Mt. Whtiney Safety Tips
Congratulations! You are off to a good start in your Mt. Whitney hiking preparations. This page provides tips for you and your group to have a safe journey up Mt. Whitney.
Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states at 14,505 ft (4421 meters). It takes preparation and planning to complete the arduous 22-mile round trip to the summit via the Whitney Portal Trail. The non-technical, most popular trail begins at Whitney Portal, elevation 8,374 ft (2552 meters).
It is recommended to hike with a buddy since altitude sickness isn't uncommon and can cause disorientation, nausea, vomiting, headache, loss of appetite, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Good ways to prevent altitude sickness include proper hydration, ascending slowly, and avoiding alcohol for at least 48-hours before your hike.
During the 6,000+ ft ascent from Whitney Portal to the summit of Mt. Whitney a lot can happen. You or someone in your party could get hurt by twisting an ankle, falling down, or being overcome by altitude sickness. Because of the uncertainty it's important to discuss safety with your group/hiking partner BEFORE beginning your hike. As a member of a group it if your responsibility to look after each other to ensure everyone has a safe trip up and down the mountain. It is important to discuss ahead of time:
- What is the turn around time? - It is important that everyone agrees upon this ahead of time so everyone makes it off the mountain safely. Remember that hiking into the night means you'll be moving more slowly by headlamp and stand a greater chance of stepping off the trail as exhaustion sets in. Be safe and plan ahead.
- What if a team member gets hurt? - Under no circumstance would I encourage any group of 3 or less to split up. This would result in someone hiking solo. No injured person should EVER hike solo. In 2017 a young woman turned around while her boyfriend and his friend continued on. She unfortunately didn't make it off the mountain alive. She was disoriented, lost the trail, and fell into a snow covered waterfall. Don't let this happen to you. There's always another opportunity to hike again.
- What if a team member is experiencing altitude sickness? - The only remedy for altitude sickness is to descend. The person suffering from altitude sickness needs more oxygen. Taking an ibuprofen can help but is not a cure nor substitute for descending to get more oxygen. What is your group's protocol if someone is getting altitude sickness?
- What if your hiking speeds are very different at altitude? - People react very differently to altitude. Some people notice a slight decrease in pace while others experience a significant slowdown and might decide to stop altogether due to the altitude and general lack of oxygen which can make people very lethargic. Planning to stick together ahead of time no matter who is faster or slower ensures the safety of the group.
- What if there's a thunderstorm? - Afternoon thunderstorms are a part of hiking in the Sierra in the summer. Often times the blow in seemingly out of no where but most of the time they are forecasted ahead of time. If you see lightning while hiking above Trail Camp, you should turn around. Being on the exposed ridge leading up to the summit is not a safe place to be. Plan ahead and be smart. If the dark clouds start building up, your group should turn around. If the storm passes and there is still time you can continue to ascend. Often, stormy afternoons half all further ascents. But remember, you can always come back as long as you return safely to the trailhead.
Before setting out it's important to discuss gear as well. Ensure everyone in your group has the essentials and that someone in your group has the safety items. Everyone needs to be prepared for ALL weather conditions. I've seen freak snowstorms in July and August. I've seen thunderstorms form seemingly out of nowhere. They form quickly and move swiftly. During the summer months you should have reached Trail Crest by 11am to avoid many of the afternoon storms. This is only a guideline since thunderstorms can form at any time of day. Always be on the lookout for lightning. If lightning is spotted and you are above Trail Camp, turn around immediately. You should not remain on any exposed ridge-line during any storm.
Hiking Mt. Whitney requires you to be in good physical condition; however even the most physically fit person could encounter trouble if they are not properly prepared. Please take the time to discuss the items above before setting out on your hike. If you feel I have left out important items, please send an email to us.