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Sequoia National Park, California, United States

The High Sierra Trail: Segment 7 of 7

Guitar Lake to Mount Whitney Summit and the descent to Whitney Portal

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Difficulty: Schwierig
Length: 14.3 miles / 23 km
Duration: Ganzer Tag
Übersicht: This is the last of a series of Guides to the High Sierra Trail, an approximately 70 mile trail that runs from Crescent Meadow on the western side of the Sierra Nevada to Whitney Portal on the eastern slope. Each segment roughly corresponds to a day on the trail. This Guide describes Segment 7 of 7: Guitar Lake to Mount Whitney Summit and the descent to Whitney Portal.

Many people do this stretch in two days, but I've found that at the end of a long hike, the last day has that 'horse to the barn' motivation. Yes, Mount Whitney is high, steep, and difficult. But the prospect of not only the summit, but cheeseburgers and a shower will probably have you flying at a pace you didn't expect.

Having been on the trail a week gives you a big advantage over dayhikers or people coming in from the eastern side: you are acclimated and strong. Use that to your advantage!

The summit of Whitney is about a 3000 foot climb from Guitar Lake. The first 2.5 miles and 2000 feet switchback up the western side of the ridge until reaching Trail Junction. Here, drop your pack (keep your food protected from marmots!), grab your camera and water, and head to the summit. The summit is another 1000 feet up in about two miles.

After summiting, it's about 11 miles and 6000 feet of descent to the trailhead. Back at the Junction, pick up your pack and climb the final small stretch to Trail Crest, then descend the famous 97 switchbacks.

At the bottom of the switchbacks you'll be in Trail Camp. If you do this stretch over two days, this is one option for camping on the way down. Otherwise, continue further to the lower Outpost Camp.

Eventually, finishing up at the Whitney Portal trailhead, you'll be thrust back into civilization with a large crowd of people. But that's okay - it comes with the decadent smell of cheeseburgers - head to the portal store and get one. Or five. You deserve it!

Points of Interest


Guitar Lake

Starting early from Guitar Lake is a good way to cover this stretch in a day. By early, I mean pre-sunrise. Most camps will be stirring by 5 AM at the latest.

The trail is easy to follow with a headlamp, and if there is a bright moon reflecting on the white granite the headlamp might not even be necessary.

One of the most memorable experiences I've had on the trail is watching sunrise from the climb to Whitney from Guitar Lake. As the sun slowly hits the peaks around you, you'll realize you are looking *down* on many of them. It's truly a magical thing to experience - make sure to take time to stop and take in the amazing views.

Trail Junction

After climbing up the switchbacks from Guitar Lake, you'll reach the junction of the spur trail to the summit of Mount Whitney. Many people choose to drop their heavy packs here and continue to the summit with only a camera and water. If you do this, make sure your 'smellables' are put away in your bear canister - while you're unlikely to encounter backcountry theft up here (there is constant traffic and who is going to want to carry your stuff down?), the roving gangs of marmots will be looking for a snack.

If you're lucky you'll see polemonium, or Sky Pilot, along here. A beautiful blue alpine flower, it's only found at high elevations and mixes in some color in this desolate granite terrain.

There are some bivy sites around here so it is possible to camp near the junction. However, there is no water source so if you are planning on this make sure to carry all of the water you will need.

Mt Whitney Summit

Welcome to the top! At approximately 14,500 feet you are higher than any other point in the Continental United States.

After traversing the west side of the Whitney Ridge, you'll follow the sloping summit plateau to the Smithsonian Hut, built in 1909 as a meteorological station and shelter. However, to quote from the NPS website:

"The metal roof of this hut attracts lightning which can be conducted through the building to individuals inside. Do not seek shelter here during a storm. It is unsafe to be anywhere on top of the mountain or any exposed high place during a thunderstorm. "

There is plenty of room on the summit for the crowds of people you are likely to encounter. One motivation to starting early from Guitar Lake is to avoid the dayhiker crowd on the summit - I've had the summit nearly to myself by doing this!

Trail Crest

Trail Crest is often confused with the Trail Junction (POI 2). Trail crest marks where the trail crosses the ridge and begins the descent down the eastern side of the peak. The two points are only separated by a short distance of trail.

From Trail Crest, you will descend the 97 Switchbacks (yes, there are that many). You'll also be meeting the crowds climbing to the summit. Since the trail is narrow, remember that you should yield to uphill hikers (though you'll find many will welcome the opportunity for a breather).

To the west, you get views of Hitchcock Lakes far below you. To the east you'll see the turquoise blue of Consultation Lake and the hazy Owen's Valley floor in the distance.

On the switchbacks, you will encounter snow and ice earlier in the season. One particularly icy stretch has cables installed.

Trail Camp

This is the first opportunity to camp when descending Whitney from the western approach. It is at approximately 12,000 feet.

Trail Camp is busy but some people really enjoy the socialization the camp has to offer. Water is accessible near by.

Outpost Camp

Another campsite opportunity along the trail, Outpost Camp is close enough the trailhead that you'll be unlikely to set up camp here for the night. However, there is water access around here and it is another concentration of humanity along the trail.

Lone Pine Lake

The short fork to Lone Pine Lake is a nice excursion for a water refill if necessary, but it is not often visited by High Sierra Trail hikers - after all, it's a mere few miles back to the trailhead!

North Fork

This usually has water, and it also marks the turnoff to the Mountaineer's route of Mount Whitney. While you won't be going this way, it's a good place to stop and notice for that return trip you're already planning on!

Whitney Portal

You are done! At Whitney Portal your senses will be assaulted: noise, crowds, cars, screaming kids, barking dogs, frying burgers, cold beer. Look for the scale - weigh your pack to see how much lighter it is that the day you started out! Garbage bins and pit toilets seem like luxury.

Hopefully your shuttle situation has worked itself out. Congratulate yourself on a fun trip and start planning for next year!
Die Bilder in diesem Guide wurden aufgenommen von: calipidder, jwania, bobestes
I didn't leave from Guitar Lake, I did Whitney Portal to Summit in one day, starting from midnight. I loved this hike to 10k. Above 10k is very desolate and exhausting, but of course, the Fourtneer status makes it worth it :)
Visited on Aug 31, 2012

von michaela1123 on Dec 04, 2013

The High Sierra Trail: Segment 7 of 7 Trail Map

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