Monday, February 23, 2015

Playing the Mount Whitney Lottery: Part I

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:

All Mount Whitney climbing reservations get handled at  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 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.

Just above the "Check Availability" button in the first result marked "A," find the two links for "DAY USE of Mt Whitney Zone" and "Mt Whitney Trail Overnight Permit."  Click the appropriate link.  If you're not sure about your trip type, find the blog posts comparing 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.

If taking a single-day trip, you'll get the result shown above.  You multi-day-ers hang on.  We'll get to you in a sec.  Click on "Mt Whitney Zone - Day Use All Routes"

The two screen shots above are actually the same page.  The lower shot is a scroll-down from the upper. Start by using the first two drop-downs and seeing the results as above.  Next, add your permit entry date.  Note:  The date on your permit is the date you plan to enter the Mt Whitney Zone and summit Mt Whitney.  Set your permit size.  No more than 15 people can be grouped together regardless of the number of permits. Set your exit point as above.

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.

Check the Terms of Use box.  Then go back and make sure everything is in order before continuing to the shopping cart.  If you miss, you'll get a warning and have to go back to complete the application properly.  Failure to do so either scrubs out all your info or double bills you as you resubmit.  Also, check your preferred entry date because it occasionally defaults to May.  Whatever you do, don't hit the "back" button.  You will cause the Earth to wobble on its axis and be catapulted into space. There is a place to clean up your bill before paying without causing global catastrophe. Look for  "Remove Marked Items" in the green bar below the words "Shopping Cart."  Click on it only after checking off the duplicates.

Your final application should look like this.  It won't show all your alternate dates.  At this point, all you owe is the $6.00 non-refundable application fee.  You do not pay $15.00 per person until you accept your date assignments.

 I know you guys can take it on home from here.  Now let's see how the multi-day trip differs:

After clicking on the "Mt Whitney Trail Overnight Permit" link from the search results page, it should look like this.  Click on "Mt Whitney Trail JM 35."

On a multi-day trip, the date listed is the day you plan to enter the John Muir Wilderness (about .9 mile from the trailhead), not the Mount Whitney Zone which starts about a hundred yards up the trail from Lone Pine Lake.  Camping at Lone Pine Lake also requires a multi-day permit, hence the difference in boundaries from the single-day permit.  The application looks pretty much the same except for the size of the exit-point drop-down menu.  Since this is a multi-day trip, the options aren't just limited to different days.  You can vary the exit points as well.

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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  1. Wow, thank you so much for this post! I found the reservation website a bit buggy (options kept disappearing then reappearing, dates wouldn't "stick" when I clicked on it, etc.). It really helped to see your screen shots & know that I was doing everything correctly, so I got there in the end! Thanks. :)

  2. Thank you for your comment. I was hoping people would get it. Please "like" the Mount Whitney Quest Facebook page.


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