Is it Better to Day Hike or Backpack for Mt. Whitney?

First Day Hike (2016)

I did this hike partially solo. My hiking partner had to cancel due to work and every partner I’ve recruited after that had something come up, so I eventually gave up and decided to do the hike myself since I’m familiar with the trail. However, the day before I went, I saw this girl I met one time on a training hike post that she had a permit for the same day as me (what a coincidence, right?!) so I asked if she wanted to do it together. She’s a trail runner and fitness instructor so I naturally assumed she’d be faster than me. She also brought a friend with her on the trail (that’s never hiked before, but works out… did an alert go off in your hear too just now?)

We started the trail at 3:50 am together – they were so fast and I was so sleepy so I took 3-4 Shot Bloks to wake up and once it hit me, I was fully alert and moving. The sun rose at 5:40 am when we took our first big 10 min break, and we arrived at Trail Camp at 7:36 am, took a 20 min break to charge up, and headed up the 99 switchbacks at 8 am.

I made it to Trail Crest at 9:45 am and decided to move on by myself at 10 am because I was eager to finish and I know they needed a longer break (and didn’t want to rush them). I reached the summit at 11:46 am and after waiting an hour for them to arrive to celebrate together, the clouds started rolling in so I got ready to go down. They came up right before I started down at 1 pm.

I got to Trail Camp around 4 pm and planned to wait to hike down together, but it started to snow just a little bit so I took off solo. The weather got better shortly but I continued down and off the mountain and made it back to the parking lot at 7:18 pm.

I ended up waiting for them 2+ hours because I left my car in Lone Pine and came up to camp with them the night we began – there was construction this year so I didn’t want to have any issues with the road and parking. They ended up calling me from the trail after passing Lone Pine Lake and they asked me to come back up the trail to bring them water…………… my feet were killing me, I had two hours of sleep, a 4-hour drive home, and had to be up at 5 am. You can see why I was very reluctant to go back up the mountains that I was so eager to just come down from. They both experienced altitude sickness when reaching the summit (which I understand and don’t mind waiting for) but they had a water filter and I know where there’s flowing water on the trail so you can imagine my irritation when he continuously insisted I come back up the mountain after 22 miles on my feet to bring them water.

Timeline stats:

  • 8 hrs up (7:15 hr moving time)
  • 1:15 hr break on summit
  • 6:18 hrs down

Second Day Hike (2017)

To give you a quick background, I started a new job at the beginning of 2017 and had asked my boss for permission 3x before going because I would be missing a somewhat-important day of work. He was totally fine the two times I asked but the week before when I reminded him, he was unhappy about my trip. I was gone for two days – the first day, I had my laptop and worked until the evening remotely. The second day when I was on the trail, I jumped on my emails near the bottom of the trail when there’s some reception and right as I got off the mountain.

I tried my best to do both, but this stress added to my experience in the mountains. When I reached Trail Camp, I wondered if it was really worth it or if I should just turn back now and make it back to work by noon. When I reached the top of the switchbacks, it was windy and so chilly and gloomy so I again considered not summiting since I’ve been before. I was feeling very sluggish but decided to just keep walking and if my body really doesn’t feel like it, I would be ok turning around because I know that last two miles is the longest two miles of your life.

Timeline stats:

  • Started at 1 am (power napped on the trail cause I was so sleepy)
  • Started up the 99 switchbacks at 4:57 am, up at 6:48 am
  • 15 min break and made it to summit at 8:46 am
  • 9:50 am went down, parking lot at 4:40 pm
  • 7:46 hrs up (7:30 hr moving time)
  • 1:05 hr break on summit
  • 6:50 hrs down

Thanks for reading!
Jump back to my other Whitney posts here:

15 thoughts on “Is it Better to Day Hike or Backpack for Mt. Whitney?”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences with Whitney!

    I have an overnight scheduled for mid September. Question: would it make sense to summit Whitney first, then go to trail camp for the overnight? I know most people camp and summit the next day but I want the challenge of summitting in a day but relaxing a bit afterwards. I live at 6500 feet and haven’t had problems as high as 12-16000 so I don’t think acclimating at trail camp will be necessary.

    Your thoughts On this idea?


    1. Hi Brian, Aside from the purpose of acclimating, I think most people do the overnight hike where they camp and summit the next day because hiking Mt. Whitney as a full day hike is very strenuous, and although you wouldn’t be hiking all 22 miles in one day, you would still have to start as early as a day hiker so you can summit at a decent hour. It would be a nice break for your feet to camp on your way down because it’s still a long way. Either way, I feel like you’ll have time to enjoy the trail as an overnight hike, it just depends how vigorous you are I guess.

  2. Brian Dougherty

    Are all California’s 14er’s on a permit basis? We don’t have that in Colorado except for 1 know of because it’s on private property. I am in Cali trying to explore and had Mt Whitney on the plan.

  3. I tried doing Whitney back in 2019 but my friend and I started to get really bad altitude sickness right around 13,500. We were both in shape but I guess needed to train a higher altitudes.

    Do you think altitude sickness pills would help or maybe carry one of those small disposable oxygen canisters for a pick me up?

    1. Hi Bill, sorry to hear about the altitude sickness. I don’t get very bad altitude sickness so I can’t personally speak to it, but I’ve heard the pills work for some people, oxygen canisters can help if you really struggle with it, and even nose strips can help just to allow more oxygen into your body… but again, I haven’t personally tested any of those. Hope you find a solution that works for you!

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  5. Done it several times. this year we didn’t get picked for lottery so we (3 of us) are doing it all in one day with no permits…of the 5 times we’ve been up there we have never seen a ranger. any news of this lately?

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