August 2021

Mount Whitney
 

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Mount Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous US at 14,505 feet. It sits within the Great Western Divide, a chain of mountains that runs north/south through the center of Sequoia National Park. The summit rises dramatically above the Owens Valley, 10,778 ft above the town of Lone Pine. It rises more gradually on the west side, lying only about 3,000 ft above Guitar Lake.

 

For many, Mount Whitney is a rite of passage and it is the most frequently climbed mountain in the Sierra Nevada. Climbing Whitney is an unforgettable experience, not only due to the physical challenge, altitude and hype surrounding the mountain but also due to the dramatic topography and superlative views.

 

Most people who climb Mount Whitney start from Whitney Portal on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. We hiked the summit as part of a four-day hike from Cottonwoods Lakes to Whitney Portal (one way), which was a quieter route and gave us the chance to enjoy other remote and beautiful areas of Inyo National Forest.  

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Route and permits:
The shortest and most popular route to climb Mount Whitney is the 10.7 mile trail from Whitney Portal, near the town of Lone Pine on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. From the trail head, the climb to the summit is around 6,200ft. If you begin at Whitney Portal, you have to apply for a Mt. Whitney permit from Inyo National Forest
 during the lottery window (usually before April for the same year). You can apply for either a one-day or overnight permit and, given the popularity of the route, you may need a bit of luck to secure a permit. I know people who applied for several years before obtaining a permit. According to the website, in 2021 there were more than 25,000 applications requesting places for 108,500 people - 72% of applications were unsuccessful. 

The alternative is to hike from the west of the summit, which requires a longer hike but also involves quieter routes. One possible route, for example, is to hike the High Sierra Trail from Giant Forest on the west side of Sequoia National Park, which is about 60 miles and takes around 5/6 days (one way).

The route we chose was the one-way, four day hike from Cottonwoods Lakes Trailhead (Horseshoe Meadow Road). Overnight trips from Cottonwood Lakes are not in the lottery. Permits for this route and other Inyo National Forest trails can be reserved online up to 6 months in advance from Inyo National Forest

In terms of accommodation, there are only a few options at Dana so you should definitely book ahead. We camped the first two nights of the trek at 'campsites' marked on the GPS, at the base of the mountains near Wadi al-Malaqa and by the spring in Wadi Feid. In reality, there is nothing at these 'campsites' except for the fact they are pretty suitable spots for camping. On the third night we stayed in a touristy Bedouin 'camp' just outside Little Petra. In an ideal world, we would have camped again but we hadn't been able to pick up any water during the day and once we arrived at Little Petra it was late and our options were becoming limited. At Petra, the main tourist hub and brimming with hotel options is Wadi Musa. We stayed in another small town near to Petra, Uum Sayhoun, in a homey b&b. Wherever you stay at Petra, there are plenty of options but you should book ahead in high season (April - May). 

near Horseshoe Meadows, the Cottonwood Lakes Basin has many pristine alpine lakes and creeks located between Mount Langley and Cirque Peak

The main issue you'll have is water. Unsurprisingly, it's quite scarce and you need to plan carefully. There isn't any reliable water after Dana until you reach the spring at Wadi Feid, which you should reach toward the end of the second day. So we arranged a water drop with a local Bedouin (whose contact details are listed on the Jordan Trail site) at the Wadi al-Malaqa campsite. He also brought us some cooked dinner, which was actually one of the best meals we had in Jordan. There does appear to be a small artificial lake near the campsite but we did not explore this and I am sure not whether it's usable.

 

Elsewhere on the trail, there are a few springs marked on the GPS. However, we found these to be mostly dry or non-existent - and we were walking during the wettest time of year. The only reliable source is the spring at Wadi Feid - the spring itself wasn't usable but we could drink from the stream. As always - always always purify the water you drink! From Wadi Feid, there was no water until Little Petra - a very long day's walk.
 

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Little Petra gives you a taste of Petra itself - stunning sandstone carvings and an established tourist vibe. After a long walk, we had a comfortable stay in one of the touristy Bedouin camps nearby. The following day we made a much more relaxed walk along flat ground to Petra, a section of the trail which is more heavily trafficked then elsewhere. After crossing desert flats, you then enter Petra 'by the backdoor' - a stunning path that hugs a cliff edge - and eventually reach the Monastery, one of the largest monuments on the site. A pretty memorable moment after several days in the desert.


Day 1: Maxson Trailhead to North Fork Kings River (, 7 hours)
Day 2: North Fork Kings River 
to Cathedral Lake (13km, 7 hours)
Day 3: Cathedral Lake 
to Finger Peak Basin (24km, 10 hours)
Day 4: Finger Peak Basin to lake below Reinstein Pass
 (13km, 4 hours)

Day 5: Reinstein Pass to Bighorn Lake

Day 6: Bighorn Lake to Portal Lake

Day 7: Portal Lake to Maxson Trailhead (20 miles, 7 hours)

Maxson Trailhead

Hell for sure intersection

Cabin in woods

Ranger station

Plunge pool

Portal Lake

Midway Lake

Cathedral Lake

Finger Peak pass

Tiny lake

Small lake

Finger Peak Basin

Goddard Creek

Large Lake

Small lake / ridge

Reinstein Pass

Valor Pass

Valor Lake

Ambition Lake

Bighorn Lake

Lake tour: Ewe Lake, Battalion Lake, Regiment Lake, Division Lake, Pearl Lake

Maxson Trailhead

Petra can come as a small shock after the isolation on the hike - it's one of the world's biggest tourist attractions and the donkeys, camels and store sellers add a chaotic, circus atmosphere. We took a full day to properly explore and enjoy Petra. Despite the large number of people, it is a huge site and there are many areas where you can escape from the tourist masses and explore alone. Without doubt, Petra makes an unforgettable ending to a long-distance walk.

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Little Petra gives you a taste of Petra itself - stunning sandstone carvings and an established tourist vibe. After a long walk, we had a comfortable stay in one of the touristy Bedouin camps nearby. The following day we made a much more relaxed walk along flat ground to Petra, a section of the trail which is more heavily trafficked then elsewhere. After crossing desert flats, you then enter Petra 'by the backdoor' - a stunning path that hugs a cliff edge - and eventually reach the Monastery, one of the largest monuments on the site. A pretty memorable moment after several days in the desert.


Day 1: Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead to Soldier Lakes, via Mount Langley (12 miles, 7 hours)
Day 2:
Soldier Lakes to Crabtree Lakes (7.5miles, 5 hours)
Day 3: Crabtree Lakes to Guitar Lake 
(6 miles, 5 hours)
Day 4: Little Petra
to Mount Whitney to Outpost Camp (13km, 4 hours)

Petra can come as a small shock after the isolation on the hike - it's one of the world's biggest tourist attractions and the donkeys, camels and store sellers add a chaotic, circus atmosphere. We took a full day to properly explore and enjoy Petra. Despite the large number of people, it is a huge site and there are many areas where you can escape from the tourist masses and explore alone. Without doubt, Petra makes an unforgettable ending to a long-distance walk.