Mount Whitney Lottery
The highest peak in the United States, not counting Alaska, is Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. I have attempted to climb it five times, including three successfully. It is a spectacular, yet challenging hike, and doing it is a proud feather to put on one’s hat.
Unfortunately, it became necessary decades ago to ration permits on the mountain, due to excessive use. These permits are very coveted and difficult to get. In this week’s newsletter I will go over how to enter the lottery for a permit. February is the only month to enter the lottery, which is why I write about this now.
There are three trails that lead to Mount Whitney. The vast majority of people who climb it do it via the Mount Whitney trail. The total distance (round trip) is 22 miles and gains over 6,200 feet of elevation.
Hikers in elite shape can do it in a single day, but most people backpack it over two to four days. You will need to decide the length of time and size of your party in advance when you register for the permit lottery. Here are the hoops to jump through:
- 1. Sign up for an account at Recreation.gov. This is free and a portal to permits on many public lands. This step in the process is easy.
- 2. Find your way to “permits” and search on Mount Whitey
- 3. Click on “Register for the open lottery.”
- 4. Fill out the application. Here is where you will need to commit to dates, party size, and alternate leaders. There is a $15 fee to enter, which you can pay by credit card.
- 5. Wait until March 15 (estimated) for the results. You will have to pay additional fees if you win.
The alternate leader bit is tricky. Do not get greedy and get your friends, who have no intention of climbing Whitney, to enter and put you as an alternate leader. I did this last year and none of them won. I hear through word of mouth the system flags people who do this and doesn’t count entries with alternate leaders who already have their own application, even if the dates are different. My advice is to be honest and only enter people who might actually go and are not in the lottery already, even as an alternate under somebody else’s application.
I mentioned earlier there are a couple other ways to get to the summit of Mount Whitney. One of the others is known as the Mountaineers Route. This is a shorter and steeper route that diverts from the main Mount Whitney trail a few miles into it. After that point, it is more of a route than a trail. I attempted it before in the early 90’s and our group failed, mostly due to getting lost and altitude sickness. If you do choose to go with this way, you should have somebody leading the group who knows the route.
You still need a permit for this route, but it’s done through a completely different system. For that, you still go through Recreation.gov and apply for an Inyo National Forest Permit and then select the “North Fork of Lone Pine Creek.” The Mountaineers Route roughly follows this creek the middle portion of the trip. For this permit, the system allows entries up to six months in advance. You probably will need to enter exactly six months in advance of your desired date. Be at your computer and ready to click at 6:59 AM, Pacific time, exactly six months in advance.
The other way is via the High Sierra Trail. This is a spectacular 72-mile hike I did over six days in 2022. I wrote about it over six issues of my newsletter. For that, you need yet a different permit. The process is similar to the Mountaineers Route, but enter Sequoia and Kings Canyon Nation Parks, enter your dates and group size, and then select “High Sierra Trail.”
There are also ways to get permits outside of the lotteries I just explained, via cancellations. That is a whole different topic, which I won’t get into. Suffice it to say, the odds getting one that way for the Mount Whitney Trail are very slim.
I should emphasize that the season to enter the Mount Whitney lottery via the Mount Whitney trail is February 1 to March 1. In other words, right now! If this article inspires you to enter and you actually do it, I’m sure you will thank me later.