California Hike Travel

Mt. Whitney: The Real Endurance Test

Mt. Whitney, located in Lone Pine, CA, is known to be the highest point in the lower 48 states. Standing at 14,505 ft., this infamous mountain stands atop the rocky peaks, challenging those who dare to conquer it . But to do so, you need to apply for an online lottery permit (which is VERYYYY difficult to win).

Luckily, I won the permit for the overnight trip on September 26-27, 2016. To be honest, I’ve gotten super lucky with the lotteries, winning The Subway, Half Dome, and The Enchantment Lakes in the process.

After much planning, I was ready to go with my two adventure buddies, Michael and Travis. We drove almost three hours from Sylmar.

First, we stopped by at the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center to pick up our permit and wag bags. Wag bags are basically toilet in a bag (literally!!!). The bag even comes with toilet papers and a sanitizing wipe.

For those who don’t know, this is a wag bag!

At first, wag bags sounded super complicated, especially if you don’t know how to use them. But once you get it down it’s actually super easy.

Once we got our permit, we decided to check out Whitney Portal which is both a store and a restaurant. I ordered a veggie burger with fries since we wanted to have a decent meal before our big day.

The veggie burgers and kombucha (not from the restaurant)!
Whitney Portal even offers selections of outdoor gears!

After dinner, we drove back down to Alabama Hills to scout for a campsite. Before that, we saw a really cool rock that looks like a dinosaur face. We took lots of photos of this peculiar rock along with the sunset.

I call this “Dinosaur Rock.”

What I love about Alabama Hills is that it’s desolate and quiet. We were the only people camping at the campsite (though I’m pretty sure this isn’t really a campsite).

Our awesome campsite in the middle of nowhere.

Michael, Travis and I mostly goofed around, playing frisbee and joking about how we should just hike Mt. Whitney right now.

Writing our names on the floor!

Oooh boy…I’m glad we didn’t because I would’ve been wayyy too tired.

Travis and I goofing around!

Anyways, we stargazed throughout the night, mainly in awe of how clear the night skies are and how clear we can all see the Milky Way up above. I managed to catch photos of the Milky Way and stars and it was just the perfect night for all of us.

Next morning, we took Travis’s car and packed our backpack, food, and all other essentials that we need and drove off to Whitney Portal at 5 am in the morning.

When we arrived, we packed our two-day food in the pack and put the remaining foods in the bear locker.

We organized our pack and brought what we mainly need to bring for our trek.

We started our trek around 5:45 am with our very heavy 40 lb. pack. The trail was well-maintained and the initial trek didn’t seem too bad. There were few water crossings you had to do along with walking the wooden block plank.

Into our 45 minutes of our hike, we saw momma deer jumping out of the forest and into the open. This caught us by surprise since momma deer was VERYYY close to us (about 10 ft.). Of course, we didn’t want to scare it away so we gave it some distance.

AHHH! Momma deer stared right back at us!

 

Guess what?

 

Few minutes later, baby deer came out of the forest too, following behind momma deer. This was a very cute moment. I’m glad those deers didn’t get scared of us.

Can’t really tell from the picture, but baby deer roaming around.

And a bonus…

A blue jay on the Mt. Whitney Trail!

We eventually came across a sign pointing to Lone Pine Lake, but we decided to skip it and head off to Outpost Camp.

We eventually came across the sign saying,  “Entering Mt. Whitney Zone.”

This is where you need your permit otherwise you might get fined or you might be asked to turn around. We kept trekking along, gaining more and more elevation. We stopped to take a snack break, and lo’ and behold…Lone Pine Lake looks tiny from where we are.

Travis’s famous quote, “And awayyyy we go!”

We continued our hike and the trails were getting much easier. The trails were relatively flat and shaded by trees as we walked along the beautiful, lush meadows.

Around 10 am, we arrived at Outpost Camp! Without delay, we unpacked our stuff and set up our tent. I cooked some veggie burgers for brunch. As we ate our meal, a group of hikers coming down the trail told us that we can finish the trail in three hours.

Upon hearing that, we were like, “HELL YEAH!!! This is wayyy too easy!!”

WRONG!!!

We listened to their misleading advice and set off on the trail. Once we passed Mirror Lake, I started feeling altitude sickness. I tried to hide it, but got worse.

This is Mirror Lake.

We kept walking up stone stairs, up steep switchbacks.

I spotted a really cool old tree and took photo of it before moving on.

Can you spot the old tree?

Almost at Trail Camp, it happened!

I GOT DIARRHEA…

Travis, Michael and I had to make last minute decisions. Part of me thought we could make it to the summit, but then again my body was awfully tired and needed to acclimate more.

 

We decided to summit Mt. Whitney the next day.

 

Disappointed, we retraced our steps back to Outpost Camp. We met these group of hikers who gave us MIO drink mix and water purification tablets.

I forgot her name, but this very kind woman prayed for us (it’s something you don’t see much on the trail). We thanked them for their generosity and went about our way back down the camp.

The night was still young. So, we decided to get up early around midnight to complete the summit.

We woke up a few minutes past midnight. Feeling rather groggy, we headed onto the trail, bringing only a few basic items.

Luckily my bowel movement was okay. We almost got lost trying to find the trail (since it was too dark), but luckily we made it all the way to Trail Camp.

Taken from our early morning hike.

We probably took about a 30-45 minute break as Travis went to refill our water bottles. The air was so frigid and cold that we couldn’t sit around much. After Travis got our water refilled, we continued our trek.

We made it to the infamous 99 Switchbacks and I gotta warn you these switchbacks are NOOOOO joke. They are super steep and rocky with each climb putting more and more pressure into your knees.

Sunrise from the 99 Switchbacks.
Check out how far we are from that hiker!

I should also warn you that there are frozen ice along the trail. To get past it, we stayed as close to the cable as possible to avoid them.

Check out the snow! This was off-trail from the 99 Switchbacks.

I swear everytime we run into a group of hikers, they keep telling us it takes about 1-2 hours to make it to the summit. But everytime we keep going, it feels like we’re much farther from the summit.

Eventually, we completed the 99 Switchbacks and made it to Trail Crest.

We took a long break and left two of our packs on the side of the Trail Crest sign. Alot of people left their heavy packs on the side of the trail. So it’s safe to leave your belongings there and bring your water bottle instead. 

OK. Trail Crest was a bigger pain in the ass. The trail was basically walking on rocks…rocks…and MORE ROCKS. Plus, they were scattered along the trail, turning my poor legs into jello. Not to mention, this trail was exposed with NO SHADES.

We saw Hitchcock Lake and Guitar Lake along the way.

Hitchcock Lake
Guitar Lake

We even saw The Windows which are openings between jagged edges of the peaks.

The Windows was a sight to see and a great place to take breaks. Plus who doesn’t want to see this amazing view?!

Even if the Trail Crest says 1.9 miles to Whitney Summit, the trail felt like forever to make it to the summit. 

Maybe, I’m delusional.

The trail kept meandering upwards and downwards until you get to the other side of the mountain. I swear Mt. Whitney summit just feels like an endless walk.

I kept pushing and pushing myself to no avail. Just more breaks.

Part of me wanted to pass out.

Travis went on ahead, leaving me and Michael in the dust. I kept slowing down, taking breaks and drinking a ton of water.

In a million years (just kidding), we finally saw the lonely house. In our tiresome state, we made the final push, reaching the summit around 9:30 am.

We all head into the house and took a looonnnggg break. We all didn’t have much of a strength so we just hung around inside the house. About 15-20 minutes later, I gathered all my strength and looked around the summit.

There is a guestbook in front of the house where you can sign your name.

The summit wasn’t too bad. The views overlooked the lakes down below. It doesn’t get much better than this:

Group photo!!!

Now comes the uhmm…sh*tty part. Walking all the way back down to Whitney Portal.

Before we left, we ran into the same nice group of people including the woman who prayed for us. She prayed for Travis since he was feeling sick (I don’t know if it was due to altitude sickness or food poisoning). We thanked them once again and continued our torturous walk, being very careful as not to trip or slip off to the side of the 14,000 ft. mountain.

My tiny legs kept pushing, giving away every bit of my strength. On top of that, Travis wasn’t feeling too well. He threw up like two times on our way down.

If you ever get altitude sickness, descend quickly!!! DON’T…AND I REPEAT… DON’T ATTEMPT TO CONTINUE THE ASCENT!!!

So that’s exactly what we did.

After many, many hours, we made it back to Outpost Camp. Michael and I were already feeling dead, but we knew we had to keep pushing. Not to mention, we had to pack up all our stuff and bring it back down the mountain.

Travis took ibuprofen and felt better. After more veggie burgers, we packed up our stuff and headed out by 4:30 pm. By then, it was already starting to get dark.

After almost three hours of torture, we made it back to Whitney Portal…

ALIVE!!!

Michael and I sat down, feeling completely exhausted while Travis got his car. We put our food from the bear locker into the car and drove back to Alabama Hills to retrieve my car.

We gave Travis one final hug before departing since Michael and I went on a month long roadtrip to other states.


Tips Before Hiking Mt. Whitney

Tip #1: ACCLIMATE!!!! I cannot stress this enough but since you are going to be above 7,000 feet, you are likely to get altitude sickness unless you acclimate. Spend the night camping in Whitney Portal Campground or reserve the overnight trip to Whitney instead of doing a full-day.

Tip #2: Take your time! I mean really, really, really take your time. There is no need to rush (unless you’re doing the full day). Take few in-between breaks and enjoy the scenery in the first 6 miles before you reach Trail Camp. Take your time on the 99 Switchbacks.

Remember: Slow and steady wins the race!!!

Tip #3: Camp at Trail Camp instead of Outpost Camp. We made a huge mistake camping at Outpost, since we didn’t know there was another camp about three miles further. If you’re doing an overnight trip, make sure to camp at Trail Camp so that you shave off a few miles to get to the top of Mt. Whitney.

Tip #4: HYDRATE! HYDRATE! HYDRATE! If you run out of water, bring a water filter or water purification tablets. Also, there are plenty of places on the trail to refill your water so make sure to do that.

Tip #5: Make sure to bring your permit! MUCHO IMPORTANTE!!! Sometimes, rangers check up on you to see if you have a permit. Without one can result in getting fined or getting turned around.


Is Mt. Whitney worth it? Yes! This hike was definitely more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge since there was a slight moment where I was like, “I’m almost there. Just a bit more.” or “I don’t know if I can do it.” 

Not to mention, you’ll conquer the highest point in the lower 48 states! That is like a HUGE accomplishment.

Just make sure to follow the tips, take your time, and enjoy the scenic views at the summit!

Directions to Mt. Whitney Trailhead

Have you summited Mt. Whitney? Tell me about your experience.

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