• Activities:

    Backpacking, Hiking, Rock Climbing

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    5 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    6600 Feet


Summit the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states via the same route John Muir took in 1873.

With over 6,600 feet of elevation gain and class 4 climbing, this is not for the casual hiker, but can provide an excellent challenge to a budding mountaineer.

Park your car at Whitney Portal, 12 miles west of the town of Lone Pine, and start up the main Whitney Trail. After 1 mile you will encounter the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. Take the well trodden trail up and to the right through steep terrain and switchbacks. The climbers trail will cross the creek two times, and after the second crossing you will encounter the Ebersbacher Ledges. Find the obvious weaknesses in the 3rd class wall, crisscrossing back and forth across the ledges and regain the trail at the top. Continue along the trail to the outlet of Lower Boy Scout Lake, passing the lake to your right. Here you will get your first glimpse of the mountain since Whitney Portal where it towers overhead, still a few thousand vertical feet above Lower Boy Scout.

Here you must negotiate a talus and boulder field on the western slopes above Lower Boy Scout, eventually leading to giant slabs that can be tricky to cross when wet or icy. Above those slabs is your first option to camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake. UBS is lower in elevation and slightly more sheltered from the wind than Iceberg Lake, so it is a better option to camp here in the winter or late fall/early spring.

From Upper Boy Scout Lake negotiate your way south around the ridgeline to the west. Once you get over the ridge you will be met with dramatic views of the East Face of Mount Whitney, Keeler Needle and Day Needle. You will then need to access Iceberg Lake over the cliffs to your right, but don't be temped with the first option over the cliff band, there is an easier series of switchbacks further along and closer to Whitney itself. Take your time and find the best way up and over to Iceberg Lake. This is your last source of water and should be treated before drinking. Camp here if attempting in the summer.

The Mountaineers gully is a wide chute to the north of the peak and depending on the time of year, crampons and an ice axe are necessary. Make your way up the long, steep slope eventually reaching a notch in the ridgeline. From here is the crux of the route, a 400 ft stretch of class 4 climbing to reach the summit. This is definitely a no-fall zone but if you focus and take your time it is very manageable. Pull over onto the summit plateau and relish in the fact that you are at the top of the tallest mountain in the contiguous US! Take a moment to rest in the summit hut or bask in the glorious views of the Sierra Nevada but remember you are only halfway. Take the same route down to your camp at Iceberg or Upper Boy Scout, and eventually out to Whitney Portal. Don't forget about the massive pancakes and burgers at the Whitney Portal Store after the summit!

Pack List

If camping overnight you will need a permit for the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, which can be the hardest part of the whole process, as only 10 people are allowed to enter the trailhead each day. However there is some hope. 6 spots are reservable in advance which leaves 4 spots each day on a first come first serve basis. From Nov 1-April 30 no permits are needed.

  • Permits:http://www.recreation.gov/permits
  • Crampons/Ice Axe (seasonal dependent, these photos were taken in late April) 
  • Warm, compressible clothing (Down or Synthetic insulation, its freezing at 14,000 feet! and layers!) 
  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bag and Pad 
  • Water Filter 
  • Food 
  • Camera (pics or it didn't happen!) 
  • Map or guidebook
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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