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Whitney Portal Trail Hike Details Estimated time: 4-7 hours Distance: 7.8 miles round trip (without car shuttle) Elevation gain: 2,938 feet Difficulty rating: Moderate GPS: Trailhead—36° 35’ 51.36” N 118° 11’ 10.93” W/ End point—36° 35’ 10.48” N 118° 14’ 28.73” W Season: April to October

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early every traveler to the Whitney Portal enters via car. While the views along the road are certainly breathtaking, hiking the Whitney Portal Trail offers a more rewarding overall experience. The route follows the original 1881 trail used for explorations to Mount Whitney’s summit. It is well maintained and shady, with no especially steep 176


Whitney Portal Trail sections, yet doesn’t get much traffic—probably due to the fact that most hikers eager to summit Mount Whitney choose to drive into the Portal. If you opt to hike, you will walk a long a winding path past groves of Jeffery pines and White firs. The trail parallels Lone Pine Creek, cooling the air and drowning out the distant noise of traffic. Near the end, you will find yourself walking through a natural granite tunnel. This trail provides a great way for low-elevation visitors to acclimate before sumTowering boulders make you feel small. miting Whitney. Hikers who don’t favor hiking both directions should arrange a car shuttle to transport them one way. Many hikers prefer to start from the Whitney Portal fishing pond and descend to the Lone Pine Campground. This description begins at the campground and ascends into the Portal. Start

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Lone Pine to Independance

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where you wish, but the authors believe heading this direction provides a more satisfying experience for hikers new to the area.

Directions to trailhead: Driving from Lone Pine on Highway 395, turn west onto Whitney Portal Road. Follow this through the scenic Alabama Hills and towards the Sierra. The large mountain to the left (south) is Lone Pine Peak. The canyon you are approaching is the Whitney Portal. It frames Mount Whitney in the distance. Whitney is the tallest and furthest right of a jagged series of rocky peaks. Continue on this road for 6.5 miles and turn left toward Lone Pine Campground. Follow this road into the campground and stay left. At the end of the road is day parking and a restroom. The trailhead is directly south of the parking spaces.

Hike Directions From Lone Pine Campground, begin at the trailhead at the south end of the parking lot. The trail ascends along a gentle grade, running parallel to Lone Pine Creek. Pause to look east at the knobby granite features forming the Alabama Hills. To the west, behold a splendid view 178


The Alabama Hills to the east.

Whitney Portal Trail

of Mount Whitney—the tallest peak nestled in the dip of surrounding peaks. At 1.2 miles, begin hiking up a series of switchbacks. The terrain transitions from dry desert to a shady pine forest. The portal becomes obscured by trees, but peek-a-boo views of the peaks are numerous as Frozen Meysan Creek.


King of the mountain Mount Whitney is the tallest summit in the contiguous United States, with an elevation of 14,505. It is barely half the height of the highest point in the Himalayas (Mount Everest), yet Mount Whitney and the surrounding Sierra range often substitute for the Himalayas in movies. Mount Whitney has appeared in dozens of films, including the 1941 gangster film, High Sierra, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. Mount Whitney was named by mountaineer Clarence King, although he was not the first to summit. In 1864, King and his climbing partner, Richard Cotter, climbed the mountain they assumed was the highest (what is now Mount Tyndall), only to see higher peaks to the south. They named the highest summit they could see after the California Geological Surveyʼs leader, Josiah Dwight Whitney. King tried but failed to climb Mount Whitney in 1871, choosing the wrong peak (Mount Langley). On August 18, 1873, after Kingʼs failed attempt, fishermen from Lone Pine made the first ascent of Whitney, naming it Fishermanʼs Peak. To this day, the mountain retains the name given it by King even though he was not the first person to summit.

you continue to ascend. At 1.8 miles, the switchbacks end and the trail continues to climb gently up a wooded hillside. The trail levels out at 2 miles and begins a slight grade up at 2.4 miles. Reach Meysan Creek at 2.5 miles. In summer, this crossing is a good fill-up site for thirsty hikers, and in winter, a breathtaking spectacle of icicles and frozen flows. Pass through the Whitney Portal Family Campground at 3.1 miles. Cross a car bridge to rejoin the trail on the north side of the creek. After 3.4 miles, weave around monstrous boulders, eventually tunneling underneath one. Cross a footbridge and reach the Whitney Portal fishing pond at 3.9 miles. Brown trout, Rainbow trout and Eastern Sierra brook trout are found in the pond and outlet stream.

* Directions to Lone Pine Campground are given above. Reservations can be made in advance. The fee is $17 per day and the campground is open April through October. Bear-proof food containers are available.

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Hiking through a natural granite tunnel.

Lone Pine to Independance


50 Classic Day Hikes of the Eastern Sierra  

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