Welcome to Steve & Judy Pardoe's Mount Whitney Page

Edition of 16. May 2006 (link updated)


Mount Whitney 4,419m
(14,498 ft) July 1996
As the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 States, Mount Whitney is getting crowded, and permits are now required even for day ascents. The route is generally easy, but there no clean water available, and the height gain of 2,100 metres over a distance of some 19 km each way makes for a long day.

Judy and Steve Pardoe (both around 50 yrs) climbed Mt Whitney in a single day on 9th July 1996. We left Whitney Portal at 05:15 and were back there at 20:10, some 15 hours later.  The descent took us almost as long as the ascent, though younger people with stronger knees could probably get down a lot more quickly.

Doing it over three days would give you a lot more time, but also a lot more to carry if you are camping out (there are no refuges on the route).  We felt that a one-day ascent would be a better option for us, though we had a permit for two days, just in case.

The following description is just for information, and you must take responsibility for your own safety and judgement. Unaccustomed climbing above even 3,000 metres can be very dangerous, and although the trail is technically easy, if things go wrong you can quickly find yourself in deep trouble, and a long way from help.

Lone Pine is the obvious "base camp". There are lots of motels: we stayed, appropriately enough, at the Mount Whitney Motel on the main drag (actually, almost everything in Lone Pine is on the main drag). It was clean and reasonably priced. We ate a couple of times at the rather smart Seasons Restaurant over the road, but there are plenty of cheaper places.

Lone Pine is a long drive from anywhere west, as there are few passes over the Sierra, the nearest to the north being the Tioga Pass, a full day away above Lee Vining. From the south you'd have to come round past the Kings Canyon area.

The Route

We took the normal hiking route, which starts from Whitney Portal to the south-east of the mountain. You can drive there directly from Lone Pine, and park at the trailhead. If you are planning to start in the dark, as we did, it might be worth sussing out the trailhead in daylight, as it can be hard to find (it seems to head in the wrong direction for a while).

The route runs roughly westward towards the Trail Crest, where is joins the John Muir Trail. It then descends for about 100 metres, which is heartbreaking, before turning north and climbing more gently along the west flank of Mount Muir, and then Mount Whitney itself. The final metres to the summit are roughly easterly, and you are in no doubt when you reach it!

Steve, a short way above the trailhead
Judy, as dawn broke

After the first section, the route is very easy to follow, and there is no point in repeating the details here. A good map helps to relieve the boredom, and could be useful if the weather is very bad. A compass and the usual emergency equipment are obvious essentials.

Judy taking a welcome drink
There is no clean water on the trail, so you need to ration yourself very carefully. We used almost all ours during the ascent, saving just a little for emergencies on the way down. This was OK, but only just!
The views from the trail are excellent, on a clear day, and they change dramatically as you reach Trail Crest and can see to the west for the first time. This shot was actually taken on the way down.
Judy on the trail
Mount Whitney behind her

A word of caution here: the trail is very exposed in its upper sections, and lightning is a real hazard (combination of granite and situation). Don't climb above the lakes if thunder threatens!

Judy at the John Muir trail junction
The sign warns about lightning
View to the North-west

We found quite a few short snow sections before and during the switchbacks (of which we were told there are 97 on the climb to Trail Crest). Click on the link for a discussion of this.

Here we are in the inevitable summit photo, kindly taken by a couple from Washington State. Their camera was out of film so we took a shot of them on ours and mailed them a print. They very kindly reciprocated at Christmas with a beautiful book of photos of Washington. Those are the sort of people you like to meet in the mountains!
Judy and Steve on the summit of Mount Whitney
13:00 on 9. July 1996

Logistics

Permits

To limit environmental damage, a permit is now needed even for a day hike. In 1996, applications opened on 1. April, and we sent ours in by fax from the UK just after midnight (California time). It was returned by airmail with the official stamp a few weeks later. For up to date information, you should contact the Rangers for the Inyo National Forest.

Water

Yes, there are streams and lakes, and if there's snow you can use that; but with so many people around, I'd be very concerned about nasty infections.  A giardia-rated filter, backed up by iodine drops, is probably the best solution if you are doing the climb over three days.  If you add vitamin C (ascorbic acid) after the iodine has worked, it takes away much of the taste and colour (and it's good for you!). We have used up to 500mg of vitamin C per litre in Ecuador (half a soluble tablet), and it was quite palatable.

We started from the trailhead carrying a little over 6 litres (approx US quarts) of water between two of us, and used almost all of it on the ascent, saving just a drop for descent.  We drank nothing from the trail, but we did have a good draught before starting out, and also when we returned to the trailhead in the evening, so it's worth having a few extra litres in the car! Dehydration greatly worsens the effect of altitude, but there's a limit to what you can carry, especially if you are going for a quick day trip.

Acclimatization

Naturally, we arrived in North America well before our permit date, to get fit and acclimatized for Mt Whitney. Unfortunately, the dreadful winter weather of 1995/96 had closed a lot of the high trails we'd planned to acclimatise on beforehand, in Canada (around Lake Louise) and the Northern USA (Washington & Oregon), so we suffered pretty bad hypoxia, and felt very ill towards the summit. The symptoms were: extreme fatigue (much worse than just from the physical effort, which is bad enough at our age); mental retardation (slurred speech, potentially bad judgement)(same comment applies!); and failing peripheral vision, blue lips, and very white eyeballs and fingernails (hypoxia).

You can to read more about hypoxia and acute mountain sickness (AMS) on our acclimatization page.

We survived, but acclimatization is something you have to take seriously.

Clothing

The weather varies enormously and very rapidly in the Sierra Nevada, especially at altitude. We carried warm and waterproof upper-body layers, but were lucky enough not to need any of them until the evening. I wore long trousers rather than shorts, to protect from the sun and wind, and to save carrying a change, and a long sleeved thermal vest. Judy wore a T shirt and shorts, carrying additional layers (I had most of the water!).

You can read more about Alpine dress codes on our clothing page.

Just a word of warning regarding footwear, as there is (or was) a lot of granite dust on the trail, especially near the junction with the John Muir at the pass, and it's very easy to slip on.  I had one scary fall which only resulted in bruises, thank goodness. We wore soft fabric walking boots (Line 7 or similar) and found these excellent.  However, you could probably do it in hiking shoes if there is not too much snow about. 

Snow? in California?? in the Summer???

We had just a couple of snow sections to cross, with quite spectacular run-outs, so you might want to carry a ski pole, or even a lightweight ice-axe, if there is significant cover.  The Ranger station in Lone Pine should have up to date route details, but you should talk to descending parties (or review rec.climbing and rec.backcountry) if you get the chance. There will be plenty of recent summiteers in the pizza bars of Lone Pine (they will be the tired ones, who are still happy).

It was a great day out, but, oh, were we tired the next morning?


Links

395.com is a portal ( ! ) site for all things to do with Route 395 and the Eastern Sierra, including weather and trail info, pictures and local links.

A link (updated 16. May 2006) has kindly been sent to us by Bill Kirk to his excellent Mt Whitney Dayhike Page

Others would be most welcome.

Comments, updates and corrections from readers will also be appreciated: please send them to us by e-mail at the link below.


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Cheshire,   England
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