people were coming down all thought the night) around 5AM. About an hour before sunrise, we were able to travel without headlamps. There was still water (and black ice) crossing the switchbacks. We didn't quite make it to trail crest by sunrise, but it was still spectacular from the east-facing switchbacks. The intense power of the sun at this elevation had us stripping off our jackets shortly after sunrise.
At the trail crest, the wind picked up a little, which made me glad I brought gloves. After a short downhill section (which means uphill on the way back), the rocky trail climbs “gently” all the way to the summit. The “windows” you pass aren’t really scary (which means something coming from me); the trail is plenty wide. Just try not to stumble while you take in the view like I did. There was one small section of well-trampled snow/ice which was easily traversed. As you turn right toward the summit, the trail gets steep again, but I was pleasantly surprised how quickly the hut came into view.
We summited around 9AM and stayed about 45 minutes, as winds were light (but still cold). While coming back across the massif, we noticed that a new boulder (4ft diameter) had fallen onto the trail, yikes! Half the group scrambled up Mt. Muir (I abstained, not being fond of sheer drop-offs); I was able to see their small figures standing on the summit from trail crest. The 99 switchbacks seem to take much longer on the way back down, but we finally made it to camp.
After lunch and foot bandaging at camp, we packed up our gear, filled our water and headed down. Coming down later in the day than we went up really made me wish I had packed shorts. Even getting below the tree line seemed not to make much of a difference. We hustled down the mountain, but the final switchbacks seemed to take forever. Even when we could see the road or the parking lot, we still had a ways to go. Then, finally around 5PM, we were down! High-fives were given and WAG bags were disposed of. All that was left to do was put on shorts and flip-flops and hit the store for a bacon cheeseburger.
Feet rested up, we hobbled to the car and headed down to lone pine campground (unbearably hot until the sun goes behind the sierras) where we had celebratory (and muscle relaxing) libations and stargazed. Great end to a great trip.
Basically a really long day of walking! We hiked via the Mt Whitney Trail out of Whitney Portal, in a single day summit bid. We didn't sleep a wink, woke up at 2am, and hit the trail by 3am. We reached the summit (hiking with my 64 yr old active Dad) by 11am or so. We got back to the car around 5-6pm. There is a spring for water refills around switchback 23 of the 99 -no filtration necessary. There are no steep climbs to really make you bonk, you just gotta be patient and plan on a long day of hiking! Amazing views the entire trip!
Insider tip: There is a hostel in Lone Pine that provides crucial post-hike showers w/ towels for $5-7.
Critical mistake: we didn't plan where we were going to stay the night after the climb. We thought we'd just drive back towards home in Nor Cal. Well, driving was miserable! We *barely* made it to Bakersfield where we crashed in a sketchy Motel 6.
Did this as a day hike, except at night :). We started at Whitney Portal around 10:30 pm and were up at the top at around 4:20 am. Watched the sunrise that started about 5:30 and was finished a little after 6. It was a great experience. SOOO much granite. A couple spots in there have to be in the running for the largest granite stairways on the planet! I've been to lots of high spots, but this was my first 14K so, sweet! Our major mistake was not being ready for a couple hour at the top at night with the wind and cold. We took beanies and light jackets, but GLOVES and another layer or heavier jacket would have made those hours MUCH more comfortable.
Left trail camp for summit at 3am for sunrise on the top. Awesome meteor shower the entire way up! Second summit of Whitney for me with in a years time and just as rewarding as the first. Do yourself a favor and train hard for this one both in the gym and at altitude. Brought 5 liters of water for a short stay at trail camp and it was perfect. If not there are plenty of natural streams and lakes to refill at just bring a pump or treat the water first. Worth every mile and a little pain at the top!