MOUNT WHITNEY is the highest summit in the contiguous United States
and the Sierra Nevada , with an elevation of 14,505 feet (4,421 m).
It is on the boundary between California's Inyo and Tulare counties,
84.6 miles (136.2 km) west-northwest of the lowest point in North
Badwater Basin in
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park at 282 ft (86
m) below sea level. The west slope of the mountain is in Sequoia
National Park and the summit is the southern terminus of the John Muir
Trail which runs 211.9 mi (341.0 km) from
Happy Isles in Yosemite
Valley . The east slope is in the
Inyo National Forest in Inyo County
* 1 Geography
* 1.1 Hydrology
* 1.2 Elevation measurements
* 2 Geology
* 3 Exploration history
* 4.1 Trails
* 4.2 Scrambles
* 4.3 Technical climbs
* 5 See also
* 6 References
* 7 Further reading
* 8 External links
Sky pilot blooming on ridge just below summit.
The summit of Whitney is on the
Sierra Crest and the Great Basin
Divide . It lies near many of the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada .
The peak rises dramatically above the
Owens Valley , sitting 10,778
feet (3,285 m) or just over two miles above the town of Lone Pine 15
miles to the east, in the
Owens Valley . It rises more gradually on
the west side, lying only about 3,000 feet (910 m) above the John Muir
Trail at Guitar Lake.
The mountain is partially dome-shaped, with its famously jagged
ridges extending to the sides.
Mount Whitney is above the tree line
and has an alpine climate and ecology . Very few plants grow near the
summit: one example is the Skypilot , a cushion plant that grows low
to the ground. The only animals are transient, such as the butterfly
Parnassius phoebus and the gray-crowned rosy finch .
The mountain is the highest point on the
Great Basin Divide
Great Basin Divide .
Waterways on the west side of the peak flow into Whitney Creek, which
flows into the
Kern River . The
Kern River terminates in the Tulare
Basin . During very wet years, water overflows from the Tulare Basin
San Joaquin River
San Joaquin River which flows to the Pacific Ocean. From the
east, water from
Mount Whitney flows to Lone Pine Creek, which joins
Owens River , which in turn terminates at
Owens Lake , an
endorheic lake of the
Great Basin .
The estimated elevation of the summit of
Mount Whitney has changed
over the years. The technology of elevation measurement has become
more refined and, more importantly, the vertical coordinate system has
changed. The peak was commonly said to be at 14,494 ft (4,418 m) and
this is the elevation stamped on the USGS brass benchmark disk on the
summit. An older plaque on the summit (sheet metal with black
lettering on white enamel) reads "elevation 14,496.811 feet" but this
was estimated using the older vertical datum (NGVD29 ) from 1929.
Since then the shape of the
Earth (the geoid ) has been estimated more
accurately. Using a new vertical datum established in 1988 (NAVD88 )
the benchmark is now estimated to be at 14,505 ft (4,421 m).
Schematic of Sierra Nevada fault-block .
The eastern slope of Whitney is far steeper than its western slope
because the entire Sierra Nevada is the result of a fault-block that
is analogous to a cellar door: the door is hinged on the west and is
slowly rising on the east.
The rise is caused by a normal fault system that runs along the
eastern base of the Sierra, below Mount Whitney. Thus, the granite
Mount Whitney is the same as the granite that forms the
Alabama Hills , thousands of feet lower down. The raising of Whitney
(and the downdrop of the Owens Valley) is due to the same geological
forces that cause the
Basin and Range Province
Basin and Range Province : the crust of much of
the intermontane west is slowly being stretched.
The granite that forms
Mount Whitney is part of the Sierra Nevada
batholith . In
Cretaceous time, masses of molten rock that originated
from subduction rose underneath what is now Whitney and solidified
underground to form large expanses of granite. In the last 2 to 10
million years, the Sierra was pushed up which enabled glacial and
river erosion to strip the upper layers of rock to reveal the
resistant granite that makes up
Mount Whitney today.
In July 1864, the members of the
California Geological Survey named
the peak after
Josiah Whitney , the State Geologist of
benefactor of the survey. During the same expedition, geologist
Clarence King attempted to climb Whitney from its west side, but
stopped just short. In 1871, King returned to climb what he believed
to be Whitney, but having taken a different approach, he actually
Mount Langley . Upon learning of his mistake in 1873,
King finally completed his own first ascent of Whitney, but did so a
month too late to claim the first recorded ascent. Just a month
earlier, on August 18, 1873, Charles Begole, A. H. Johnson, and John
Lucas, all of nearby Lone Pine , had become the first to reach the
highest summit in the contiguous United States. As they climbed the
mountain during a fishing trip to nearby Kern Canyon, they called the
mountain Fisherman's Peak.
Mount Whitney as seen from Mount
Samuel Pierpont Langley
Samuel Pierpont Langley , founder of the Smithsonian
Astrophysical Observatory remained for some time on the summit, making
daily observations on the solar heat. Accompanying Langley in 1881
was another party consisting of Judge William B. Wallace of Visalia,
W. A. Wright and Reverend Frederick Wales. Wallace later wrote in his
memoirs that "The Pi Ute Indians called Mt. Whitney
"Too-man-i-goo-yah," which means "the very old man." They believe that
the Great Spirit who presides over the destiny of their people once
had his home in that mountain." The spelling Too-man-i-goo-yah is a
transliteration from the indigenous
Paiute Mono language . Other
variations are Too-man-go-yah and Tumanguya.
In 1891, the
United States Geological Survey 's Board on Geographic
Names decided to recognize the earlier name Mount Whitney. Despite
losing out on their preferred name, residents of Lone Pine financed
the first trail to the summit, engineered by Gustave Marsh, and
completed on July 22, 1904. Just four days later, the new trail
enabled the first recorded death on Whitney. Having hiked the trail,
U.S. Bureau of Fisheries employee Byrd Surby was struck and killed by
lightning while eating lunch on the exposed summit. In response to
this event, Marsh began work on the stone hut that would become the
Smithsonian Institution Shelter , and completed it in 1909.
A movement after
World War II
World War II began to rename the mountain for
Winston Churchill . However, the name
Mount Whitney has persisted.
Smithsonian Institution Shelter on Whitney's summit.
The most popular route to the summit is by way of the Mount Whitney
Trail which starts at
Whitney Portal , at an elevation of 8,360 ft
(2,550 m), 13 mi (21 km) west of the town of Lone Pine. The hike is
about 22 mi (35 km) round trip with an elevation gain of over 6,100 ft
(1,900 m). Permits are required year round, and to prevent overuse a
limited number of permits are issued by the Forest Service between May
1 and November 1. The Forest Service holds an annual lottery for
hiking and backpacking permits on the
Mount Whitney Trail.
Applications are accepted from February 1 through March 15. Any
permits left over after the lottery is completed typically go on sale
April 1. Most hikers do the trip in two days which is still
considered a strenuous endeavor. Those in good physical condition
sometimes attempt to reach the summit and return to
Whitney Portal in
one day, thus requiring only a somewhat easier-to-obtain "day use"
permit rather than the overnight permit, and prohibiting the use of
overnight camping gear (sleeping bag and tent). This is considered an
"extreme" day hike, which normally involves leaving Whitney Portal
before sunrise and 12 to 18 hours of strenuous hiking, while
struggling with altitude sickness , cold air, and occasionally
treacherous surface conditions (because snow and/or ice are normally
present on parts of the trail, except for a short period from early
July to late September). Long-exposure photograph of hikers
ascending Whitney before sunrise via the
John Muir Trail
Longer approaches to Whitney arrive at its west side, connecting to
Mount Whitney Trail near the summit by way of the
John Muir Trail
The "Mountaineer's Route", a gully on the north side of the east face
first climbed by
John Muir , is considered a scramble , class 3 (PD+
). The fastest recorded time up this route to the summit and back to
the portal is 3 hours 10 minutes, by Jason Lakey of Bishop.
Railings on the
Mount Whitney Trail switchbacks.
The steep eastern side of the mountain offers a variety of climbing
challenges. The East Face route, first climbed in 1931, is one of the
Fifty Classic Climbs of North America
Fifty Classic Climbs of North America routes and involves technical
free climbing (class 5.7 ) but is mostly class 4. Other routes range
up to grade 5.10d.
South of the main summit there are a series of minor summits that are
completely inconspicuous from the west but appear as a series of
"needles" from the east. The routes on these include some of the
finest big-wall climbing in the high Sierra. Two of the needles were
named after participants in an 1880 scientific expedition to the
mountain. Keeler Needle was named for James Keeler and Day Needle was
named for William Cathcart Day. The latter has now been renamed Crooks
Hulda Crooks who hiked up
Mount Whitney every year until
well into her nineties.
* Mountains portal
* List of mountain peaks of
List of highest points in California by county
List of U.S. states by elevation
List of U.S. states by elevation
List of the highest major summits of the United States
* List of the most prominent summits of the
* List of the most isolated major summits of the
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* ^ "Find Distance and Azimuths Between 2 Sets of Coordinates".
Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved 2016-12-21. Coordinates
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Badwater Basin =
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Sierra Club naturalist\'s guide to
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* ^ King, Clarence (1902) . "Chapter XIII Mount Whitney".
Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada (10th ed.). ISBN 0-585-27432-0 .
* ^ Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Whitney, Mount".
Encyclopedia Americana .
* ^ "Historic People And Places: WILLIAM B. WALLACE". Sequoia Parks
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* ^ Barbato, Lauren (2015-08-31). "5 Whitewashed American Landmarks
That, Like Mount McKinley, Sorely Need A Name Change". www.bustle.com.
* ^ "Mt. Whitney\'s Early Days".
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* ^ "
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* Thompson, Doug; Elisabeth Newbold (1997). Mount Whitney: Mountain
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