Acclimation is a very important factor for an enjoyable day hike of Mt. Whitney. Most people will become nauseous and physically exhausted above 12,000' if they don't acclimate.  A few nights sleep above 8,000'  and some type of warm up hike is generally enough to avoid severe altitude sickness. If you are more sensitive to altitude, you may want to plan more time to acclimate or consider taking a medication such as Diamox to help adjust to higher altitudes. If you are unsure how you will react to higher altitudes, plan a few extra days just to play it safe. Regardless of your plan, you should drink plenty of water as you acclimatize to avoid dehydration.  Take it easy on your warm up hike and don't over do it.  Below is a chart of popular warm up hikes and there corresponding mileage, elevation gain, distance from the Whitney Portal, and closest campground.  

 

Starting Elevation

Ending Elevation

Vertical Gain

Mileage

Distance From Whitney Portal

 Closest Campground

Lone Pine Lake

8,350’

10,000’

1,700’

5.6

0 Miles

 Whitney Portal

Lower Boy Scout Lake

8,350’

10,350’

2,000’

3.5

0 Miles

 Whitney Portal

Meysan Lake

8,080’

11,445’

3,400’

11

<1 Mile

 Whitney Portal

Trail Peak

9,950’

11,604’

1,654’

5.6

28 Miles

 Cottonwood Pass

Cottonwood Lakes

10,050’

11,100’

1,050’

11

28 Miles

 Cottonwood Lakes

Kearsarge Pass

9,200’

11,760’

2,600’

9.4

35 Miles

 Onion Valley


White Mountain

11,635'

14,246’

3,200’

15

88 Miles

 Grandview

Mono Pass

10,300

12,050

1800’

7.5

100 Miles

 Mosquito Flat

Mt. Dana

10,000’

13,053’

3,100’

5.5

141 Miles

 Saddlebag Lake



Lone Pine Lake

  • This is definitely the most convenient warm up hike on the list for those staying near Whitney Portal. The hike is fairly short and gives you a chance to get a feel for the Mt. Whitney Trail, especially if you plan on starting your Mt. Whitney day hike in the dark. Lone Pine Lake is the start of the Mt. Whitney Zone and a permit is required beyond the lake.
    • The trail starts just below the Whitney Portal Store through a hallway of information signs. The trail ascends a number of long switchbacks passing Carillon Creek and the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek then continues to switchback & transverse the northerly wall of Lone Pine canyon. You then head into a forested area as you approach Lone Pine Creek. Shortly after the log crossing over Lone Pine Creek, you will come to the trail junction for Lone Pine Lake. Make a left at the trail junction and descend to the lake.


Lower Boy Scout Lake

  •  Lower Boy Scout Lake is located on the Mountaineers Route about a mile up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek from the Main Mt. Whitney Trail. Lower Boy Scout Lake is the farthest you can travel up the Mountaineers Route with out a permit.  This hike involves some route finding skills once you leave the Main trail and will get you to an elevation of 10,350'. If you can obtain a walk up permit, you can continue on from the lake to Thor Peak, where you reach an elevation of 12,306'.  If you choose to climb Thor, the route finding becomes more difficult and some class 2 and 3 scrambling is involved.
    • The trail starts just below the Whitney Portal Store through a hallway of information signs. The trail ascends a number of long switchbacks passing Carillon Creek and then arrives at the signed North Fork Of Lone Pine Creek. Leave the Mt. Whitney trail and climb the well-established use trail that leads up the slope.The trail crosses the stream then makes its way above the willows on the south side of the valley. As the valley narrows and gets steeper the trail will cut through the willows and run along the base of the cliffs on the north side. Look for a third class chute that leads up to the Ebersbacher Ledges, which will be your salvation from the willows. A large boulder reminiscent of the Matterhorn marks the chute. Climb up the chute past a large pine tree and follow a system of ledges east until it is possible to step up and turn back up canyon on the sandy, pine-covered ledge above. Traverse the ledges until their end, where a use trail switchbacks steeply up the last couple hundred feet to Lower Boyscout Lake. See Bob R's photos of the Ebersbacher Ledges for detailed instructions on navigating this area.

Meysan Lake

  • If you want some solitude in a scenic basin, Meysan Lakes trail is an excellent choice. The hike is fairly strenuous and may be difficult to follow in places, but it is worth the effort. The section from Camp Lake to Meysan Lake is a faint path on a rocky slope. This basin is an excellent place to get away from the crowds at Whitney Portal. Even if you don't hike all the way to Meysan Lake, there are great views to be had.
    • The trail starts at the Whitney Portal Campground. There is a turn out just above the campground on Whitney portal road signed Meysan Lake Trail Head. From the parking area, hike across the campground along a series of paved driveways and follow the signs through a summer home area. The trail soon enters the John Muir Wilderness. At 11,150 feet the trail reaches a flat area near a small tarn and a small creek. From here the route to the Lake is along a ducked use trail. The trail climbs another 300' before reaching Meysan Lake at 11,445'. Here is a map of the route.

Cottonwood Lakes

  • The Cottonwood Lakes Basin is an excellent destination for an acclimation hike. This is a great choice for a warm up hike because of the high starting elevation and mild elevation gain to the lakes. This is a good hike for those who camp at the Cottonwood Lakes or Cottonwood Pass Walk-In campgrounds. The basin contains 5 lakes with lake number 3 being the largest. If you have time and are in good shape you can continue on past lake 4 to Army Pass (11,975'), (Mt. Langley (14,026') or Cirque Peak (12,900'). The hike to lakes is an easy half day hike, while continuing on to the peaks is a strenuous all day event. Remember not to wear yourself  out before your Mt. Whitney Day hike.
    • The trailhead is located just north of the Cottonwood Lakes Walk-In campground. The level trail winds northward through a shallow valley overshadowed by the granite wall of an unnamed massif rising to the west. As the trail climbs gradually, it crosses the south fork of Cottonwood Creek and skirts the edge of several meadows. Just after Golden Trout Camp, the trail crosses Cottonwood Creek. Shortly after crossing the creek you will come to a trail junction. Take the trail signed Cottonwood Lakes. The path soon switchbacks through a forested area, then climbs up a series of stone steps before finally leveling out at the signed Cottonwood Basin. Continue on to Lakes 3,4 or 5. If you want to continue onto Army Pass, Cirque Peak, or Mt. Langley, follow the trail around the north side of lake 4 and ascend the pass.


Trail Peak

  • In my opinion, Trail Peak is the best warm up hike in the Mt. Whitney area. It is a great acclimation hike because it gets you to 11,654' in a little less than 3 miles. The hike does involves some route finding and easy scrambling once you leave the trail at the PCT junction. The summit rewards you with outstanding views across the Golden Trout Wilderness to the south, the Great Western Divide Peaks to the west, Cirque Peak and Mt. Langley to the north and the Inyo Mountains to the east. This is a good hike for those who camp at the Cottonwood Lakes or Cottonwood Pass Walk-In campgrounds.
    • The Cottonwood Pass trailhead is located at the end of Horseshoe Meadows Road, near the Cottonwood Pass Walk-In campground. Take the trail west toward Cottonwood Pass. After a short distance take the signed trail junction south towards Trail Pass. Once you reach the pass you come to a trail junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Leave the trail and take the east slope (class 2 scramble) until the trees give way to an open summit plateau, then continue to the high point.

Kearsarge Pass

  •  The Onion Valley trailhead offers access to some beautiful sierra high country and is an excellent area to acclimate prior to a Mt. Whitney day hike. There are many destinations from this trailhead, including several alpine lakes, and many possibilities for peak bagging if time permits. On the way to the pass you will have views of Heart, Big Pothole, Gilbert, and Flower Lakes. Once at the pass you are rewarded with views of the Kings Canyon National Park high county, University Peak and Mt. Gould.
    • Begin hiking from the trailhead  on the north end of the parking lot at the end of Onion Valley Road. Hike up a series of well graded switchbacks through manzanita and pines, reaching Independence Creek at 1 mile. Continue beside the creek to reach Little Pothole Lake. Another set of switchbacks lead to Gilbert Lake at 2.2 miles. Keep with the main trail to reach Flower Lake a short distance later. The trail then ascends up steep, rocky switchbacks gaining sight of Heart Lake at 3.5 miles. More switchbacks lead to Big Pothole Lake at 4.2 miles, and your first look at the pass ahead. The view from the pass is spectacular, looking down upon Bullfrog, and Kearsarge Lakes. 

White Mountain

  • White Mountain is the third highest peak in California and considered to be the "easiest" 14,000' peak in the state. This  White range has a desert-like appearance and the perfect conditions for the world's oldest living trees, the Ancient Bristlecone Pines. The range offers great acclimation camping and hiking opportunities. The hike to the summit is a little long for a warm up hike, but if you have the time and are in good shape, it is an excellent way to test yourself above 12,000'. If you don’t want to make the 15-mile trek to the peak, spend a day visiting the Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center, Schulman Grove, and Patriarch Grove, all of which are above 10,000'. For detailed information on visiting the Bristlecone Pine forests, visit the INYO National Forest Website.
    • The trailhead is at the Barcroft gate on White Mountain Road. Getting to the trailhead is an adventure on its own. View this map and these directions for details. From the gate take the dirt road north. The road gradually climbs and after a few miles you will pass Barcroft Laboratory. Continue on the dirt road until you reach the summit. Here is a map of the route.

Mono Pass

  •  Mosquito Flat is at the end of the Rock Creek Road at an elevation of 10,300 feet and is the trailhead for the some of the most popular hikes in Eastern Sierra.  Little Lakes Valley is possibly the most popular hike in the Eastern Sierra aside from Mt. Whitney. This area offers scenic acclimation possibilities for those heading to Mt. Whitney from the north. There are miles of trails through forested valleys, lush meadows and alpine lakes. Mono Pass is an excellent destination with great views of the Mono Recesses and Pioneer Basin. From Mono Pass you can continue on to Mt. Starr (12,835').
    • The Mosquito Flat trailhead is at the end of Rock Creek Road. The trail follows Rock Creek as you ascend to Little Lakes Valley. You will come to several trail junctions, take the trails signed Mono Pass. Soon you will reach the side trail to Ruby Lake. The trail then switchbacks steeply up to Mono Pass.

Mt. Dana

  • Mt. Dana and the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite offer excellent opportunities for acclimating. This area is convenient for people traveling to Lone Pine from the Bay Area or from the north. There is car camping available at Tuolumne Meadows and Saddlebag Lake, both of which are above 9000'. The route to Mt. Dana is short and steep, gaining 3000' in only 2.75 miles, to an elevation of 13,053'. From the summit you have unobstructed views of Mono Lake, Mount Lyell, the Cathedral Range, Tuolumme Meadows, and Mount Conness to the north. The best part of Mt. Dana is the views of the Dana glacier, located in the large cirque east of the peak.
    • There is not an official trail to Mt. Dana, however there is a well worn use trail up the northwest slope. The trail starts on the east side of the Tioga Pass Entrance Station to Yosemite. The trail is not signed, but fairly easy to find. If you cant find it, ask the rangers at the entrance station. The trail travels southeast around several meadows and ponds, then begins to climb steeply up the northwest slope. The trail continues to climb steeply, switchbacking in places until you arrive at a broad plateau. From the plateau, the trail disappears as the terrain turns to rock and talus. At this point just keep climbing up towards the obvious summit. 

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