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Hiking Mount Whitney

Mt Whitney Trail / Mount Whitney Map

mt whitney mapWhen the snow melts in the High Sierra, the rush is on! This is one of the most popular backpacking trips in the Eastern Sierra, as Mt Whitney is the highest peak (14505′ elevation) in the contiguous United States of America.

Day hikes to the summit should only be attempted if you are in excellent physical shape & used to high altitude hiking. There are so many folks trying to hike this sought-after peak in the warmer summer months (MAY-OCT) that the National Forest has put tight restrictions on these Mount Whitney trails. You must obtain a Wilderness hiking permit for this hike & that requires waiting in a long line of outdoor enthusiasts that also seek this prime destination.

The Lone Pine Ranger station holds an annual Whitney trail LOTTERY, where you must apply a year in advance & be granted a permit before you can set foot on this popular hiking route.

An alternate backpacking route to Mt Whitney is the southern ridge line from the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead, but you still must verify with local authorities for permits & Wilderness passes.

The Alabama Hills, between US Hwy 395 @ Lone Pine CA and the Whitney Portal offers camping and mountain biking trails with excellent views of Mount Whitney from below. A short drive up to the portal & you can stand in the waterfall mist & then do a day hike up to Lone Pine Lake.

Now that we have you salivating for this epic adventure, you can start your dreaming & real planning by ordering hiking topo maps of the region. Then after you have thoroughly reviewed the maps, the terrain (as well as your own physical condition), you can contact the Inyo National Forest / Lone Pine ranger office for more specifics on dates & details. This may take years of planning to make it happen.

lone pine roads

The Alabama Hills sit at the base of Mt Whitney, California

Where to Camp

Where to set Camp in California?
Camping Spots
Small campgrounds have fewer facilities than the larger developed campgrounds, but less sites means more nature and less people. Roughing it on the back roads with dispersed camping is by far the best experience for seclusion and privacy

real peace and quiet.

Primitive, free camping requires more thought and planning than just pitching a tent in a flat spot at a developed campground.

First off, you will need a decent topo map to find the dirt back roads, the trailheads and the creeks with the best camp sites; a dependable and capable rig to get you out there, plus your camping gear.

Campfire permits are usually required for camp stoves, BBQs and any open fires. (bucket & shovel needed).

And most importantly, since California is known for its super dry climate and seasonal wildfires, make sure to check with local rangers to find out about any current campfire restrictions.

Streamside Camping
some tips for a good camping experience – without scoldings or citations from Mr. Ranger:

  • Choose existing campsite in a used area – rather than creating another rock ring & trampling a fresh spot.
  • Always know fire conditions; get a fire permit if you have a campfire outside of a developed campground.
  • Set up camp away from other people. The majority of people go to the wilderness to experience quiet, peace, & solitude. There is plenty space for everyone, so spread out.

mountains

  • Never set camp in a meadow. It is a very fragile ecosystem.
  • Use an existing camp site when possible. Rebuilding and cleaning campfire pits is part of the job!
  • Camping right on the a creek bed or lake shore is damaging to the vegetation and wildlife areas. Place tent at least 20+ feet away from waters edge. Many camp site already exist in prime areas on creek front, so seek out those first. The deeper you go into the wood, the more you will find. Seclusion is possible, if you want to drive beyond the pavement.
  • Do not camp beneath large dead trees. Check tent spots for old overhanging branches too.
  • Do not camp near a mine shaft; Toxic heavy metals or radioactive debris could be present in the dirt.
  • Camping next to a lake, wetlands or a meadow can often result in abundant mosquitoes & insects overall.
  • Snow is possible anytime from October to May above 5000′ elevation. Chilly nights are common in summer.

deserts

  • Avoid camping inside desert canyons when the threat of rain is approaching: possible flash floods.
  • Consider the benefits of potential windbreaks in desert terrain. Large rocks, bushes, trees, your vehicle & even a hillside.
  • Picking a camp spot on a ridge line means sun exposure and windy conditions. Breezes will keep the bugs away and you can’t beat the better view, but wind can pick up at any time especially in desert regions.
  • Low elevation in late spring and fall means very warm temps;┬ásummer is triple digit heat most days.
  • Do not camp near a mine shaft; Toxic heavy metals or radioactive debris could be present in the dirt.

coastal

  • Avoid camping on fragile coastal cliffs; unstable, which can give way, caving in, resulting in danger to you.
  • Camping on the beach means watching the tides. Know where high water mark is before you set camp up.
  • Beach camping in early summer means low clouds and fog are likely. June Gloom can last months.

countryside

  • Avoid building campfires up against a large boulders or against a rock face.
  • Rivers controlled by hydroelectric dam systems mean that the water levels can change at any time without warning.
  • Never set camp in a wildflower meadow. It’s too fragile of an ecosystem.
  • Lower elevations in summer time means potential triple digit heat during mid-day.
  • Do not camp near a mine shaft; Toxic heavy metals or radioactive debris could be present in the dirt.
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