Lone Pine Lake is the first notable landmark at 2.5 miles. It is nestled in between the high peaks. One thing nice about this lake is that no permit required to hike this far. You can go about 2.8 miles from the base of Whitney Portal until you must have a permit.
This lake is located 9974 ft above sea level. It has amazing scenery and was loaded with brook trout. It's my guess that it must be stocked. While at the lake a fisherman arrived.
It is also my understanding that you can bring dogs to the lake.
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You've made it to the summit! Elevation 14,491 feet and the highest point in the continental United States! Celebrate by having your photo taken with the magnificent view and also by signing the book at the weather station. You have to lift the heavy cover to the metal table that houses the box outside of the building. Take your time to take in the magnitude of your achievement but don't linger too long lest you start feeling the effects of altitude...that is if you haven't already.
After surviving the 99 or so switchbacks, you reach a ridge known as Trail Crest. This ridge divides the wilderness between the Inyo National Forest (from which you just came) and Sequoia National Park (on the other side of the ridge and where the rest of the trail is located). The view into Sequoia is breathtaking. Elevation here is 13,600 feet. Still 800 feet of climbing to go and over 2 miles of hiking on a mostly nasty rocky trail.
WARNING: Folks who are extremely afraid of heights may have a bit of trouble at this point because of the major drop offs on either side of Trail Crest. Personally, I am afraid of heights but had no problems here. And be comforted in the fact that the trail is plenty wide here to accomodate you if not actually contain you (no railings!).
For those who do not wish to go "all the way" to the Whitney summit, and for those who want to spend some time at altitude the day before going "all the way", there are a couple of shorter dayhike options.
North fork Lone Pine Creek is not exactly scenic and crossing is not exactly fun, as you can see from photo one, but this one mile jaunt will get your heart racing and give you a bit of acclimitizng. You'll gain 500 feet in eight tenths of a mile. A good workout at this altitude.
Lone Pine Lake is 2.8 miles into the trail and gains 1600 feet.
Meadows: If you branch off the main trail after about a mile and follow the Mountaineers Route, you'll come upon the meadow shown in photo 3 after about 2 miles. We ran into a couple of mini day hikers out here.
For the really good views, see photo 2, you'll have to keep going.
After another mile of climbing switchbacks and rocky trails, you'll come on a part of the trail that runs alongside Lone Pine Creek and has a large quantity of meadow grasses and alpine flowers (if in bloom). With the peaks above and the rushing water of the creek, this is a very serene and scenic part of the hike. We're 5.3 miles into the trail at this point. Only 5.4 miles to go to the summit!
Just a half-mile after leaving Outpost Camp, you will come across this very still and picturesque lake. Because of the stillness of the water, the reflection of the surronding mountains is like a mirror, hence the name. The trail here is wooded and is usually nice and cool.
Not long after Bighorn Park you will come upon the first of two campgrounds along the trail, Outpost Camp. There are solar toilets here (out of service during our visit in August 2006) and an abundance of campsites. There is also a picturesque waterfall that is part of Lone Pine Creek. Nothing like camping with the sound of a rushing brook, creek, or river nearby. However since it is only 3.8 miles into the trail (elevation 10,300 feet), most backpackers push on to Trail Camp which is much closer to the summit. A series of switchbacks leads you up and away from Outpost Camp.
After grinding away for 3.5 miles the rocks and trees open up upon a big meadow. This is Bighorn Park. The elevation here is 10,300 feet so you've climbed just over 2,000 feet to this point. The meadow is especially beautiful if you happen upon it just as the first rays of sunrise hit the peaks beyond. Outpost Camp is just up the road a bit from here.
This is the last place to camp and is a common spot for backpackers to set up camp and spend a relaxing night before going to the summit the next day. Located 6.3 miles from the trailhead and at an elevation of 12,000 feet, it's a good place to rest and get acclimated to the higher altitude. There are a couple of small lakes here which are a good source for filling up water bottles and hydration packs. Be sure to use a water filter pump or iodine pills to disinfect the water before drinking. Besides a season spring located up among the switchbacks, this is the last reliable spot to fill up on water. Remember, there are still 10 miles round trip from here to the summit and back.
Most importantly, there are solar toilets available here. After this it's just you, nature, and your wag bag. ; )
After leaving Trail Camp (don't forget to fill your water bottles/hydration packs) there is a series of 97 or 99 or 100 switchbacks (it depends on how you count them) that take you up to Trail Crest. The change in elevation in this stretch is from 12,000 feet at Trail Camp to 13,600 at Trail Crest at the top of the switchbacks. This is over a distance of 2.2 miles (from miles 6.3 to 8.5 traveled on the trail).
Mt. Whitney, at 14,491 feet, is the highest point in the lower-48 states (all states excluding Hawaii and Alaska). It is also very accessible without any technical climbing necessary via the main Mt. Whitney Trail (10.7 miles and over 6,000 feet of elevation). Because of these facts it is a very popular trail. To limit the damage to the wilderness, the National Forest Service limits the number of hikers/backpackers via a permit system. Daily limits are 100 day hikers and 60 overnight campers. Permits are issued via a lottery held in February. Any remaining spots after the lottery can be obtained by inquiry to the NFS. There are associated fees per person to be hiking on a given permit. For all the info on how to obtain a permit, go to the website below.
Also because of the high altitude, considerations must be made regarding possible physical problems such as severe headache, nausea, extreme tiredness/sleepiness, dizziness, etc. Sleeping a couple of nights at Whitney Portal (elevation 8,200 feet) can help hikers/backpackers acclimatize. This is not to mention that those that have a fear of heights could experience problems at a number of spots along the trail. I do have a fear of heights but did not have a problem at any of the spots where some folks have reported to have had problems.
The nearest "big town" to Mt. Whitney is Lone Pine, Ca. and we actually camped out on public land in between the Alabama Hills and Whitney Portal. This region is just at the base of the Eastern Sierra Nevada range and offered us a spectacular view of Mt.Whitney, Thor Peak, Lone Pine Peak, and Mt. Langley. When the sun sets over the Sierra you will soon be blanketed by the night sky and literally thousands upon thousands of stars will give somthing to marvel the night away. We lit a campfire which both kept us warm and gave us something to cook and converse over.