14.3 miles, Full day
This is the last of a series of Guides to the High Sierra Trail, an approximately 70 mile trail that runs from Crescent Meadow on the western side of the Sierra Nevada to Whitney Portal on the eastern slope. Each segment roughly corresponds to a day on the trail. This Guide describes Segment 7 of 7: Guitar Lake to Mount Whitney Summit and the descent to Whitney Portal.
Many people do this stretch in two days, but I've found that at the end of a long hike, the last day has that 'horse to the barn' motivation. Yes, Mount Whitney is high, steep, and difficult. But the prospect of not only the summit, but cheeseburgers and a shower will probably have you flying at a pace you didn't expect.
Having been on the trail a week gives you a big advantage over dayhikers or people coming in from the eastern side: you are acclimated and strong. Use that to your advantage!
The summit of Whitney is about a 3000 foot climb from Guitar Lake. The first 2.5 miles and 2000 feet switchback up the western side of the ridge until reaching Trail Junction. Here, drop your pack (keep your food protected from marmots!), grab your camera and water, and head to the summit. The summit is another 1000 feet up in about two miles.
After summiting, it's about 11 miles and 6000 feet of descent to the trailhead. Back at the Junction, pick up your pack and climb the final small stretch to Trail Crest, then descend the famous 97 switchbacks.
At the bottom of the switchbacks you'll be in Trail Camp. If you do this stretch over two days, this is one option for camping on the way down. Otherwise, continue further to the lower Outpost Camp.
Eventually, finishing up at the Whitney Portal trailhead, you'll be thrust back into civilization with a large crowd of people. But that's okay - it comes with the decadent smell of cheeseburgers - head to the portal store and get one. Or five. You deserve it!