Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineers Route

At 14,495 feet Mount Whitney is the high point of the lower forty eight states and the goal of many a mountaineer. The Mount Whitney Trail is the most popular way to ascend and is a long circuitous eleven mile non technical hike up a well graded trail to the summit. Instead of this however, we follow in the footsteps of the redoubtable John Muir, who described the trail as being the choice for “soft, succulent people.” Muir ascended what is now known as the Mountaineers Route in 1873, starting on foot from the town of Independence. He failed on his first attempt, climbing Mount Muir instead. After a day of rest he tried again, finally gaining the summit in the late October cold.

This is our video description of what it is like to go up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek with SMC to approach the Mountaineers Route, the East Face, the East Buttress and Mt. Russell.

This is our video description of what it is like to climb the Mountaineers route with SMC.

And here is video of a trip up the Mountaineers with a group from Japan.


high-sierra-climbing-super-topo   good-great-awesoe

The best guidebooks are Supertopo’s “High Sierra Climbing” by Chris McNamara and Peter Croft’s “The Good, The Great, and the Awesome”.

Get them from Maximus Press.

You can also get our unpublished SMC Guide to Whitney here.

We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000′) just prior to the trip. Spending a night at Whitney Portal or the Cottonwood Campground would do the trick. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.


Want to do the climb, but worried about carrying the heavy pack up there? We can provide a porter to carry some of the heavier overnight gear. Call us for more information.

Day One: The Approach

The hike in begins at the Whitney Portal trailhead, which is the same trailhead as the main Whitney Trail. This is one of the busier trailheads in the Eastern Sierra so expect some company at the parking area – sometimes quite a bit of company. We start on the Whitney Trail but after less than a mile we leave this for the relative solitude of the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. This is a steep, seldom maintained route with sections of scrambling, boulder-hopping, and loose terrain, so participants need to feel comfortable carrying a three-day pack across this. We usually reach Lower Boy Scout Lake (10,300’) in time for lunch and gain camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake (11,200’) by mid afternoon. This is a very hard day with a gain of about 3,000’.

Day Two: The Climb

This route offers a mostly non-technical way to and from the summit. We make a predawn start and plan on rounding the corner above camp to catch sunrise on the East Face and continue on to Iceberg Lake where the rough trail ends.

After a break here, stashing ski poles and any extra gear, we head across slabs to the main gully. There is some easy un-roped scrambling in this area before we arrive at the base of the final 1000 feet to the notch.

The condition of this section depends very much upon the time of the year. In early season it will be snow-filled and may require the use of crampons, ice axes and rope. In late season the snow has melted out and we are climbing loose talus and sand. This section is strenuous and the fact that you are nearing 14,000 feet becomes apparent to the lungs.

Finally we arrive at the notch 300 feet below the summit plateau. The final section may involve the use of the rope. Although intimidating from below the angle eases and we find that if you can get to the bottom of the final section you can most certainly get to the top. Once above this step we drop the rope and helmets and wander over the near-flat plateau to the summit of the lower 48 states.

To return we retrace our steps, again being roped up for the section below the summit and in the gully if there is snow, and arrive back to camp in the afternoon.

Day Three: The Hike Out

We return down the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek and plan to get back down to the trailhead in time for a lunch of the famed burgers and fries at the Whitney Portal Store, before heading home tired but satisfied.

Elevations and Distances

Trailhead to Lower Boy Scout Lake: 1.9 miles, 2060′ of gain, 60′ of descent
Lower Boyscout Lake to Upper Boyscout Lake: 0.8 miles, 1040′ of gain, 30′ of descent
Upper Boyscout Lake to Iceberg Lake: 1.2 miles, 1310′ of gain, 30′ of descent
Iceberg Lake to Summit: 0.75 miles, 1870′ of gain, 30′ of descent
Summit to Camp: 1.95 miles, 60′ of gain, 3180′ of descent
Camp to Trailhead: 2.7 miles, 90′ of gain, 3100′ of descent

Program Prerequisites:

Technical climbing skills are not required but prior backpacking experience is recommended as is experience at altitudes above 12,000’. This is a physically demanding trip and you should be in good condition and have the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with a moderately heavy pack.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.

Local accommodation is not included.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details, itinerary, and equipment list for your trip
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

Mount Whitney Mountaineers Route Map

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.