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. 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.

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