Side Trip: Summit Mt. Whitney

The highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail is Forrester’s Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that brings you up to 13,153ft. This marks the highest point along the trail, but many PCT hikers will take a side trip to try and Summit Mt. Whitney.

Mt. Whitney reaches 14,508ft and for PCT hikers that want to add this side trip, it will add 16 more miles of extra miles. PCT hikers will approach the mountain from the West.

  • Mt. Whitney is about 8 miles east of the Ranger Station via the John Muir Trail. Lots of water from Whitney Creek near the Ranger Station. Food storage boxes next to the tenting area to keep food away from bears. Ranger Kris is a real cool guy if he is working when you are there.
  • There is a two-night camping limit in the Whitney Creek/Crabtree area as per NPS regulations.
  • You can find the grave of a 27 year old Doctor at the end of the meadow where the pit toilet is. Keep walking past the toilet on your left until the meadow narrows and forms a tiny spit of land. You will see a wooden cross & rocks outlining the grave from 1946. He died climbing Mt. Whitney. They got permission for him to buried in the National Park and they used dynomite to help dig the grave since the dirt is shallow and they could only get to 3ft. down.

The Whitney portal trail is 1.9 miles from the summit. Many PCT hikers will try and summit for sunrise on the mountain and wake up between midnight and 2 am to hike in the dark with headlamps not noticing the scenery beside them as they go up and up and up with your ice axe, crampons and your warmest clothes slackpacking. PCT hikers will leave their tent and heavy stuff down at the little basecamp and someone in your trail family that doesn’t want to summit will stay behind and mind everyone’s things. It’s the highest mountain in the Contiguous United States. Being up that high you have to worry about lightning and altitude sickness. The mountain can be harsh with wind and cold temperatures and finding the breath needed to keep pushing for the summit. Snow and Ice could prevent you from getting on top and make you turn around.

If you are lucky to Summit and take a selfie on top, you will most likely plan your descent down to warmer air, and on the way down you will be looking at the views that you could not see going up in the dark. This mountain, three hours north of Los Angeles is a popular spot for day hikers trying to summit, and in the summer or weekends, it can see its fair share of hikers. It’s located at the Southern end of the Sierra’s and its 11-mile trail to the summit will raise you 6,000 ft in vertical elevation.

For day hikers, there is an online lottery for the $15 permits. We can hike it with our PCT permit. Some day hikers are not prepared to hike the mountain without the right gear and experience. About 20% of hikers trying to Summit won’t. In May, June, and July there is a good number of PCT hikers heading NOBO (Northbound) that will be on the trails. With the snow and ice, it can be dangerous and people had died and had serious injuries falling. Other risks are darkness, separation, and dehydration which can feel like altitude sickness which can start when you get above 12,000 ft. Really important to drink lots of diluted Gatorade since it’s the electrolytes the body needs leading up to the attempt to summit and make sure you bring lots of water and snacks for the trek. Sleeping two nights at 8,000 ft helps get your body used to the altitude.

We won’t risk things if we don’t feel safe. We also will practice self-arresting with our ice axes before entering the Sierra’s and will wait in Kennedy Meadows and try and line up with hikers with mountaineering experience when we join a Tramily before entering the Sierra’s.

From the summit… if you look East you can see the town of Lone Pine, the Alabama hills and the Inyo Mountains in the distance. Looking South you can see the “needle” peaks you passed on the way up. Mount Muir is visible as well. The Sierra Nevada mountains are composed of ganite and metamorphic rock uplifted from beneath the sea approximately 50 million years ago.

The emergency shelter was constructed in 1909 and is very dangerous in lightning. Bring lots of water and snacks. You will need lots of calories. Expect a 11-14 hour day hiking up and back down. Lots of people start hiking up at midnight after going to bed at 5pm to wake up at midnight for an alpine start and leave your tent behind.

Bring an Ass-Pad and Sleeping Bag to enjoy the sunrise more and get warm. It’s cold and windy at the top. The last couple of miles to the top is hard with the altitude and possible altitude sickness… so bring some drugs for that.

If you are following along in our Trail Notes you can click the photo below to continue along in Section G

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