This post is about prep recommendations for more advanced hikers with several intense hikes and backpacking trips under their belts. If you’re new to hiking or haven’t hiked at least 200 miles under your belt and aren’t in excellent shape then I do not recommend doing this hike. It is dangerous for beginners and those who aren’t in shape. If you have little or no experience with altitude do not attempt this hike. You will be miles and miles deep into the wilderness, with no signal and with minimal opportunity for help if you run into trouble or need medical assistance. There are areas that the trail isn’t clearly defined, it will be dark and there may be no one around to help you if you get lost or hurt. Altitude sickness is real and you will be in major trouble if you have never experienced it and don’t know how to deal with it.
About this post specifically:
Now that I have given you fair warning, this post also assumes you have already done your research regarding getting permits and done your research on the trail, are familiar with all of the waypoints and are familiar with the dangers of altitude and other risks associated with this trail. If you are looking for basic information on the trail you won’t find it here. If you are a beginner hiker there are other posts or articles for hiking Mt Whitney, but I strongly recommend doing more hikes until you’ve logged 200 miles and done a few backpacking trips deep into the wilderness (IE. not car camping).
When to hike:
I recommend hiking this in late August or September for various reasons: No mosquitos, not too hot, lower chance of storms, nice chill in the air, less tourists.
What to wear:
- (I recommend trail runners but if you want to do 22 miles and 6k elevation in big heavy boots then go for it. The trail only gets rocky around Trail Crest. I opted for Trail Runners and my feet thanked me that night.)
- (I used an Icebreaker merino/bamboo hoodie and comfy black diamond hiking/climbing pants)
- Comfy underwear
- Merino wool socks
- (I like Darn Tough Socks)
- Light or medium gloves
- (I like The North Face Etip Gloves)
- Hat or Sun Protection
- (I just wear an Outdoor Research baseball cap)
You will be cold to start the hike but don’t put on the jacket and buff (see items in what to bring list below) as you will get hot a few minutes into the hike. However you will probably need those items once you get to Trail Crest so just pack them. This is why they are listed in ‘What to pack’ and not ‘What to wear’
What to pack:
- Permit in a ziplock bag
- Water filter / Hydration System
- (I use a Katadyn BeFree with a 2L HydraPak Seeker)
- Backpack. Any light backpack will do.
- (I use a sea to summit 20L Ultra Sil).
- Headlamp. Any headlamp will do just make sure the batteries are fresh.
- (I use a Black Diamond Storm Head Lamp)
- Trekking poles
- (I use Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z Trekking Poles)
- Trail map
- (Download a backup map or take a photo at the trailhead if you want.)
- Phone and headphones.
- (If you like listening to music and taking photos, also makes a good flashlight if your headlamp batteries die)
- Emergency beacon like a Garmin Inreach is recommended but not necessary.
- Buff or Balaclava
- Puff windbreaker jacket.
- (I used a Arcteryx Atom LT and it was fine.)
- Wag bag. They will give you one at permit pickup.
- Hand sanitizer
- Extra sanitary wipes
- First aid with blister repair, bandaids, Advil or whatever else you might think you’ll need.
- Electrolytes or goo if you want
- Food. I recommend 1-2 pounds of whatever you normally eat during hikes. Everyone is different. I won’t get into it but if you eat a big breakfast you should be able to get to Trail Camp without eating. I had lunch at Trail Camp and a snack at the summit and that was it. When I got back to the trailhead I had a huge dinner.
- Do not bring water to start the hike if you are not hiking in the dead of winter. It’s a waste of weight in my opinion. Just bring a container and a filter of some kind. I use a katadyn befree and a 2L hydrapak bag. Just drink lots of water with breakfast and you will have plenty of opportunities to fill up between the trailhead and trail camp when you get thirsty. Fill up again at Trail Camp before heading up the 99 Switchbacks.
This is really based on your experience and fitness level. If you’re still reading this I’m assuming you’re in good shape and experienced. If you are doing the hike in August/September and have spent the Summer doing a good amount of hiking then you are probably already in hiking shape. If that’s the case then a few 5-10 mile hikes above 6-8k elevation would be sufficient enough. I don’t have issues with altitude but if you normally do then adjust the training and elevation accordingly. Cottonwood Lakes is a great place to train.
Two days before:
You’re allowed to pick up your permit two days before your hike so pick it up! Check the weather and ask any questions at permit pickup. So you’ve got your permit 2 days before your hike and you’re ready to hike this bad boy. I recommend going to cottonwood lakes right after you get your permit and doing a short 5-10 mile hike there to get the blood flowing and get acclimatized. You’ll also want to acclimatize two nights before so just stay put and camp at cottonwood lakes campground. Keep an eye out for altitude sickness symptoms and reduce elevation if necessary.
The day before:
The next day relax, stay off your legs as much as possible, maybe check out Alabama Hills and then head to Whitney Portal for dinner.
The night before:
After dinner you’ll want to go to bed as early as possible and sleep at the Whitney Portal trailhead. Set your alarm for 3:15am. There’s a campground there or you can probably sleep in your car if you keep a low profile. You’ll be waking up at 3:15am anyways. You can camp down at Alabama Hills or Cottonwood Lakes, but adjust your wake up time accordingly. Check the weather again if you can find cell service or go to the Portal Store at the trailhead and ask.
The morning of:
Congratulations you woke up at 3:15am…now get dressed, brush your teeth and you are ready for breakfast. I had granola, mixed nuts and a protein shake. I also drank a lot of water, green tea and coconut water. I then hit the restroom at the trailhead, did some stretching and hit the trail. There is a scale to weigh your bag at the trailhead. Check the time when you weigh your pack. With gear, 1-2 pounds of food and no water your pack should weigh around 2-4 pounds. The lighter the better but make sure you have enough food for your body type. Enjoy the hike. Take your time in the dark. Enjoy the stars. Like I said there are plenty of posts or articles about the trail and it’s waypoints. I won’t get into when you should be at each waypoint because everyone travels at their own pace. There should be several opportunities to fill your water between the trailhead and Trail Camp. I didn’t need water until Outpost Camp so I filled up there and then again at Trail Camp when I stopped for lunch. Keep an eye on the sky to make sure you don’t see any storms before proceeding up the 99 Switchbacks and check again when proceeding from Trail Crest to the summit. If you see storms turn around and go back down. Lightning is a real danger and the top of the mountain has its own weather that can move in very quickly. If you leave at 4am you should be able to summit by 10am no problem. If you take lots of photos and rest a lot then probably closer to 11am. If you’re a beast then you can make it to the summit by 9am or sooner. If you don’t get to the summit until noon or later or not at all then you probably should have taken my advice for beginners and done more hikes before attempting this one.
Lastly, please respect Mother Nature and your fellow hikers. Please research and learn what LEAVE NO TRACE means. If you pack it in then pack it out. That includes bodily waste, apple cores, orange peels and eggshells. Just because it is biodegradable doesn’t mean you can leave it. Please…LEAVE NO TRACE.
Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time. Enjoy the journey!