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Brief Description of Mount Whitney

Situated in the southern reaches of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, Mount Whitney is the tallest peak in the contiguous United States and a popular destination for hikers, rock climbers and mountaineers. 

The massive granite peak is the southern terminus of the iconic John Muir trail and as a result receives hundreds of hikers each year. Three main routes are generally taken when climbing the peak, one of which can be climbed with no technical experience while the other two are more challenging routes. 

Due to the unique geological nature of the Sierra Nevada, the eastern slope of the peak is far steeper than the western slope. Though it is usually hazy, it is possible to see for hundreds of kilometers in every direction from the summit. 

Quick Facts about Mount Whitney

  • Along with being the highest peak in California, Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in the U.S. outside of Alaska. Overall, it is the eleventh highest mountain in the country.
  • Mount Whitney is part of the Sierra Nevada Batholith and sits atop a fault block, which formed the mountain. The fault caused the eastern edge of the batholith to rise, which created the steep eastern slope and more gradual western one. 
  • The stone hut atop the summit of Mount Whitney was constructed in 1904 after the first person to be killed on the mountain was struck by lightning while eating lunch at the summit. 

History of Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney was first mapped and named in 1864 by a team from the California Geological Survey. The peak received its name from the state geologist of California, Josiah Whitney.

The first attempt to climb Mount Whitney came during the same exploratory expedition. Clarence King attempted to summit the peak via the less steep western ridge, but had to turn back before he could make it to the top.

The first successful summit attempt of Mount Whitney came in August 1873, when three local fishermen climbed to the top of the peak during a fishing trip. King returned later that summer and made it up the peak on his third attempt.

Experience Required for Climbing Mount Whitney

Depending on the route, there are various levels of experience required to climb Mount Whitney. 

The Mount Whitney Trail can be done by experienced hikers and requires no technical knowledge. The more challenging Mountaineers Trail requires some previous scrambling experience and rope travel. Finally, the East Face route requires previous multi-pitch rock climbing experience and is best reserved for advanced climbers.  

Regardless of the route that is chosen, each one requires a high level of physical fitness. All of the main routes are very steep and involve long days of walking, scrambling or climbing. Each one also involves a large elevation gain in a relatively short period of time.  

Main Routes up Mount Whitney

In total, there are more than a dozen routes that lead to the summit of the peak. However, there are three main routes that lead to the summit of Mount Whitney, each of which appeals to a different type of adventurer. 

For hikers, the Mount Whitney Trail is the best way to reach the summit. The 35-kilometre (22-mile) round trip takes between 12 and 16 hours to complete, and requires a long, steep and strenuous hike up the various mountain ridges. Some climbers will split the ascent into two days and camp on the mountain.

A slightly shorter, but more technically challenging route in the Mountaineer’s Trail. This route takes between one and three days to complete, but requires a sustained period of Class III scrambling. The route is best suited for mountaineers with some experience. Overall, the route is 16-kilometers (10-miles) roundtrip with various points on the mountain to set up camp.

The toughest of the three main routes, however, is the East Face route. Ranked as one of the 50 most classic climbs in North America, this route involves sustained rock climbing from grade 4 to 5.7 and makes for a long and intense day of climbing.

Useful information about Mount Whitney

Height: 4,421 m (14,505 ft)

Weather: During the climbing season, temperatures at the base of Mount Whitney can reach the mid-30s Celcius (mid-90s Fahrenheit). Toward the summit, these drop from -1 ºC to 7 ºC (30 ºF to 45ºF). In the summer months, Mount Whitney receives next to no rain. 

Peak Climbing Season: May to October

Summit Window: May to October

Average Expedition Length: 1 to 3 days

Accepted Currencies: United States dollar (USD)

Language: English

How To Get To Mount Whitney

Most trips to Mount Whitney begin with a flight into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). From here, the Mount Whitney trailhead can be reached in 3.5 to 4 hours by car. Many guides will opt to meet you in the nearby town of Lone Pine.

Your travel route will vary depending on the expedition you choose. Please refer to the individual guides expeditions for more information.

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