The north-south Inyo Mountains comprise a high and vast desert range, and the isolated and pristine Wilderness that bears their name encompasses a large portion of this sheerly rugged terrain. The area reaches a high point on Keynot Peak, at about 11,000 feet, and separates the Owens Valley on the west from the Saline Valley on the east. Most of the eastern border is shared with Death Valley National Park. Year-round streams, some cascading over waterfalls, can be found in eight canyons on the rough east side. These steep-walled canyons offer challenges to rock climbers. In addition to Keynot Peak, the prominent summits of New York Butte and Mount Inyo provide tough, nontechnical hikes with splendid views as rewards. Creosote, shadscale scrub, and sagebrush proliferate at lower elevations. You'll find a lush riparian habitat in the moist canyons, and pinion-juniper woodlands on some of the slopes. Bristlecone and limber pine grow in the higher reaches. Inyo Mountains Wilderness lies partly on BLM land and partly within Inyo National Forest. A rich mining legacy has left a smattering of ruins to explore, and the towers that supported a men-and-salt-bearing tram from the Saline Valley salt mines to Owens Lake can still be seen on Cerro Gordo Peak. There are 103 miles of unmaintained trails, often difficult to follow, a holdover from historic use. Most of these trails are not shown on maps. From Reward, the old Lonesome Miner Trail (40 miles) will take you south through the highest country to Hunter Canyon. The chance for a solitude-rich Wilderness experience of a high order awaits the adventurous.
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.
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.