Whitney in a Day
 
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The Mount Whitney Trail covers 10.7 miles and 6,135 feet of elevation. Trail guides typically reference the nine stages described below. I've incorporated a conservative projected schedule. Many groups do the ascent in 7.5 to 9 hours. This schedule presumes an ascent of a bit longer than 10 hours and an average speed of 1 mph. Descents seem to take about 60-70% as long as the ascent. Our actual times have now been added.

 Mount Whitney Trail
 Overall
 Statistics
      
Whitney Portal
 8,361 ft
Whitney Summit
14,496 ft
Elevation Change
 6,135 ft
Average Grade
11%
Trail Length
 10.7 miles
Class
1
Projected Departure
 4:00 am
Actual Departure
4:07 am
Projected Arrival
 2:20 pm
Actual Arrival
1:30 pm
Projected Duration
 10.3 hrs
Actual Duration
 9:23
Projected Speed
 1 mph
Actual Speed
 1.1 mph
 Telephone
 Numbers
Permits, trail conditions, etc
760-876-6200
Wilderness Information Line
760-873-2408
Inyo County Search & Rescue
and Sheriff’s Dispatch
760-876-5606
 
 

 Stage 1: Whitney Portal to John Muir Wilderness
 Statistics    
Whitney Portal
 8,361 ft
John Muir Wilderness
 8,480 ft
Elevation Change
 119 ft
Average Grade
 5%
Mile
 .5
Stage Distance
 .5
Projected Arrival
 4:30 am
Actual Arrival
 4:33 am
Projected Duration
 .5 hrs
Actual Duration
 :28
Projected Speed
 1 mph
Actual Speed
 1 mph
 Comments The trailhead is just east of the Whitney Portal store. This first half mile moves through treeless terain and heads away from Mount Whitney until switchbacks take you into the John Muir Wilderness. We may need headlamps in the predawn hours. The trail is decomposed granite and sand though there are a few rocky sections.



 Stage 2: John Muir Wilderness to Lone Pine Lake
 Statistics    
John Muir Wilderness
 8,480 ft
Lone Pine Lake
 9,960 ft
Elevation Change
 1,480 ft
Average Grade
 14%
Mile
 2.5
Stage Distance
 2.0
Projected Arrival
 6:30 am
Actual Arrival
 5:57 am
Projected Duration
 2.0 hrs
Actual Duration
 1:24
Projected Speed
 1 mph
Actual Speed
 1.7 mph
 Comments A steady climb along nearly 30 switchbacks through pine trees and later through a treeless area of chinquapin scrub oak, mountain mahogonay, and chaparral. Lone Pine Creek will be on the left side of the trail as it cascades down from Lone Pine Lake which is "perched on a glacial bench" overlooking Whitney Portal and the Owens Valley.


  
 Stage 3: Lone Pine Lake to Outpost Camp
 Statistics    
Lone Pine Lake
 9,960 ft
Outpost Camp
 10,365 ft
Elevation Change
 705 ft
Average Grade
 6%
Mile
 3.8
Stage Distance
 1.3
Projected Arrival
 7:10 am
Actual Arrival
 6:32 am
Projected Duration
 40 mins
Actual Duration
 35 mins
Projected Speed
 2 mph
Actual Speed
 2.2 mph
 Comments From Lone Pine Lake the trail heads north towards the rocky cliffs of Mount Thor. There are 17 switchbacks running along the Mount Rhor's southern cliffs. At switchback #8 we might see a old, faded 3 mile marker. There is a solar toilet at Outpost Camp and water can be found here but filter it carefully -- because of potential runoff from heavily used camps further upstream.



 Stage 4: Outpost Camp to Mirror Lake
 Statistics    
Outpost Camp
 10,365 ft
Mirror Lake
 10,640 ft
Elevation Change
 285 ft
Average Grade
 26%
Mile
 4.0
Stage Distance
 .2
Projected Arrival
 7:35 am
Actual Arrival
 7:00 am
Projected Duration
 25 mins
Actual Duration
 28 mins
Projected Speed
 .5 mph
Actual Speed
 .5 mph
 Comments At Outpost Camp the crest of Mount Whitney comes into view as well as the area of the "97 switchbacks" off to the west. This is a short stage but very steep as the trail works its way up a granite escarpment. Along the way the trail becomes a staircase with steps as high as a foot or more.




 Stage 5: Mirror Lake to Trailside Meadows
 Statistics    
Mirror Lake
 10,640 ft
Trailside Meadows
 11,359 ft
Elevation Change
 719 ft
Average Grade
 14%
Mile
 5.0
Stage Distance
 1.0
Projected Arrival
 8:35 am
Actual Arrival
 8:04 am
Projected Duration
 1 hr
Actual Duration
 1:04
Projected Speed
 1 mph
Actual Speed
 1 mph
 Comments From here on up there are far fewer trees and thy disappear entirely as we climb beyond the timberline. This stage is quite steep with the trail working its way through fields of boulders and tall stair steps. Trailside Meadows marks the halfway point. It's recommended that we have some food here because from this point on altitude will become more of a problem -- including a possbile reduction in appetite.


 Stage 6: Trailside Meadows to Trail Camp
 Statistics    
Trailside Meadows
 11,359 ft
Trail Camp
 12,039 ft
Elevation Change
 680 ft
Average Grade
 10%
Mile
 6.3
Stage Distance
 1.3
Projected Arrival
 9:35 am
Actual Arrival
 8:50 am
Projected Duration
 1 hr + :15
Actual Duration
 45 mins +30
Projected Speed
 1 mph
Actual Speed
 1.6 mph
 Comments The trail climbs sharply threw several moderate switchbacks. Along the way, Consultation Lake will come into view along the left side of the trail. Before we reach Trail Camp we should see signs for Trail Camp's solar toilet. This is the last toilet. Also, the last water on the trail is here but purify it carefully given the likely presence of giardia. The schedule includes a 15 minute rest here before the 97 switchbacks of the next stage.


 Stage 7: Trail Camp to Trail Crest
 Statistics    
Trail Camp
 12,039 ft
Trail Crest
 13,777 ft
Elevation Change
 1,738 ft
Average Grade
 15%
Mile
 8.5
Stage Distance
 2.2
Projected Arrival
 12:10 pm
Actual Arrival
 11:23 am
Projected Duration
 2:20 hrs
Actual Duration
 1:53
Projected Speed
 1 mph
Actual Speed
 1.2 mph
 Comments This is generally considered the most difficult stage. It is monotonously steep as it zig-zags through ninety-seven switchbacks and 1,738 feet of elevation in a little over 2 miles. A good mental attitude, a slow steady pace, and a few candy or granola bars are said to be key here. About midway through the swithbacks is a stretch of granite with cable hand rails that can be a bit dicey if conditions get icy (not likely during daylight hours in September). The reward for reaching Trail Crest is the breathtaking western vista that finally comes into view.

 Stage 8: Trail Crest to Trail Junction (Mount Whitney & John Muir)
 Statistics    
Trail Crest
 13,777 ft
Trail Junction
 13,480 ft
Elevation Change
 -297 ft
Average Grade
 -11%
Mile
 9.0
Stage Distance
 .5
Projected Arrival
 12:35 pm
Actual Arrival
 11:50 am
Projected Duration
 25 mins
Actual Duration
 27 mins
Projected Speed
 1 mph
Actual Speed
 1 mph
 Comments Yes, this stage drops in altitude by 300 feet -- and just when the summit seems in easy reach.







 Stage 9: Trail Junction to Mount Whitney Summit
 Statistics    
Trail Junction
 13,480 ft
Summit
 14,496 ft
Elevation Change
 1,016 ft
Average Grade
 11%
Mile
 10.7
Stage Distance
 1.7
Projected Arrival
 2:20 pm
Actual Arrival
 1:30 pm
Projected Duration
 1:45 hrs
Actual Duration
 100 mins
Projected Speed
 1 mph
Actual Speed
 1 mph
 Comments Stay on the Whitney Summit trail and be careful not to veer down the John Muir Trail. From here on the trail isnt' steep but it demands caution. It skirts cliffs and crawls along narrow rock ledges. If storms seem near reverse direction since there is no protection from lightning. Passing by Third Needle, Keeler Needle and Crooks Needle will afford spectacular views through the "windows" between them. The trail then deviates into different ones taken by many hikers between here and the top. And then we're there, top of the mountain! Stop, take a break, sign the register, head back down.