We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived

by Jackie
Published: Updated:
We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Trail Crest

We need to get a t-shirt that says, “Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived.” Hiking Mount Whitney was on our bucket list, especially as it is the highest peak in the contiguous 48 U.S. states at 14,505 feet and over 7,100 feet of elevation gain. It was an ambitious challenge to hike the 22 miles round-trip on the out-and-back trail in one day, and we did it!

The Mount Whitney hike itself wasn’t easy in one day. In fact, it was purely miserable for us. Although the weather was absolutely beautiful with clear blue skies, the altitude, long distance, and fatigue took a toll on us. Our feet also hurt. We originally estimated 12-15 hours to complete, however, it took us almost 21 hours (a very long day hike)! Yes, it was snail-paced slow and a really long day. We didn’t train enough at altitude to prepare for Mount Whitney. In the end, it was well worth the experience as the hike tested our mental and physical strengths. We’re glad that the hike is over!

We’ll share more of our experiences below.

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Mount Whitney Lottery and Permits

All hikers must participate in a lottery in order to get a permit for Mount Whitney. More information about the lottery process is here. We chose dates in the Fall season as there would be fewer people on the trail and cooler weather. For some hikers, this time may be too cold.

Permits must be picked up at the Visitor Center in Lone Pine (off of US-395 and CA-136) 1-2 days prior to the hiking date. If the group size is confirmed prior to arrival, you can pick up the permit the day of the scheduled hike until the Visitor Center closes at 5pm. Since our hiking day was on Sunday, we spent 6.5 hours to drive up from San Jose Bay Area to the Visitor Center in Lone Pine on Saturday.

At the Visitor Center, hikers receive a tag for their daypacks which has the hiking date and must be visible along the trail. In addition, the leader of the group holds onto the official permit (paper copy). No one checked the permit during our time on Whitney, but you’ll need to have it just in case.

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Daypack Permit

We had a yellow tag for our daypacks

Mount Whitney is one of the cleanest and most respected areas. Since Mount Whitney is “pack in and pack out / leave no trace behind” where you carry all garbage with you in and out of the park, the park rangers give everyone a WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) bag at the Visitor Center to hold poop and other waste. These can be disposed at Whitney Portal once the hike is done. We saw no more than 5 pieces of trash on the trail which was amazing! As with doing your business, there aren’t a lot of hidden places except in the campground area where you can go behind a tree. If you need to urinate, you can go anywhere off the trail and just need to be 100 feet away from a water source and campground. 

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - WAG Bag

Mount Whitney Accommodations


We stayed in Lone Pine for two nights – the day before and the day of the hike. Lone Pine is a very small city as it is only five blocks or so. It has the cutest Western theme facade on the buildings and restaurants. There are plenty of motels to stay at and are close to the Whitney Portal Road. There are no motels or hotels on Mount Whitney. Book your accommodations early.

We stayed at Trails Motel which was basic but was fine for the stay. We didn’t have a lot of options as we booked three weeks prior to the trip. Reserve your motels in Lone Pine here. There weren’t any Airbnbs available during our dates.

Camping at Mount Whitney

If you have a two-day permit for the hike, there are camping accommodations on Mount Whitney. You can either reserve at the official campsite at the Whitney Portal Campground, or hike up Mount Whitney and stay at the non-reservable campsites either at mile 4 (Outpost Camp) or mile 6 (Trail Camp). The Outpost Camp at mile 4 is less windy compared to the Trail Camp. Plus, you can leave your stuff at the campsite while you summit Mount Whitney.

Mount Whitney One Day Hiking Experience

It was an early start for us as we left our motel at 12:30am, and arrived at Whitney Portal just before 1am. The drive from the main Lone Pine area to Whitney Portal Road was steep and curvy and had amazing views of the stars. At Whitney Portal, there were plenty of free parking spots available next to the start of the trailhead.

We started the hike at 1:10am thinking that we would reach the summit at sunrise and to beat the crowds. In the beginning of the trailhead, there is a scale so you can weigh your daypack. Our backpacks weighed 18.5 pounds and filled with 3.5 liters of water, 2 water bottles, jackets, and lots of snacks.

Ladies, if you need a new backpack, consider one of these travel backpacks to bring with you on your hike.

The best snack that we had were a DIY trail mix of Jelly Belly jelly beans and king cashews, a special gift from Vietnam.  

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Food Prep

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Trail Sign

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Scale

The first four miles were awesome. We had our headlamps on, felt good and upbeat, passed by multiple waterfalls and streams, and encountered some switchbacks in the forest area. The route itself was not even marked, so we relied on well-traveled sections to get to the next spot. It was a quiet early morning and our minds started to change after seeing two groups trudging down the hill past 3am. One of the groups started at 8am the previous day and then planned to end their hike at the Outpost Camp at mile 4. Yikes, what a long day for them.

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived

The wind and cold weather kicked as we approached the Trail Camp at mile 6. At that time, the sun rose, so we definitely missed the opportunity to see it at the summit. Our heads started to hurt with the altitude, and our walking pace slowed down. We both ate a Diamox pill to help with altitude sickness, however, we realized that we were supposed to consume it 24 hours prior to the hike. All this did was made us the bathroom a lot as a side effect. 

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived

Once we passed the campsite, we reached the “99 switchbacks of hell.” The switchbacks tested our patience as the route was less steep but so long. There were lots of resting times here since I especially was mentally drained already.  

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - 99 Switchback

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - 99 Switchback

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - 99 Switchback

We finally reached the top of the mountain which ended the switchback. Excitement rushed in as we saw the “Entering Sequoia National Park – Trail Crest and John Muir Trail.” However, it was another 1.9 miles to the trailhead which seemed like 20 miles. The walking pace was slow and steady. The tiny granite rocks didn’t help as our hiking poles got stuck a lot. We had to rest a lot due to altitude sickness, but we were determined to reach the summit. Many people who passed us on the way up were already on their way down.

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Trail Crest

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Trail Crest

Yes! Finally at the Trail Crest sign

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Guitar Lake

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Guitar Lake

Beautiful lake

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Trail Crest

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Trail Crest

Yay! After 11 hours hiking up, we reached the summit at 14,505 feet. The summit was super windy so we didn’t stay that long. We took several photos with the Mount Whitney sign in the rock and also explored the overlook.

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Summit

We made it to the top of Mount Whitney in one day!

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Summit

The way down was the exact path as coming up. It was painful as our bodies hurt a lot, especially our feet. We were impressed at the many hikers who wore Vibrams and Nike Free shoes while we wore heavy duty hiking boots.

It was a slow pace going back down with the small rocks everywhere. At this point, I pretty much hated every single rock on the ground and didn’t want to talk to anyone due to the fatigue. The 1.9 miles between the Trail Crest sign and the summit was the most difficult part. We took many breaks throughout the way down and luckily the altitude sickness got better. It eventually became dark and we brought out our headlamps once again.

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Trail Crest

Beautiful view of the lake yet rocks everywhere!

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived - Trail Crest

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived

The last stretch to the car was so close. We saw the moon and stars again, just like how it was when we started earlier in the morning. Somehow, my pace picked up faster even though my feet throbbed. Justin sped down the mountain as he had extra motivation from the sunset, though he did wait for me at an unmarked location where he took the wrong fork and got lost. He came back to make sure I didn’t have to repeat his same mistake. Three hikers hiked up along the trail as we were going down.

Our hiking time ended when we reached the car past 9pm. Yes – 21 hours of completion! We instantly collapsed in the car for 10 minutes and took off our boots and socks. Our feet finally breathed! No loss of toenails or bloody feet this time. Although we were one of the last groups to arrive at the Whitney Portal trailhead this evening, we felt victorious with our accomplishments! We’re finally done and ready for the well-deserved sleep.

What We Would Do Differently with Hiking Mount Whitney

If we are to do the hike again, we would have done it in two days. The hike from Whitney Portal to Outpost Camp at mile 4 and Trail Camp at mile 6 is doable for the first day to acclimate, and then spend the next day finishing the rest of the 11 miles hike to the summit. We would need to bring food with us and leave them in a bear canister. We saw lots of people reach the summit full of energy as they had the two-day permit.

It is highly important to train at elevation and also the distance. We hiked Mission Peak in Fremont, California which is known to be a steep route, 2 times on the same day for training prior to Mount Whitney. The training was 12.6 miles and at 4146 feet elevation gain. However, we should have done 3 or 4 times a day to practice the elevation gain. We would also take a weekend trip to Tahoe to prepare for the altitude.  

If you want a longer trip in Southern California, consider stopping by Joshua Tree National Park for more hiking opportunities. Or, consider heading to Oregon to check out the hiking opportunities at Newberry Caldera and seeing the nearby beautiful Paulina Lake and East Lake. We love seeing blue waters anywhere!

Let’s hike another mountain again!

Have you hiked Mount Whitney before? How was your experience?

We Hiked Mount Whitney in One Day and Survived


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Peter July 9, 2018 - 4:23 pm

Thanks for the great post. Whitney in a day is the ONLY way to do it. Bucket list item for sure 🙂

Jackie July 10, 2018 - 9:16 pm

Peter – We’re glad that you enjoyed the post. One day in Whitney is a challenge yet doable.

Matt August 26, 2018 - 4:34 pm

Although many people consider it to be easier to do a multi-day trip up Whitney, this is by no means an absolute. There are a few factors to consider when it comes to one day vs multi-day trips. The BIGGEST is the fact that a multi-day trip requires that you need to climb several miles thousands of feet with a heavy pack on your back. This alone will cause you to be MUCH more tired by the time you reach Trail Camp or even Outpost Camp. You may also end up being significantly more sore. And you may find that you don’t recover overnighg as well as you would hope to. Of course, much of this depends on conditioning. If you have NEVER backpacked before or rarely backpack, doing a multi-day trip may just make the climb harder than if you just did a single day.

Also remember that your sleep at altitude may not be as good as you hoped. Many people sleep poorly at high altitude. And this can only be compounded by factors such as wind (common at Trail Camp) or just plain being uncomfortable due to inadequate equipment (possibly caused by trying to shed too much pack weight). Food could also be a factor if camping, especially if you are trying to shed weight. All of these things will just guarantee you a miserable climb.

In the end, you have to consider your own body and capabilities. Can you carry a heavy pack up the mountain? Do you think you will sleep well at altitude? If so, two days might be better. Otherwise, a day hike is a better way to go. All I can say is that when I climbed Whitney a few weeks back, I did it in a day and can’t imagine doing it any other way. I felt REALLY sorry for those folks trying to climb that trail with those HUGE packs. It literally made me feel like I was cheating by day hiking the mountain!

One thing I should add is that you are correct in assuming that training at high altitude will help. Mission Peak is only 2500ft, which is for all practical purposes sea level. Even Tahoe won’t really get you acclimated. Try some higher altitude hikes like Mount Dana (in Yosemite), Mono Pass (Rock Creek), or the White Mountains. You REALLY need to get to at least 12000ft to acclimate for a hike like Whitney. You should also sleep at a higher altitude than Lone Pine (4000ft) before doing this hike. Camping at Whitney Portal (8300ft) or Horseshoe Meadows (10000ft) will prepare you MUCH better. Of course, these things will help you regardless of whether you end up doing a future climb in one day or two.

Jackie August 28, 2018 - 1:56 pm

Matt – Thank you for sharing your insight and helpful tips with hiking Mount Whitney. It’s one tough hike. Congratulations with your finish.

Daniel Levy May 15, 2019 - 8:58 pm Reply
Jackie May 30, 2019 - 3:56 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience of hiking Mount Whitney. It’s quite an accomplishment that you finished in 12 hours!

Paige Fillion September 20, 2019 - 3:14 am

Please, please, please use more safe practices. Not returning when you have altitude sickness symptoms is very dangerous. You also don’t mention carrying your 10 essentials in your daypack nor the rule of getting off of the summit by 1pm due to unexpected weather at 14k elevation. When people read your article they think that all they need to do is attempt the climb. It is this attitude that makes the mountain even more dangerous. It also endangers the SARS teams. They continually rescue people who do not have simple, preventative knowledge of safety items – 10 essentials which include a bivy. And continuing with AMS is really not something to suggest to readers.
What not to do on Whitney would be a cool article.

Jackie September 20, 2019 - 11:28 am

Hi Paige. Thanks for bringing up some great points about the altitude sickness and what to bring in your daypack. The altitude is no joke! We’re not sure when we’re attempting Mount Whitney again. We’ll be better prepared with the safety measures next time.

Mike July 22, 2021 - 3:08 pm

My wife and I just did Whitney in a day about 2 weeks ago. We trained hard for this hike by hiking Cucamonga peak, Ontario Peak, Mt. Baldy via Devils Backbone, Tahquitz Peak, and San Jacinto Peak in the weeks leading up to Mt Whitney. We had no signs of altitude sickness during any of these hikes and they were all between 8K and 11K feet in altitude. Whitney is a whole other monster. At around 13000 feet, my wife started getting symptoms of altitude sickness ( mild headache, mild nausea ) but we were prepared for it with supplemental oxygen which worked well and helped get her to the summit. We were fully prepared to turn back without summitting if her condition worsened. We started our hike early to enter the Whitney Zone at 12:00 A.M. and it was the best decision we could have made. We were the only people on the trail until trail camp where some overnighters were preparing to start their way to the summit for the sunrise. We found the 97 switchbacks to be a fairly easy part of the climb primarily because it was still dark so we felt like we were making progress an not seeing the same sight the whole way up. The section from trail crest to the summit was the hardest due to the uneven terrain, tired feet, and altitude. We reached the summit around 9:00 A.M. and spent about an hour taking in the view. When we got back to trail crest, the clouds started forming and we witnessed the infamous storms(rain, hail, thunder and lightning). In our best estimate, only about 25-30 people made it to summit that day. We counted 11 names in the register for the day before. The hike down was much faster but mor painful than going up due to fatigue and blisters. We are both glad that we did this hike but we wish we would have done it 30 years ago in our 20s. We are both proud to be in the Whitney in a day club. It a hike like no other that we will remember forever.

Jackie August 4, 2021 - 8:03 am

Hi Mike. Congratulations to you and your wife for climbing Mount Whitney in a day. What a fantastic accomplishment. It’s not the easiest trail to complete yet so memorable when you’re all done. We were in the same boat as you when hiking down Mount Whitney. My feet hurt so much! Many thanks for sharing your experiences with everyone here.


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