Monday, January 18, 2016

The Road To Mt Whitney is.....Under Construction?

Whitney Portal Road Closure Information

(Revised Feb 9, 2016)

While engrossed in writing a scintillating post about crampons and ice axes, two releases from the Inyo National Forest roll across my eyeballs. The first one is an overview of the 2016 reconstruction project for Whitney Portal Road. For the uninitiated, Whitney Portal Road is the one route for vehicle access to the Portal, which is the location of the Mount Whitney Main Trial and North Fork (Mountaineer's) Route trailheads.

The second is a nuts-and-bolts PDF regarding how to make your Mt Whitney Quest work. So both are required reading for any trip into the Portal area, including car and RV camping, hikes to Meysan Lake, Mt Muir, the backside of Lone Pine Peak, excursions to Mt Mallory, Mt Irvine, and the rest of the area's lumps, bumps, and puddles.

But wait!  There's more.....

Now a third document is available complete with maps and diagrams showing where roadside parking will be prohibited plus the designated parking areas for permit holders. This new document also shows construction will be split into three phases. Phase 1 will be closest to the Portal. As the work moves downward (eastward) back towards town, roadside parking restrictions will ease somewhat in the Portal area. Read the document for more information.

Mt Whitney permit holders will receive all priority regarding parking. However, permit holders are not guaranteed a space. The Forest Service really really recommends parking the car at a lot in Lone Pine and utilizing any one of the many shuttle services to get to the trailhead. Also, anyone hoping to stage a car for a John Muir Trail hike or a Whitney climb from Horseshoe Meadows, Onion Valley or the High Sierra Trail will find themselves shut out. So the road construction's impact goes way beyond anyone's Whitney aspirations.

However, it does appear reserving a Whitney Portal car camping area site for our "base camp"  may get us around the heavily restricted parking situation caused by the construction. Every campsite allows parking for two vehicles.  Start your climb from your campsite by following the last bit of the Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail to the Main Trail proper due to parking restrictions. We should be staying up high anyway before climbing even higher. 

The Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail runs right through the Portal car-camping area

I'm not going to regurgitate the entirety of the four releases. Just click on the links above and get the info straight from the Forest Service. Reading between the lines, the single day parking permit is good for the climb date from midnight to 11:59 pm. The day use parking opens every morning at 8:00 am and closes every night at 8:00 pm during construction. People recreating in the Portal area or visiting the Portal Store, or perhaps taking a stroll to Lone Pine Lake should use this lot. Towing will be strictly enforced outside the hours outlined above so this lot is not suitable for summit day.

Another layer of uncertainty for "Walk-Ins"

"Walk-in" permits, those fortunate few taking advantage of returned unused lottery permits by being in the right place at the right time, may be discontinued for the 2016 season entirely, if the construction situation becomes untenable. At any rate, all "walk-in" permit climbers will be required to use a shuttle for trips to the trailhead.  Seems to me the Forest Service hasn't made up their mind yet but I wouldn't plan on dive-bombing your Mt Whitney plans this year.  Even if you do get one, it's a messy situation.

Here's a thought:  Start your trip from Lone Pine Camp and use the Recreation Trail. There are a few extra spaces for your car.  Doing so will add four miles and 2,400 feet of vertical change each way. Can you do almost 30 miles and 8,500 vertical feet in a day? How much different will it be for the multi-day climber?  It might mean staying at Outpost Camp instead of Trail Camp. Do that anyway because it means an easier night's rest.

Questions? Drop 'em in the comments section. If I can't answer them, I'll find someone who can. For this Whitney summer season, let's all heed the request by the USFS and "Please pack your patience."

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