The best time to climb Mt Whitney is in the months of July and August. Gone is the snow and ice during this period, or at least mostly, and those attempting less technical climbs won't need to rely on a bunch of special equipment. In fact, a good pair of hiking boots is about the extent of what is needed to reach the summit of this lofty California peak in the summer, as a main trail that is relatively easy to handle provide access to the top.
At 14,494 feet, Mt Whitney is the tallest peak within the contiguous 48 states. You'd have to go to Alaska to find taller US mountains. This fact alone makes climbing Mount Whitney such a tempting endeavor. Also adding to the allure is the relative ease with which climbers can get to the top. From the Whitney Portal trailhead, two different trails wind their ways to the top of the mountain, and one of these trails is basically a hiking trail that features switchbacks to help keep things non-technical. This easier trail is known as the Mount Whitney Trail.
For those who prefer a more technical Mount Whitney climbing experience, the Mountaineer's Route that starts at the Whitney Portal trailhead runs up the northern side of the steep east face and is considered a scramble. Even more difficult are the routes that see climbers taking on the steep east face directly. Try the renowned East Face route, for example, and you'll have to do some technical free climbing at various points if you wish to get to the top.
Regardless of how they plan on getting to the top, those who wish to climb Mt Whitney should be in good shape. They should also have the better part of a day or two to work with at least. Thanks to its less-direct route, the easier trail up to the top takes quite a long time to complete. In fact, even a very fit hiker should expect the hike from the main trailhead to the top to take at least six hours, and this time frame only increases for those who are accessing the area via other hiking trails that come from the west. The hike down doesn't usually take as long, though it adds more hours nonetheless. As such, many Mt Whitney climbers choose to camp for a night or more along the trail.
The most common places to camp overnight on Mt Whitney are the Outpost Camp, the Trail Camp, and at Whitney Summit, though hikers and climbers can rely on various sites that have already been impacted. As for those who are interested in camping near the base of the mountain, both the Lone Pine Campground and the Whitney Portal Campground provide good options. The town of Lone Pine, which is about thirteen miles east of the Whitney Portal trailhead and about four hours' drive from Fresno, provides motels for those who are interested in adding to their area accommodation options.
Special permits are needed to enter the Mt Whitney Zone, so even if you are just planning on enjoying a day hike on the slopes, you will need to get one. These permits are offered on a more limited basis between May 1 and November 1, as this is the period when most people wish to hike or climb. The effort is to reduce the impact of people on the area ecosystem. The US Forest Service offers permits, and anyone who wishes to get more info can visit an area ranger station. The main ranger station in the region is the Mt. Whitney Ranger District. It can be found at 640 S. Main Street in Lone Pine. The hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
There are a number of things to consider when planning a hike or climb to the top of any tall mountain. Among them is the weather, which can change at the drop of a hat at high elevations. Even if you think that you have chosen the best time to climb Mt Whitney (July and August), you might encounter some adverse weather that can quickly ruin a good time for the unprepared.
Another thing to consider is altitude sickness. The decreased levels of oxygen at higher elevations affect people in different manners. To adjust in general, many people wishing to climb Mt Whitney arrive to the Whitney Portal area a day before they start climbing. Staying overnight on the trail can also help, and drinking an ample amount of fluids is encouraged. Most people take about two or three days to complete a full Mt Whitney trek, and outside of the July and August time period, crampons and ice axes are good things to have handy.