Mt Whitney: Day Hike vs. Overnight Hike


Eastern Sierra, Hike Reports / Friday, February 22nd, 2019

Mount Whitney 14,505 ft… It’s the tallest mountain in the continental US and I’ve been fortunate to summit it 3 times now as both day hikes and an overnight backpacking trip. I have been asked which one is better… so let me break it down for you.

2019 Permits: click to apply for the lotto from 2/22 until 3/15

Quick background on when I've hiked Mt. Whitney:

August 24-25, 2015 [1st time at Whitney] - backpacked one night, slept at Trail camp
August 25, 2016 [2nd time at Whitney] - day hike (click to read on page 2)
August 24, 2017 [3rd time at Whitney] - day hike

If it’s your first time hiking Mt. Whitney, I’d strongly recommend doing it as an overnight hike.

Backpacking One Night

If you didn't already read my backpacking trail write up, you can read it here.

Click for Mt Whitney Overnight Hike Video

If you’ve been following my journey from the beginning, you’ll know I got very into hiking when I decided to do Mt. Whitney – a hike I’d never even heard of before. I trained with the Six Pack of Peaks, doing one peak per month leading up to Whitney, so I honestly didn’t think it was any harder than a previous training hike. I suffered through my training as I threw myself into strenuous hikes right off the bat, but when it came time to tackle this beast, my body was well-prepared and breaking up the trail into two days helped a lot for my first summit.

Pros:
You get to enjoy the views going up! If you day hike this, it will be dark for the first half, and you’ll be on a mission to summit that you don’t get to stop and smell the roses. & on the way down, you’ll be too exhausted to enjoy the views or you’ll lose daylight
⛰ You’ll be well rested to summit day 2 and going up the 99 switchbacks in the dark is a really unique view – seeing all the headlamps move higher makes it look like stars! Plus catching the sunrise from up here is simply breathtaking
⛰ Lone Pine Lake – you really get to enjoy spending time here on the trek up!
⛰ On your way down after summiting, you can rest/ take a nap back at camp before heading down
⛰ You can start day 1 at 10 am…. or even noon, instead of 12-2 am 😛
⛰ Lighter summit pack
⛰ When you wake up on summit day, you’re halfway done with the whole uphill already

Cons:

⛰ Overnight pack + Bear canister + poop bag…

Day Hiking

Read my quick day hike trail experiences here.

I had two very different experiences day hiking Mount Whitney. I never wrote about either one but have put together a quick trail write up on the next page. The first was definitely more memorable and pleasant and the second was more miserable – I almost decided not to summit. These experiences have led me to believe that mind over matter is a powerful mindset/tool and your stress level and current circumstances in life can affect you on the trails.

22 miles total, 6200+ ft elevation gain in 11 miles topping out at 14500 ft can take a toll on your body.

Pros:
⛰ Finish the hike in one long day = probably take less time off away from work
⛰ No overnight pack and camping gear weight

Cons:
⛰ Time expectancy: 12-14 hours. Most hikers start at 12 – 2 am but plan to summit by late morning to avoid any afternoon thunderstorms which are common in the Sierra in summer. Personally, I cannot hike with little to no sleep.
⛰ Trailhead is at 8300 ft… some people need time to acclimate to that
⛰ Summit is at 14500 ft… your body may not adjust well to 6200 ft elevation gain in one day so plan for that
⛰Your entire pack with all your layers and food goes all 22 miles with you… don’t overpack

Remember, it’s ok to not summit – the mountain will always be there. If you’re not trained for it, I really wouldn’t recommend just going for it. If you’ve never hiked before, think about the danger that you can put yourself and others in – also, try not to ask a newbie hiker to accompany you without training (I used to think anyone athletic can handle strenuous hikes, but I feel very strongly towards newbie hikers & Whitney after my day hike experiences now – read next page).

Also, don’t forget – LEAVE NO TRACE. They provide you a poop bag – it’s not pleasant to carry it down the mountain but they do the best to shield off the odor so don’t hide it and leave it in the mountains!!! Do your part to keep the wilderness pristine so we can all return and enjoy it please 🙂

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