Hiking the Mt Whitney Trail: A Photo Guide

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I am writing this while sitting in my tent at Trail Camp with the wind blowing 20 MPH. I am trying to take my mind off the bending of my tent for long enough to decide how I am going to create a post that stands out on my successful summit of Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48. Since I always have my camera strapped around my chest I figured I would just create a guide of all of the highlights from hiking Mt. Whitney in photographs. That way you can prepare or relive the Mt Whitney hike through these series of photos. Take your time though, there is over 70 pictures. Let me know what you think at the end. If you only want to see a specific part of the trail feel free to click one of the links below. This trail is about 21 miles round trip and 6,000 feet of elevation so it is no joke!

Whitney Portal

The start of the hike, the Mt Whitney Portal has everything from campsites and waterfalls to a restaurant and fishing lake. You could spend a lot of time just camping here and taking in the sites without even going on the Mt. Whitney Trail. I wrote another post on the Mt Whitney Portal Store so for a full review of that check it out. I loved this area, it was a great place to stay the night before our hike began and I would love to go back and explore it more sometime in the future.

Whitney Portal 1

Whitney Portal 2

Trail Start

This is the official start of the trail. It has a weigh station for your backpack, a lot of information on how not to take the trail lightly and signs telling you to pack out your waste. From here the trail starts heading up and it is a great marker of the bottom when you get close.

Mt Whitney Trail Sign

Mt Whitney Scales

The Forest

For the next two miles you are in an abyss of alpine woods that climb and climb with the trail. It is really beautiful and you cross over at least three water crossings. Soak in the shade while you are here because in a few short miles you will be above the tree level and wishing you had them to protect you. This is also where you enter the John Muir Wilderness and where the split is for the Mountaineers Route.

Hiking Mt Whitney

Water crossing on Mt Whitney

Hiking Mt Whitney 3

John Muir Wilderness Sign

Lone Pine Lake

The first major checkpoint that you will arrive at is that of the beautiful Lone Pine Lake 2.5 miles in. This high altitude lake has a beach and a mountain that rises way above it. It is a great place for a break or a great day hike if you are staying at the Portal and do not have  Mt Whitney pass. I loved seeing the way the perfect water reflected its surroundings, it was beautiful.

Lone Pine Lake Sign

Lone Pine Lake

Lone Pine Lake Beach

Whitney Zone Entrance

After a stop at Lone Pine Lake you will continue down the trail until you hit the sign that informs you you have now entered the Whitney Zone. This area is where you have to have a permit in order to not be fined. You will see the sign loud and clear so you won’t be surprised when you enter the zone. I was checked for my permit on the mountain, so make sure you do not go without one.

Mt Whitney Wilderness Sign

Tree Growing out of a rock

Lone Pine from the Mt Whitney Trail

Meadows

After a few more switchbacks you will descend into a beautiful meadow that stretches for at least a half mile. It has a stream that flows through it which provides a beautiful green to match the somber stone walls that enclose this little valley. It is a great place for a break and also home to Outpost Camp.

Hiking Mt Whitney 6

Creek and Meadows

Meadows

Meadows on the Mt Whitney Trail

Outpost Camp

Outpost Camp is nestled in the corner of the meadows on a stretch of dirt and rock and is a great place to spend the night. It is about 3.5 miles from the start of the trail so if you are taking your time then it is a good place to stay, but if not you probably want to push on to Trail Camp as it makes day 2 a lot more doable.

Outpost camp sign

Above outpost camp

Notice the waterfall on the right

Outpost Camp Waterfall

Right next to Outpost Camp is a pristine 50 foot waterfall. It really adds to the eye candy of the meadows and makes this an amazing area to relax and just take in the beauty.

Outpost camp waterfall

Outpost camp waterfall 2

Mirror Lake

After a couple more switchbacks you will find yourself at Mirror Lake. This lake is smaller then most of the other lakes on this path, but it provides a lot of beautiful views and is nestled right next to the last area of trees you will have on the path. It also has a couple huge cliffs rising up behind it, making it stand next to the white rock.

Mirror Lake Sign

Mirror Lake

Above Mirro lake

Trailside Meadows

One of my personal favorite places on the whole hike, Trailside Meadows is a snow fed waterfall the slowly flows down the rock wall into a line of meadows that house beautiful purple flowers. It is impossible to do it justice in these pictures but to me it looks like a small piece of heaven in real life.

Trailside Meadows

Trailside Meadows 2

Trailside Meadows Waterfall

Trailside meadows 4

Consultation Lake

This huge high altitude lake will come into view as you rise above Trailside Meadows. It is beautiful and has snow all around it that melts into it. The trail never really goes close to this lake but you can see it from here and when you are on the 99 switchbacks.

Consultation Lake

Consultation Lake 2

Trail Camp

A barren home to most of the overnight hikers, this little camp area has lots of flat space for you to put your tent. Many of the outcroppings even have rock walls built up around them to try and get rid of the wind that screams through this area. There is also a nice lake here where you can filter water making this a great destination for hikers.

Trail Camp

Trail Camp 2

Sunset over Mt Muir

Animals

Make sure you brought your bear box here and to keep all your food in it overnight. There are lots of marmot’s here and we even had a couple squirrels enjoying our trail mix only 2 minutes after we had walked away.

Marmont Peaking Out

99 Switchbacks

If you are researching Mt Whitney then you have no doubt heard about the 99 switchbacks. This area has legitimately 99 different switchbacks that rise over 1700 feet to the ridge above. They seem endless going up and coming down. During some points of the year there is a stream that flows around the 20th switchback, but if it is not there then Trail Camp is the last place you can get water. Luckily many of the switchbacks are short making them seem to go a little faster. I recommend an iPod for this section to keep your mind off it.

99 switchbacks 2

99 switchbacks

99 switchbacks 3

The Cables

One of the other famous parts of this hike is the small 50 foot section known as the cables. This section gets its name from the cables that line the trail to keep hikers from falling off the steep rock face to the right. During almost all of the year this area has snow as it almost never sees the sun. Be careful coming through here but if you go after July it is much less of a hazard.

Cables on Mt Whitney

Cables on the 99 switchbacks

Trail Crest

At the top of the 99 switchbacks rests what is known as Trail Crest. This small area has great views of both the Whitney Trail you just came up and the Sequioa National Park on the other side. You can see Hitchcock Lake and Hitchcock Mountain from here. This is also where the full furry of the wind was unleashed on us.

Trail Crest Sign

Trail Crest

We are heading to the left

John Muir Trail Junction

From Trail Crest the trail actually goes down and hits the end of the John Muir Trail right before it ascends for the push to the Whitney Summit. This is why so many people who hike the JMT summit Whitney at the beginning or the end of their trail.

JMT Junction on Mt Whitney

John Muir Trail Junction

Backside

For lack of a better name, the trail now continues for a mile and a half along the backside of the ridge and Mt. Muir. This area is very rocky and requires you to concentrate as there is a step drop off the entire way on the West side of you. It is a really unique area to see though and has a lot of crazy rock formations.

Behind the Pinnacles

Summit Trail 2

Summit Trail

Windows

The rock wall that lines your East side on this trail cuts out 3 to 4 times during this part of the path. When this happens you will be able to see fully out towards the Lone Pine area in what is known as the Mt Whitney Windows. These are very unique and provide insanely amazing views.

Mt Whitney Window

Windows on Mt Whitney

Mt Whitney Windows 2

Windows 5

Hitchcock Lake and Guitar Lake

On the West side of the summit trail you can see Hitchcock Lake and Guitar Lake. Both are located in Sequoia National Park. Guitar Lake is obviously named that cause it looks like a guitar, which is pretty cool!

Guitar lake hitchcock lake

Mt Hitchcock and Hitchcock Lake

Approaching the Summit

After crossing what seems like 5 miles of rock you will reach the base of the summit. During a lot of the year this will require walking across snow in order to continue your path, but even when the snow is present it is not that difficult to traverse as there is a clear path that goes through it. From there you simply push your way up to the summit through the landscape of rocks.

Approaching Mt Whitney Summit

Whitney Snow Field

Summit House

The first thing you will notice when nearing the summit is the rise of the summit house into your view. This house was built in 1909 and is still standing to this day. It has a door that has blown off in the crazy wind and the inside was pretty full of snow, but it provided a nice spot for us to get out of the wind when we were up there. There is also a guest book you can sign in the front.

Approaching Summit House

Summit House on Mt Whitney

House on Mt Whitney Summit

Summit Views

You have officially made it to the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, congrats! From here you have nothing left to do but to soak in the views. It is truly beautiful up here and on a clear day you can see forever. Take your time and see it all. Then when you are finished, head back the way you came for the second half of your trip, hiking down…

National Park Service Summit Signs

USGS Mt Whitney Sign

View from Mt Whitney Summit

View from Mt Whitney Summit 3

Summit View 7

View from Mt Whitney Summit 2

Thanks for checking out my photos. Leave me a comment below or share this post if you enjoyed them! If you are climbing Mt. Whitney yourself make sure you check out WhitneyZone.com it was an amazing resource for me and I cannot recommend it enough.

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  • Walter

    Amazing!

  • David

    Great photos and very useful guide. Than you.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com JoshMc

      No problem David, I am glad you like it! Hope it helps future Whitney hikers!

  • http://goexplorenature.com Debi

    Congratulations! Thanks for putting together this great write-up. Your photos are amazing. Hope to make it there myself one day. :-)

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com JoshMc

      Thanks Debi I really appreciate it! You should def get up there with the family. Lots of amazingness to do even without the summit!

  • http://www.threewheelbicycle.com Wheelers

    Sweet! Thanks for putting this together.

  • Snook

    So glad you have a good write-up for this hike. This is now on top of my list. Not sure how fit i am to do this but at least i have a year until next summer to prep for it hahaha

  • Jane

    Wonderful pictures Josh! Friends and I made the summit on Wednesday after a night at Outpost Camp. I especially appreciate your photos of Mirror Lake and Trailside Meadow as going up we were in the dark and coming down we were chased by a thunderstorm and couldn’t enjoy the views! I will share your site with my fellow climbers.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com JoshMc

      Jane, I’m glad you liked it, and thanks for sharing the post! Its great you made the summit with the storms coming, let me know if you post your photos anywhere!

  • James Forte

    Josh, thanks for the great trail guide! One question: during which month of the year were these pics taken? I’m planning to take a group up the mt at the end of June 2013 and trying to gauge potential snow/ice levels. Thanks!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com JoshMc

      We went June 24th of this year. It was a very dry year though, the trail was clear by mid june and on other years it hasn’t been completely clear until Mid July, so it depends on how dry the year was, but we got lucky and these pics are from June. Check WhitneyZone.com for updated weather info when it gets closer to the trip, they are very up to date.

  • James Forte

    Thanks Josh, that’s pretty close to exactly the same dates we’re considering. Are you local to Calif? I live in NC now and most of my group are not from Calif, so our dates are not really flexible. I’m wondering how difficult it will truly be to get our exact dates given the permit lottery. Any thoughts based on your experience?

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com JoshMc

      I am local to California, I live in the Southern end. I def understand the difficulty of flying in and getting a pass though. For us it was the third time we applied for a permit and the first time we had gotten one. We always pick the weekend dates though so I am sure that has a lot to do with us having trouble getting a date. If you pick a weekday I bet the chances are a lot better. Also if you don’t get a pass you can always walk up to the area where you pick up your passes and get in the morning lottery. However that would be rough to fly all the way out here and get denied by the lottery. Hopefully that helps! I am happy to answer any other questions you have.

  • maureen

    i want to purchase a picture (one you recommend) as a wedding present for my niece who married a Brit. So now living in London. Their first adventure was climbing Mt. Whitney!!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com JoshMc

      Maureen, If you let me know what picture you like I will send it to you and you can print it however you like as a wedding present!

  • http://www.eastwesthike.com ADKinLA

    Josh this trip report and photos are off the hook! Makes me want to gear up for a summit push in ’13!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com JoshMc

      Thanks I appreciate it! Yea it really was an amazing experience. So nice that it is so close to LA as well!

  • William Staley

    Hello Josh. It has been a while since I have visited your site, as I have been busier than a three-legged cat.

    I must say that your work continues to amaze me. Absolutely fantastic photography. I am green with envy not only from your work, but also from the fact that you climbed Mt Whitney. I must say congrats on your successful summit!

    Whitney is very much a part of my life, with my first failed attempt at age ten. Failed several more times until high school age. I have summited eight times since. My last summit was in 04. I am way overdue for another trip.

    It looks like you are getting a good on-line following – understandably so. Kudos!

    I see that you also did Half Dome. Congrats on that one too! I’ve got six ascents on that one. I’ll see if I can post an old picture of my first ascent when I was 13 (1978). Think I’ll click on over to view your adventure.

    Keep up the fantastic work.

    Sincerely, Bill

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com JoshMc

      Great to hear from you again William! I am glad you enjoyed the post and as always I love hearing about your adventures as well!

  • Kevin

    I made the one day Hike to the Mt. Whitney on October 16th 2012. Sadly, my 2 friends got sick with altitude sickness and had to turn back about 3 hours into the hike. Mostly ice and snow from the start of the “97″ switchbacks to the summit. I’m glad I bought strap on spikes before the hike. One tough hike but one i’ll never forget!! Thanks for the pictures, I took about 100 myself. Take care, Kevin from Rutherfordton N.C.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com JoshMc

      Thats a bummer you were not able to make it to the top cause of sickness. Always a smart move getting down instead of pushing your luck, the mountain will be there in the future. Let me know if you get a chance to do it again!

  • John Malloy

    Great pics! Brings me back to my summit in September 2011. When did the door blow off?
    Gonna get in the lottery for this year and go for it again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hom.dep Hom Dep

    Thanks for sharing. Now I don’t need to go.!! JK. I am planning to hike and this will help.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Glad you like the post! You should for sure hike it, the pictures can’t even begin to show how awesome it is!

  • MDM

    Great job. Hiking this for a second time and this really helps!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      No problem, glad you like the photos! I loved hiking it last year!

  • Brittany Rouille

    You had such incredible weather! We go in 2 weeks, hoping for those same blue skies :)

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Ya we went in June as well so it was pretty lucky for us but insanely windy! We were only on the summit for like 20 minutes. I hope it is nice for you too!

  • David Castillo

    Photos were awesome! I’ve always wondered what the trail and the hike was like. I’ve had friends that went up and never took photos of the hike. I plan to go next year. I just have to execise more and get in shape.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment David, It is a great trail and experience!

  • david

    Thanks for the photos, they bring back memories of a great period when I was growing up. I made it to the summit twice in my life, once in 1974 and the second one year later, both times with my father. Amazing what you can accomplish as a young teen but you truly do not appreciate until later in life.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      David, thanks for the comment and I am glad it could bring back memories!

  • Uttara Vaidya

    Thank you for this detailed blog! We will be doing Mt. Whitney next month (oct 20th). This blog gives a clear picture and very useful to gauge whats coming.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! Let me know how the hike goes.

      • Uttara Vaidya

        Will do. We are dreading the cold weather since we are going in oct. Good part is most of the snow would have melted and we will have a clean path to hike up there.

    • Bernard Kane

      Uttara,
      how did the October hike go?

      • Uttara Vaidya

        Hey, unfortunately our hike got cancelled due to the government shut down. bummer!

        • Bernard Kane

          right, forgot about that. Bummer is right. so, next year?

          • Uttara Vaidya

            Probably not, we are planning a hike in India next Sept. :)

          • Bernard Kane

            Yes, there are one or two hills in that country. You ought to have a great time. Post some pictures and keep us informed. It’ll be fun to see.

  • watchpocket

    Excellent guided tour. I am new to CA and I may be a little past my prime so I really enjoyed your photos..

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! Glad you enjoyed the photos!

  • Ray Vaught

    Way COOL, I am doing all the homework I can, wanting to attemp summit next July, starting training now due to age 51 is coming in May. Wish I would have done it 20 years ago but no time like now. Thanks for sharing and keeping my dream alive. Ray

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! You can do it! I can’t wait to see your trail report next year!

  • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

    Josh,

    Nice blog and great pics. It would be nice if you included how long the hikes are round trip and miles traveled. The pics are post are informative, but that little extra details about the trip I think would be very useful, especially for people attempting it for the first time.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment Tim I will work to integrate those details into the photo posts!

      • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

        Cool. Your post is so detailed already. Adding the rest of the more technical specifications of time, distance, etc would take it to the next level. Kind of like a really good gear review site, but instead of gear, it’s hikes. Although i’m thinking of running this or doing fastpack. Might take a few tries to figure it out.

  • clarence

    ray do you have a partner? b515490@aol.com

  • Ann Schwartz

    Wow! Amazing photos, Josh.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks so much Ann, I had fun taking them!

  • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

    Thanks for the comment, glad you liked the photos! Be sure to let us know how you do!

  • Matt

    Thanks Josh, looking forward to taking it on this July!

  • smfn

    Thanks Josh! We hike it in August and your beautiful photos help me visualize. Wondering if hiking shoes are a must or if I can go with running/off road running shoes? Thnx Susie

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      If you are carrying a heavy pack then I would recommend hiking boots as they will help to pad your feet as you walk as well as keep you from rolling an ankle as you walk down tired. If you are doing it in one day with a day pack then running shoes may work as the key is something supportive and comfortable. For me personally though I would always use my good hiking boots and insoles that have been with me on many trails.

  • Marc

    Awesome job man! Thanks for the photos! I wanted to go in July or later but ended up getting my permit for late May…I’m a little worried about snow/ice and after seeing your photos of the residual snow still around in October I think crampons will be necessary. Thanks again for the thorough report!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment, I went in the end of June so that is what the pictures show. If you are not already, make sure to check out http://www.whitneyzone.com/wz/ as they will help you with current weather.

  • John Duey

    What beautiful shots! Very inspiring. I’m also training for an ascent in early September. I agree – I’m 55 – have been training for about 6 weeks and have 17 weeks left to get in shape. Let me put in a plug – I’m using fitbit and it really gives me some hard data to review.
    John Duey

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment, keep up the training, you can make it! I’ll have to check out the fitbit it sounds interesting.

  • RSHAH

    Hey Josh– Great article and photos. What camera did you use for your trip?

    Thanks, Rupal

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      I used a canon 60d with a super wide angle lens for it, I am working on putting together a page with all my camera info on it!

  • Catherine

    Thanks for sharing! We are going in August and your blog has been a great resource!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      No problem, glad you liked it!

  • Jon

    Great article, I’m hiking it in July. Hopefully I can beat the altitude.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and good luck!

  • Jeff A Merritt

    EPIC! World class! Life Confirming!! I go up June 8th, 2014. training since the beginning of Feb. Thanks for the Awesome pics and description. I feel more ready than ever!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      No problem! Have fun, it is amazing to stand on top!

  • Cat

    I am hopefully going on June 3rd 2014. I have not trained at all but I hope that won’t end up hurting me.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Good luck!

  • Don

    Beautiful pictures, thanks for the time & effort to post. Headed up mid July with my 2 sons. 61 yr old lowlander, working out & can’t wait.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Good luck and thanks for the comment!

  • Fallingwithhale

    Thanks for this great post….. WOW 31st is almost here!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      No problem, thanks for the comment and good luck!

  • robert

    Josh, I enjoyed you MT Whitney experience and great photo’s. I’m heading up for my 4th trip to that top on June 19th. You got me even more exceeded for the trip.

    Robert

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and good luck on the hike!

  • Joe

    Thanks for the great write up Josh. We just did the Mt. Whitney hike on June 26th, starting at 3:00 am due to weather report of windy and chances of snow/rain. We were very lucky by the times we reached the summit. The wind did die down and sun were out.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Glad you guys made it and that summit was nice for you!

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