Monday, March 19, 2012

A Guide to Climbing Mt. Whitney

Mount Whitney is a geographical wonder that’s full of contrasts. This first becomes apparent when one realizes that the 14,505 ft behemoth is less than 90 miles away from Badwater at Death Valley National Park, which is the lowest point in North America. Thus, you have the highest point in the continental U.S., and the lowest point on the continent, within extremely close geographical proximity. Contradictions, it seems, are inherent in this region.

Contrasts also abound in terms of the challenges presented to those who wish to reach the mountain’s summit. The most popular path is the Mount Whitney trail, a 22-mile round trip stretch that most can do in two days (though some have made the trip in one). For more technical climbers, the East Face of the mountain offers some of the most challenging opportunities in the U.S. Still others will prefer to “scramble,” up the mountain, which essentially involves climbing up the mountain without the use of technical gear. The record for the fastest round trip scramble to the summit and back is 3 hours and 10 minutes.

The best time to climb Mt. Whitney is between May 1 and November 1st. You must remember, however, that there’s a distinct possibility of snow, ice, and other natural hazards being present towards the top of the mountain, even in the middle of summer. Also, the further up you go, the cooler the temperature will be, so it’s recommended that you have a serious backpack that includes a heavy down jacket. Eddie Bauer is a good brand for this, because the company outfitted the first American attempt to summit K2, and also the first American to summit Everest. There are also a lot of Eddie Bauer coupons online that can save you some money.

Another thing to be wary of is that Mt. Whitney trail is very popular, so hiking permits can be difficult to come by. It is much easier to get a day permit than an overnight permit, so if you’re an experienced climber with a lot of endurance, attempting to do the hike in a 24 hour period will be less hassle and less expensive. If you’re like most of us, however, it’s recommended that you’ll probably want the overnight one. Either way, permits are awarded through a lottery system, which begins on February 15th. To be considered for the lottery, hopeful climbers must mail their application (yes old-fashioned style mail, it’s the only way) to the Mt. Whitney Permit Office, the address of which can be found on the mountain’s website. It’s recommended that you get your application in early, because once they hit their quota of climbers, that’s it.

If you are lucky enough to receive an invitation to climb Mount Whitney, the best and safest way to go about your climb is through a two-day hike on the Mount Whitney Trail. You will be able to camp almost anywhere during this hike, but most people prefer one of two camping spots, Outpost Camp and Trail Camp. The latter is a bit more treacherous, but it is 6.3 miles from the trailhead (as compared to only around 3.8 for Outpost Camp), making it a better day hike, and also providing for a more balanced amount of hiking over the two-day stretch. Trail Camp also provides access to a lake, which is a good source of drinking water.

Climbing Mt. Whitney can be a really special experience, especially since it carries with it the title of the highest point on the continental U.S. If you want to make the hike, make sure you apply for a permit sooner than later, because winning their lottery is the only way you’ll be able to touch the mountain. Once you do have a permit, plan out which style of hike you want to attempt, and then make sure you have adequate supplies to complete it safely. Good luck, and happy peaking!

Stefan Georgi is an avid outdoorsman who has been to the summit of some of the highest points in the U.S. He highly recommends using Eddie Bauer coupons when buying a jacket for this hike.

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