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One Best Hike: Mount Whitney: Everything you need to know to successfully hike California's highest peak

One Best Hike: Mount Whitney: Everything you need to know to successfully hike California's highest peak

by Elizabeth Wenk

Paperback(Second Edition)

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As the highest mountain in the lower 48 states, California's 14,505-foot Mt. Whitney is on the "life list" for many hikers. And it's no wonder: The views from the top of the 21-mile round-trip Mt. Whitney Trail are unbeatable, extending across the jagged granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the expansive Owens River Valley and beyond.

While tremendously rewarding, this hike is demanding even for experienced trekkers. Would-be hikers need to be prepared for the altitude, long distance, elevation gain, mountain weather, and other potential dangers. One Best Hike: Mt. Whitney by experienced hiker and author Elizabeth Wenk is a step-by-step guide that will tell you exactly how to tackle this trip with confidence.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780899978321
Publisher: Wilderness Press
Publication date: 11/15/2016
Series: One Best Hike
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 508,043
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Wenk has hiked and climbed in the Sierra Nevada with her family since childhood. After she started college, she found excuses to spend every summer in the Sierra, with its beguiling landscape, abundant flowers, and near-perfect weather. During those summers, she worked as a research assistant and completed her Ph.D. thesis research on the effects of rock type on alpine plant distribution and physiology. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

Read an Excerpt


Parking Lot to the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek

Distance... 0.9 mile

Leaving the parking lot, head north to the sign pointing to the trailhead; you will pass large information plaques and a handy scale to weigh your pack. The sandy trail begins by heading north, with a couple of quick switchbacks. After crossing a small creek, you emerge onto a dry, sandy slope. After about 0.3 mile, you complete an east-trending switchback and begin a long, westward traverse along the south side of the canyon. Climbing gently, you cross this open slope, which is dotted with drought-tolerant shrubs and sports an understory of colorful flowers in spring and early summer. Along the way, you cross several small trickles, which might make for short sections of a muddy trail. Nearby, watch for patches of rose thickets to the side of the trail. In the distance is a collection of pinnacles the Sierra Crest just south of Mount Whitney. Some distance below are the tips of the pine and fir trees growing in the Whitney Portal parking lot. Just before you cross the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, a sign points right (northwest) to the use trail that hikers and climbers take to access the east face of Mount Whitney and the Mountaineers Route—not your goal today. You stay on the main trail, crossing the creek on large boulders or possibly getting your feet wet during the highest flows. On the return trip, you’ll appreciate the soft sand underfoot along this stretch of trail.

HINT: Your feet may start to develop blisters along this long stretch of switchbacks. If you feel rubbing, stop promptly to apply blister bandages or sports tape. Stopping for 5 minutes now will save you time later.


North Fork of Lone Pine Creek to the Lone Pine Lake Junction

Distance... 1.9 miles (2.8 miles total)

After crossing the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, sidle around to the head of the canyon, and climb a long series of switchbacks. They are well graded, and the trail is sandy with few protruding rocks; if you’re doing the one-day hike, this is straightforward walking in the dark. The slope begins under a tree cover of Jeffrey pines and white fir and then emerges onto a drier slope of chaparral plants. Higher still, some of the larger shrubs disappear, and the slope is covered with a variety of short shrubs and flowers. Near the end of this climb, the trail veers toward Lone Pine Creek and passes vegetation that requires moister soils—these plants tend to have bigger, thinner leaves. Because this entire stretch of trail is on a single slope with no stream crossings and no junctions, it can feel rather endless; if it is light out, focus on the changes in vegetation and the changing view down-canyon to remind yourself that you are indeed making progress. Just past one open patch with a small meadow and a cluster of lodgepole pines, you reach the Lone Pine Creek crossing. A series of raised logs allows you to traverse the broad crossing easily, although during the highest flows you may get wet while approaching these logs. Beyond the stream, you switchback briefly up through lodgepole pine forest and promptly reach the signed Lone Pine Lake junction. Heading left (east) leads to the round lake, perched on the edge of the long drop-off to Whitney Portal. The Mount Whitney Trail continues up to the right (southwest).

HINT: The table below indicates easy locations to refill water bottles along the trail. As long as you are carrying a water purification device, there is no need to carry much water until you reach Trail Camp; you can refill your bottles every 1–2 miles.

  • North Fork of Lone Pine Creek - 0.9 miles
  • Lone Pine Creek crossing - 2.7 miles
  • Outpost Camp - 3.8
  • Mirror Lake - 4.2
  • Trailside Meadow - 5.1
  • Crossing Above Trailside Meadow - 5.6
  • Trail Camp - 6.1
  • Spring Above Trail Camp (seasonal) - 6.3

Table of Contents

  • Mount Whitney and the Mount Whitney Trail
  • Human History
  • Natural History


  • Altitude Sickness
  • Hypothermia
  • Hydration
  • Food
  • Lightning
  • Falling and Knee Problems
  • Blisters
  • Bears—and Smaller Critters


  • Day Hike vs. Overnight
  • When to Go
  • Wilderness Permits
  • Training
  • Considerations for Summiting
  • What to Bring
  • Getting there
  • Lone Pine and Whitney Portal
  • Lodging and Camping
  • Restaurants
  • Outdoor Equipment Shops


  • How long it takes
  • Where to Camp
  • The Hike Itself





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