Revision for 2016:Due to scheduled construction work on Whitney Portal Road, the "walk-in" permit program may be heavily curtailed or cancelled entirely if parking becomes an issue. Otherwise, all other aspects of the permit process remain as described in this 2015 post. Call the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center for more details as the summer progresses. Now to our regularly scheduled post already in progress...
|Don't forget your Whitney Portal campsite reservation if base camping at altitude is part of your plan (and it should be)|
To climb Mt Whitney from the traditional eastern approaches, one must submit oneself to that little piece of paradise we like to call the Mount Whitney Lottery. For most people wishing to climb the most typical routes, the lottery is the surest bet to having a permit reserved for their party.
The Lottery was created a while back as a fair method for limiting the amount of environmental damage caused by the mostly well-meaning hoards unwittingly loving the place to death. The campsites were in danger of becoming high altitude cesspools, the marmot population exploded, and some marmots themselves actually exploded after gorging on junk food stolen from unsuspecting backpackers.
Bear can requirements helped control the marmots (not to mention the bears) but something had to be done about spreading out the folks who wished to climb. Before the lottery, 90 percent of the climbers showed up on weekends. It was a bit of a madhouse. A very trashy madhouse at that. So the lottery not only limits use, it spreads the usage out evenly across the whole week.
The Lottery permit period starts on February 1 at midnight EST. Subtract an hour for every subsequent western time zone. That means 9:00 pm by the time we arrive at PST. The period ends at 11:59 pm on March 15. Again subtract an hour for every time zone going west. That means everyone has the same start and finish time no matter where they reside. Here's the blow-by-blow:
recreation.gov. One can also use this website to reserve a campground at most national parks and forests. The site takes reservations for backcountry permits as well. If you love the outdoors, chances are you already set up your free account. If you don't have one, spend five minutes and you will. Split your screen into two windows and pull up Mt Whitney Quest again so you can click on the above screenshot in one window and get a good look while reading these instructions in the other one.
Shown above is the recreation.gov homepage. Once signed in, enter "Mt Whitney" into the white search box. You'll see some pre-selected results drop down from the search box. Choose "Mt Whitney, Inyo National Forest" from the results then select "Permits & Wilderness" from the drop-down "Interested In" menu.
single-day and multi-day trips. One caveat: The lottery is cobbled together from their normal website code which is cobbled together from God knows what. Clicking as directed will get you where you're going. If you stray off the path here, you may be lost forever.
Note the box marked "Alternative Choice 1." Fill out an alternative date and finish as with the first box. When done, click on the link below it called, "Add Alternate Choice (You can add up to 15 choices)." Fill in as many choices as you can before you're choiced out.
Moving to the lower shot, fill in your trip itinerary using the drop-down box. Indicate "Mt Whitney Trail" (the main route). Choose "North fork of Lone Pine Creek" if taking a one-day trip up and down the Mountaineer's Route. Note: Multi-day trips up the Mountaineers Route are a completely different permit setup. This is for single-day attempts only.
Next, indicate your alternate leaders. This is extremely important. If you can't make the trip due to illness or whatever, and you don't appoint alternate leaders, then your permit is dead. Only leaders or alternate leaders can pick up permits from the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center in Lone Pine.
If you're taking the standard trip in and out, select "Mt Whitney Trail JM35" as both entry and exit points. Also, indicate your exit day (hidden behind the drop-down) With a multi-day permit, you have as many as 13 more days in the Mt Whitney Zone but you must declare your intention to do so.
If your multi-day trip begins anywhere other than The Mt Whitney Trail, that's a different permit altogether. You will not be part of the lottery. You will be part of the normal backcountry permit system, which allows applications for permits six months to the day in advance of their trips.
Planning a south-to north trip on the John Muir Trail? Not only is your backcountry ingress regulated (via the Mount Whitney Lottery), your egress at Yosemite now has a quota as well. Could be a drag if they don't let you stop. Check with the Yosemite authorities for information.
Do everything correctly and the above page is your reward. If you had to go back to re-do something, the application fee may be double. Find the link called "Remove Marked Items" in the green bar just below the words "Shopping Cart." Click on it after you put a check mark next to the duplicate entries.
Need more info? These fine folks at Inyo National Forest can help. (760) 873-2483.
Check out Part II of "Playing the Mount Whitney Lottery" where we discuss strategy, facts figures, and other need-to-knows.
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