training for mount whitney california hiking

A Guide to Hiking and Training for Mount Whitney in 2024

Training for Mount Whitney can seem daunting, but it’s a fantastic experience to watch your body transition to an entirely new being. Just as in your hike, training is about putting one step before the other. It will seem slow and, at some points, inconsequential, but over time, you’ll notice how much stronger you are.

You’ll get to adventure to some pretty unique places as you train. Remember to soak these moments in because not everyone gets this opportunity.

All you need to know for Training for Mount Whitney

training for mount whitney california hiking

What to prioritize while training for Mount Whitney

Training for Mount Whitney isn’t just a physical or mental battle. You must be in your best mental shape to handle the long day and low oxygen.

Eating healthy

Eating healthy will help you train even better. Having less processed foods and more natural foods will be a massive boost to how you do. However, do not conflate eating healthy with not eating. We still want you to eat. Just cut out junk food and alcohol, and focus on meals with few ingredients.

training for mount whitney california hiking

Sleeping is key for Mt. Whitney

Getting good sleep is also crucial to helping your body recover as you train for Whitney. So during this span, try to get more sleep than usual!

Taking care of your body before summiting Mt. Whitney

Overall, this is a time to treat your body right. As you’re training for Mount Whitney, it will respond if you give it what it needs to fire on all cylinders. The human body is beautiful, and you’ll get a chance to see how great it is!

Best training hikes for Mount Whitney

The part that many of you came here for! I know you all live lives outside of hiking, so it’s understandable if you go into the hike, maybe not as in shape or confident as you’d like. I summited Mount Whitney with three days’ notice and three months after my final chemotherapy appointment. So it can definitely be done in a subpar shape. (But I don’t recommend it.)

Training for Mount Whitney can be done without extravagant peaks and in your local gym, but I recommend spending the five weeks beforehand getting above 11,000 feet on your training hikes. The hikes below are an excellent start to that, and the ones further down will help you get acclimatized to hiking above 12,000 and 13,000 feet.

I also recommend looking up mountains near you to keep your driving reasonable. For example, if there’s a 10,000-foot peak 1 hour from you, driving five for something similar is unnecessary.

training for mount whitney california hiking

Six Peaks to start training for Mount Whitney

These apply to Southern California hikers as these are close to the LA Metro area.

  • Mount Baldy – 10,068
  • San Bernardino Peak – 10,656
  • Cucamonga Peak – 8,862
  • San Gorgonio – 11,503
  • Mount San Jacinto -10,834
  • Mount Wilson – 5,713

Higher Elevation hike to train for Mount Whitey

Almost all of these are non-technical Mount Whitney training hikes. However, if you have an early season permit for Whitney, they may be harder to access due to snow/weather. While all travel above 12,500 is slow, if you can do a couple of hikes to get your body and mind used to hiking at this altitude, it will be a big help when you’re on Mount Whitney for the real deal.

  • White Mountain Peak – 14,250
  • Palisades Glacier – 12,400
  • Humphrey’s Peak (Arizona) – 12,600
  • Mount Rose – 10,881
  • Mount Shasta – 14,179
  • Mount Dana – 13,063
  • Lassen Peak – 10,462

How do I get in shape for Mt. Whitney?

Training for Mount Whitney takes dedication and a base level of athleticness. You will want to push your body through cardio and weights to give it the best shot at performing well on the mountain.

training for mount whitney california hiking

Build Up

Start small. There’s no need to go out and tackle any of those peaks on day one. Instead, do a little run around the neighborhood, or hop on the stair stepper at the gym. When I was getting active, I did 3-4 mile trail runs near my house.

Having that foundation was crucial to ramping it up to hike Whitney.

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Length of training for Mount Whitney

Consider training for 3-5 months, depending on your permit date. If it is earlier in the year, search out higher-elevation trails that have melted. (Look for south-facing slopes/trails.) A more extended training regime has pros and cons.

Some pros are that you get more time to get in shape and don’t have to push yourself as fast. This can reduce injury and increase performance. However, one negative to an extended training program is you could get injured before the summit date.

You’ll have to weigh these when training for Mount Whitney. However, I still think a longer runway is better than a short one.

Exercises to consider doing to train for Mount Whitney

Cardio

You will want at least three days per week of cardio while training for Mount Whitney. This doesn’t have to be exclusively runs or hikes. They can be HIIT classes, stair stepper, biking, or swimming. However, we want to train your legs for continuous pounding, so swimming is excellent, but don’t only do that.

training for mount whitney california hiking

Additionally, if you can do 5 miles a week to start and then begin to ramp it up to 9-15 miles per week for the middle, you will be in great shape. Towards the end, I recommend doing longer hikes, around 15+ miles, to see how your body fares. There’s no need to do 20+ days if you don’t want to.


Related: What do bring on a sucessful backpacking trip


Weight Lifting

On top of the cardio, you want to target muscles that running doesn’t hit. Doing squats, lunges, etc., are perfect for strengthening the larger muscles, which will help propel you up the 6,000-foot ascent. I recommend 2-4 days of weights, which can also be combined with your cardio days.

training for mount whitney california hiking

Keep in mind elevation gain not only total height

When planning your training hikes, consider the hike’s elevation and how many feet the hike gains. For example, Mount Whitney gains over 6,000 feet of elevation, so try to find hikes that match the feet per mile grade and the total elevation.

Here is the last bit of training for Mount Whitney advice

I slept at Whitney Portal on the night before the hike. While I’m not sure if being at 8,600 feet for another 12 hours helped me acclimatize, it could be something to consider. Though, it’s a lot less comfortable than staying in a hotel near Lone Pine.

training for mount whitney california hiking

Answering Questions about the Mount Whitney Trail Difficulty

Is Mount Whitney difficult?

Most definitely. At 22 miles round trip with 6,000 feet of elevation gain, Whitney may be America’s most challenging day hike. But it is also one of the most beautiful trails in the Lower 48. There is truly nothing like seeing the Whitney spire light up at sunrise. It’s a core memory that still gives me goosebumps to this day.

What is the hardest part of Mount Whitney?

Everything above Trail Crest, around 13,300 feet, and at the top of the 99 Switchbacks, is exhausting. For many, you’ve likely never hiked at this altitude. As a result, you will be much slower than you had been. This is okay!

Remember to take a break at Trail Crest and enjoy the views along the trail. I stopped more times than I can count over the last 1.5 miles to the summit.

To help people out with a hiking timeline:

  • I started the hike at 2 am
  • Sunrise began around 5:20 am (still not at Trail Camp)
  • I left Trail Camp around 7 am
  • I reached Trail Crest by 9:05 am
  • I summited around 11:45 am (hour break, maybe more)
  • Arrived back at Trail Camp at 4:30 (slow and bloody glissade down)

Can beginners climb Mount Whitney?

I would not recommend someone who’s never hiked or summited a peak to hike Mount Whitney right off the bat. But for those just beginning their training for Mount Whitney, you will not be a beginner by the end of this process. If you spend 3-5 months preparing, you’ll be an expert on the day you reach the top.

Is Mount Whitney a Steep Hike?

While it’s the tallest point in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney is a generally moderate trail in terms of feet per mile. Overall, Whitney averages 500 feet per mile, making it an excellent hiking trail.

There are some steeper parts (like if you climb the Chute), but it will be decent for those taking the 99 Switchbacks. But remember, decent doesn’t mean easy. It’s still hard. It just means it’s not overly steep.

training for mount whitney california hiking

Day hiking vs. Backpacking

There’s a weight and exhaustion difference between that of day hiking and that of backpacking. For one, those doing it in one day have a much lighter pack but will be tackling all 22 miles in one day. On the other hand, backpackers have heavier weights for half of the hike but get to rest and sleep in later on the summit day.

After doing it in a day in 2019, I swore off ever doing it in a single push. While a great experience, doing 22 miles, especially with limited training, was brutal. I’d much rather spend a night and not rush through the hike.


Related: How to Hike Mt Whitney in one day


Questions about hiking Mount Whitney

What was the permit success rate?

In 2021, 28% of group leaders got their choice. In all, more than 25,000 applications were submitted for nearly 110,000 hikers.

Where should I stay while hiking Mount Whitney?

If you want to stay in a hotel, I recommend Lone Pine for your hotel. This allows you a home base the day before and the day after to rest and recover. Just know everyone’s beginning to make their Whitney hike reservations, and I recommend booking early to save your place.

You can also get a campsite at Whitney Portal. This means you’ll have a 5-minute drive to the trailhead.

What should I bring to hike Mount Whitney?

training for mount whitney california hiking

How much water do I need for the Mt Whitney day hike?

I carried two liters for the first six miles up to trail camp. Here I filled up more water for the final five miles. Because you’re hiking the first bit in the dark, you don’t sweat as much, which helps you conserve your water. I also had a Gatorade with me to replenish electrolytes.

You must filter water on this hike, but make sure your filter works! I bought a small one at the Whitney Portal shop in case my normal filter crapped out. It did, and I was so thankful to have another one.


You might also like: Backpacking to Rae Lakes in Kings Canyon NP

You might also like: Backpacking to Big Pine Lakes


I didn’t get a permit during the lottery. Can I still get one?

Yes! I got mine this way, so don’t stop training for Mount Whitney. Keep an eye on the Mt Whitney permit website, and some might become available. I think this happens early and late in the season when weather and conditions are more questionable. But there’s also the chance that someone gets sick or injured and cannot make it.

All unclaimed permits become available on April 22 at 7 am PST.

What Class is the hike?

If you do the standard Mount Whitney Hike, it’s a Class 1-2, non-technical hike. However, just because it’s not technical does not mean it’s not brutal. This means there are no dangerously exposed sections, nor do you need rope.

So while you’re training for Mount Whitney, you don’t have to do anything crazy. Just hike and have fun!

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.


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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside