Mt Whitney's trip - FAQ

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Is it very steep?

It is not as steep as, say, Half Dome in Yosemite. Of course, it is uphill :-) The main difficulties are the distance and the altitude: it is a full day of hiking (about 17 kms each way) and it is mostly hiking at high elevation, which makes everything much more difficult. I would compare it to a double marathon (a marathon is 42 kms and is on paved terrain and usually at very low elevation). If this sounds heroic, it means you have little experience of the high mountains: Mt Whitney is actually one of the easiest of the high Sierra mountains (Mt Langley is almost as easy but it doesn't have a real trail, and White Mountain is definitely easier but it is not technically part of the Sierra Nevada).


What if I don't make it to the top?

An incredible number of hikers don't make it to the top, and they are mostly inexperience unprepared people. I fondly remember the Bay Area group that told me they trained on Mt Diablo (1178 meters of elevation, 10 kms total of hiking on a touristy trail) for Mt Whitney (4421m, 34 kms). Many people end their hike at the second lake, where usually altitude starts hitting hard, which is the equivalent of watching only the first 15 minutes of a film.


Is there only one trail? Can i get lost?

The regular trail has only one major fork and it comes almost at the end. Needless to say, you have to go up, so turn right. There is another trail, but it is difficult to find it even when you want to, so i wouldn't worry about it.


What is the other trail?

The other trail is called "North Fork trail" or the "mountaineering trail". It is a lot steeper (ten times steeper) than the regular trail. Going up is absolute hell. So very few people use it. Hikers who don't like crowds or don't like official trails prefer this way up.


How many hours of hiking is it?

That obviously depends on how good a hiker you are. If you ask that question, most likely you are not an experienced one, otherwise you would know to estimate by yourself how long it takes you to hike 35 kms at high elevation.


What else is there to do, besides Mt Whitney?

This area is rich in tourist attractions. The town that hikers use as a base is Lone Pine. From Lone Pine you are about 2 hours from Eureka Sand Dunes, the tallest dunes in North America. It is part of Death Valley park but they can only be reached from the north, so very few tourists visit them. Between Lone Pine and the Whitney Portal are the Alabama Hills, a vastly underrated attraction that is a mix of Monument Valley, Death Valley and Joshua Tree Park. They have been the site of many Hollywood films. Also, don't forget that getting to Lone Pine implies crossing the whole of Yosemite Park, passing by Mono Lake and by the Mammoth Lakes. Devil's Postpile National Monument is also along the way. The highway that goes through Lone Pine, Highway 395, is considered one of the most interesting in California.


How many days does this trip require?

If you are the fast-food kind of hiker, suit yourself: drive on friday night, hike on saturday, drive back on sunday. You will probably throw up, you will remember nothing of the trail, you will be laughed at by people like me, but you may still be able to post the picture of you at the top. If you are interested in actually seeing and enjoying the mountain, you should take one day to hike at high elevation, one day to rest (but still camping at high elevation) and one day to hike Whitney. The worse shape you are in, the more you will suffer and the least productive you will be the day after (or many days after).