The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking from Onion Valley to Whitney Portal
Imagine yourself the evening of your second to last day backpacking in the high Sierra Nevada mountains, 34 miles in, sitting in your tent to avoid the snow and wind, wearing all the clothes you brought with you because you hadn't anticipated it being this cold. You've got mild altitude sickness, your pal just threw up beside his tent, and you know you'll probably have to get up to go pee in the cold weather about 5 times during the night because that's what altitude does to you. You know what makes life instantly better in that moment? Broth. A big cup of steamy miso broth. I can't describe to you how excited I got when our friend Lucas offered us all a warm cup of broth while we sat inside our tents tending to our sick, weakened bodies. I've never enjoyed a cup of broth so much. It was like the nectar of life.
The thing I love about trips like these is that it helps you isolate your basic needs. You basically spend your whole day worrying about simple things like food for fuel, a stream to filter water, mitigating your altitude sickness, and finding a nice rock to pee next to.
My friend Jacob got a permit to backpack from Onion Valley Campground to Whitney Portal, and I was lucky to get to tag along. We spent 4 days backpacking 43 miles, ascending 11,080 ft, and descending 12,227 ft, and by the end of it, we were exhausted. Are you excited yet to plan your own adventure here?
What to Expect in this Post:
In case you are looking for something specific, below lists the different sections I have broken this post down into (at the top of the post you will find the resources for doing this hike and at the bottom you will find fun details from our trip report + lots of good photos and a video!):
Quick hiking information, all the little details you want right up front
A map of the trail with the campsites we stayed at + GPX file
When to plan your hike, what is the best time of the year to do this trail
How to get there and information on shuttling
Resources and what to bring
Our personal trip report from this hike on June 2015, with all the details + photos you'd want
Youtube video of the trail!
HIKING Quick Info:
~43 Miles Round Trip
11,080 feet total elevation gain for trip, 12,227 feet total descent
Trailhead elevation: 9,600 feet if starting at Onion Valley Campground
Highest Point on the trail: Trail Crest, 13,645 feet
Recommended Days to Complete: 4 days 3 nights
Lots of water sources along trail, bring water filters
Bear cans required!!
Dog friendly? No dogs allowed on trails on the JMT
MAP of trail:
Below is a map of our hiking trail from my GPS that day. If you click on the image below you will be taken to an interactive map that you can further explore
In summary, we hiked this trail in Four Days.
Day 1 – ~11 miles from Onion Valley Campground to Camp 1 near along Bubbs Creek
4.5 miles uphill to Kearsarge Pass (11,760 feet)
The rest of the day is basically downhill and eventually connects with John Muir Trail
Camp 1 Near Bubbs Creek at 10,400’ elevation
Day 2 – ~11 miles from Camp 1 to Camp 2
Relatively flat until the base of Forrester Pass
Uphill over Forrester Pass at (13,200 feet) and then back down into a valley. Flat(ish) the rest of the way.
3,000 feet elevation gain this day
Day 3 – ~11 miles from Camp 2 to Guitar Lake at the base of Mount Whitney
Relatively flat hike up to Crabtree Wilderness Ranger station. A good place to rest and get some water.
Hike from Crabtree to Guitar Lake (3rd camp at the base of Whitney’s backside) is uphill a “staircase” like trail
Day 4 – ~11 miles from Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal
Uphill to Trail Crest (13,800 feet)
Then 5,000’ of long downhill! Go down the switchbacks to more fun downhill. It’s non-stop brutal fun on your knees.
DOWNLOAD THE GPX FILE FOR THIS TRAIL!
Knowledge is power my friend, and I'm a girl who loves data. Get access to this trails GPX file PLUS my library of GPX files with tracks and waypoints for all the trails loaded onto the She Dreams of Alpine blog.
Load this puppy into your trusted GPS and rest easy knowing you have tracks to follow on your next hike or backpacking trip.
DON’T HAVE A GPS? YOU SHOULD.
Look, I believe every hiker and backpacker should be self-sufficient, and that includes knowing how to practice smart navigational skills in the outdoors. This is something I teach in my backpacking program, but I want to give you a couple GPS options to get started. Don’t ever risk getting lost, and don’t rely on other people for your safety. Be empowered, take 100% ownership for yourself my friend. Here’s what I recommend:
1) GAIA GPS Phone App: At a bare minimum, consider getting a premium subscription to GAIA GPS App. This App allows you to download maps in advance and take them offline into the backcountry. You can record your tracks, upload tracks from online to follow (like the one I have above), and so much more with this phone app, and GAIA is offering a special discount to those who subscribe online through my link above, 20% off their normal prices. But even if you don’t use my link... please, at a minimum get a GPS phone app to help you navigate outdoors!
2) Handheld GPS: If you hike often or go backpacking, then I highly recommend you investing in a handheld GPS. I own a Garmin 64st and LOVE this device.
3) Handheld GPS with Satellite Communicator: However, if you have a little bit more money to spend, if I were starting over, I’d get the Garmin inReach Explorer+ which provides not only GPS tracking capabilities, but also an SOS satellite search and rescue communicator. I own the Garmin inReach mini now and I pair it with my Garmin 64st, but you can save weight by getting this all-in-one solution.
Below is a look at the elevation profile for the entire Onion Valley to Whitney Portal backpacking trail:
WHEN TO GO:
You’ll notice in the trip report below that back when I hiked this trail, we went in early June! I can hardly believe it actually, because some years it would be SO SNOWY to go in June, but we were in the middle of a drought in California back in 2015 and so it made it possible to hike this so early in the year. I guess the point of me saying this is that it really depends on the snow year for when you would be able to do this trail with minimal snow gear (you’ll notice we used some minimal crampons and ice axe when we went since it was early season for a couple sections of the trail). If you don’t feel like “taking a chance” on the conditions, here’s my personal advice based on my hiking experience in the Sierras.
You are pretty safe to choose a date between Mid July to Late September, these months are typically snow free
You can maybe get by Mid June to Late October, but it’s a little riskier.
For me, the “sweet spot” time to do anything in the Sierras, particularly backpacking, is Mid August to Late September (or sometimes mid-October). Why? This honestly is just my personal preference. There are more mosquitos July through August. The weather can also be pretty hot in those months, so I just prefer September/early October. I grab permits though anywhere from early July through early October though for trails. Just depends. Most backpacking trips, I aim for September.
See the chart I created below for more details.
GETTING to Onion valley trailhead:
Since this trail is not a "loop" you will need to figure out some transportation options. There were 5 of us in our groups, so we drove 2 cars. We drove up on a Wednesday night to sleep at the campgrounds near the trailhead of Whitney Portal to start getting acclimated to the elevation. Then Thursday morning we woke up, left one of our cars at Whitney Portal and drove to the Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center to get our permit. Then we drove to the Onion Valley Campground to. start our hike. the drive between Whitney Portal and Onion Valley is about 1 hour drive. You will have to make that drive again after your backpacking trip to get your car from the Onion Valley Campground. Not too bad overall. We did something similar with our hike from Tuolumne Meadows to Devil's Postpile.
The permit information here assumes you are entering from the Onion Valley Campground area. If you want details on entering from Whitney Portal side, check out my post on Permit Deadlines & Reservations for Popular Trails in California.
When to Apply:
Most trails in can be reserved up to 6 months in advance. So for reservations in the summer months (July through October) you will be looking to make reservations starting in January to April. This will all depend on when you plan to do your hike.
How to Apply:
Reservations can be made at Recreation.gov
You will be looking to apply for entry at Kearsarge Pass JM31 and exiting Mt Whitney Trail Crest Exit JM35 (see screenshot above)
How Much Does it Cost:
Transaction fee for reservations costs $10 per application plus an additional $5 per person unless you are entering the Mt. Whitney Zone which is $15 per person
what to bring:
Below I have listed some basic items to remember to pack on your backpacking trip, but it is not a comprehensive list. Be sure to check the weather and pack appropriately! It was very cold when we went, but summer months can be warm too.
*Please note that some of the below links and in this post are affiliate links.
Backpack: Deuter's 45+ Liter backpacks make great first time backpacking backpacks. This was the first backpack I used when I started backpacking, and I still use it often to this day. It's very comfortable, has plenty of pockets and makes packing really simple!
Tent: If hiking this in the summer months you will be fine with a 2-season tent, such as Marmots Crane Creek Backpacking Tent .
Sleeping Bag & Pad: I always recommend getting a down sleeping bag if you are going to be a "serious" backpacker. If that's you, I recommend getting a 0 to 15 degree rated bag. If you will be doing more high altitude hiking, just splurge on the zero degree bag, it will be worth it. We love the Big Agnes Brand down bags. And if you've read any of my other posts, you know that the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XTherm sleeping pad is my favorite sleeping pad. It's light weight and easy to pack. It's super comfortable (no body parts touch the ground), and it's warm!
Headlamp: I pretty much don’t go anywhere without a headlamp. I have a Petzl headlamp, and it has been going strong for over 3 years now. It's also always good to pack an extra set of batteries too whenever you hike or backpack.
Water Bottle and CamelBak: Camelbaks are awesome for hiking! They are the easiest way to stay hydrated, and I typically always bring one with me. I recommend getting one that has at least a 3 liter reservoir. Also consider brining a Nalgene or water bottle for backup. Then, if a leak develops in my Camelbak, I can at least transfer water to the Nalgene and still be OK.
Water filter: There are two main water filters I recommend, and I own both. I like the Katadyn Hiker Pro Microfilter and I like the SteriPen. I use the Hiker Pro more often when I backpack, but when I want something small to bring with me on hikes I will throw the SteriPen in my pack.
Camping Stove: I love the MSR Reactor Stove System. I bought this after my Jet Boil broke down, and I like it a lot more. It works great at high altitude and takes only about 30 seconds to bring water to a boil.
Spork: I like these Light My Fire Sporks because you get a spoon and fork all in one. Your bases are covered.
Trowel: Nobody likes to talk about it, but to be a responsible outdoorsman/woman you need to bury your human waste. The Deuce of Spades Trowel is a fantastic lightweight option. When I went backpacking with my friends in Tuolumne a couple of months ago, all of my friend's trowel handles broke except for mine! Winning!
Sunglasses: My favorite pair for day hikes are Goodr Sunglasses. I originally bought these glasses last year when I got into trail running. I couldn't find a pair of glasses that were comfortable and would stay on my face when I was running. These finally did the trick, and now I love wearing them hiking too! They come in a bunch of great color options and the best part... they are only $25! If you want something more classic Native Eyewear is also another good choice because they have a great lifetime warranty.
Food and Snacks: This should be slightly obvious, but make sure to pack enough food for the appropriate number of days you will be backpacking. I like to pack cliff bars, complete cookies, and lara bars for quick snacks. Good To-Go Dehydrated Dinners are some of my favorite dehydrate meals to bring on backpacking trips as well. The ingredients are great, and they are super delicious. My favorites are the Thai Curry and the Herbed Mushroom Risotto!
Treking Poles: I love the black diamond trail pro shock trekking poles. Michael and I both have these. They have a set for women (blue) and men (red). I've owned a pair of cheaper trekking poles in the past and they break fairly easily. These are almost indestructible. I've been using the same pair for almost 5 years now, and still going strong.
Sunscreen & Lipbalm: This should be a no-brainer, but always wear and bring sunscreen for a hike. I really like Neutrogena brand. Just like sunscreen, it is also important to bring lip balm that has sunscreen in it on your hike. My favorite lip balm is the either the Joshua Tree brand.
Bug Spray: If you have warmer weather, it’s always safe to just bring some of this just in case. I prefer the wipes for hiking and backpacking because it is lighter and easier to pack.
Camera: Don't forget to pack a camera or a phone to capture your hike! You can read our post on the Outdoor Adventure Photography Gear we use if you want details on the cameras we recommend for outdoor photography, but also you can't go wrong these days with your phone camera either. Your choice!
First Aid Kit: Another nice item to have is a small first aid kit to throw in your bag that has some basic first aid essentials in it, like the Lifeline Trail Light Day Hiker First Aid Kit. Better safe than sorry.
GPS: I am a data nerd, and you should be too! I know so many people don’t utilize GPS when they hike, but I consider it an essential piece of gear and there are many great options. My favorite GPS is the Garmin GPS 64st.
Maps: Whether I print out a map from online or I buy one on amazon for my specific trail, I always like to have a map of some sorts. Depending on where you are hiking, many trails can have forks and split off in different directions, so it’s good to have something to ground yourself with. My favorite maps are the National Geographic Trail Illustrated Maps or the Tom Harrison Maps, if you can find one that includes your trail. I love this super detailed National Geographic Map of the John Muir Trail!
Clothing based on time of year you will be hiking: For details on clothing, hiking boots, and socks we recommend, I suggest reading our Essential Hiking Gear List. The key thing here is to remember that even though the summer months can get very warm during the day, the night times can get very cold. Think layers! As for footwear, definitely bring a good pair of hiking boots and at least 2 pairs of wool socks.
** Also please note that BEAR CANS ARE REQUIRED!
For more detailed descriptions on gear that we like and recommend, check out our Essential Hiking Gear List.
GRAB MY [FREE] FULL BACKPACKING PACKING CHECKLIST!
Want a full list of everything I recommend to take backpacking with you? Download our free backpacking packing checklist below! This download also includes my layering tip-sheet PLUS 25+ backpacking food ideas.
Onion Valley to Whitney portal Trip report:
Day 1 - June 4, 2015
We drove up on a Wednesday night and slept at some of the campgrounds at Whitney Portal to get some elevation acclimation under our belts before we started the hike Thursday. Thursday morning we left one car at Whitney Portal and then piled into our second vehicle and all drove down to pick up our permits from the permit office (Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center) which didn’t open until 8am.
Permits. Bear Canisters. Whitney Portal Poop Bags (aka WAG Bags). Check, Check, and Check.
Our hike began at Onion Valley Campground, which is about 15 miles up into the mountains from the small town of Independence. We were a bit worried about weather for our trip, with forecasts promising light snow for the rest of the weekend. We got started around 9:45am.
The first milestone was Kearsarge Pass (11,760 feet), and right when we got started hiking towards the pass... it started snowing. That might've been a bad sign to most people, but we were determined... I mean, we had just started! So we kindly ignored the snow and trudged on towards the pass.
We passed a number of beautiful lakes on our way up.
I'm not going to lie. I struggled on our way up to the pass. My pack was killing my lower back. My pack was probably around 45lbs, about 10 lbs heavier than I wanted it to be, but I couldn't decide on what to sacrifice with the unpredictable weather and that darn bear canister weighs one billion (fact) pounds. Later, we adjusted my tent above my pack instead of to the side, and it magically fixed the whole problem... amazing how a little bit of off balance weight can hurt your back so much.
Finally, we made it to the pass!
Probably my favorite views of the entire 43 mile hike was from the top of Kearsarge Pass. I will definitely be coming back here again sometime to do some camping. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.
The remainder of our hike the first day was downhill. From the picture you see above there was a sort of junction where we could decide to take the higher road or the lower road, but both lead to the intersection of John Muir Trail (which is where we were headed). We decided on the lower road so we could check out the lakes a little better.
We saw some deer hanging out, and they reminded me of my dog Lincoln… comically.
Eventually we stopped for lunch at one of the lakes and re-filtered some more water before continuing the hike. We were aiming for 12 miles the first day.
Finally we intersected with the John Muir Trail, and we were headed south. It was pretty cool actually because we ran into a lot of people hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and they were hiking North. It became this mutually beneficial relationship between us and the PCT hikers. We'd tell them about the conditions we came from and they'd tell us about theirs.
I'm not one of those people who seeks absolute solitude when I go outdoors. I mean, that's fine and all, but I get just as excited bumping into people like those hiking the PCT and hearing their stories and sharing in their pains. It's like a whole different community of people just dedicated to experiencing the pain (emphasis on pain) and beauty of the outdoor world. It's refreshing in its own way.
Down and down we went. It's sort of sad gaining a lot of elevation and then losing it again... because you know, you're going to have to go back up again eventually.
The last 2 miles were pretty rough for everybody. We rolled into a camping area around 7pm (forgot the name of it) that had a bear box and was near a lake... just shy of 12 miles for the day.
Basic Daily routine when getting to camp:
Drop pack on ground
Sigh a little
Unpack pack to get all of your stuff out
Make tent and put stuff in it
Filter water for the next day
Put food and smelly items in bear box
It was beautiful, and it was cold. We only had an hour or so of daylight, and it was uncertain when we went to bed if our whole crew would continue on the next morning toward the portal. Like I said, we all felt a bit roughed up. After my routine... I didn't linger much. I got into my sleeping bag, curled up and tried to sleep. I've slept at altitude quite a few times before so I knew what to expect.. but in case you never have... here's kind of how it goes (especially if it’s cold out).
Nightly Sleeping routine:
Enter down (15 degree rated) sleeping bag, fully clothed (all my clothes in fact) with big wool socks on
Toss around on sleeping pad, and feel utterly cold for the first hour or so (maybe even a bit feverish)
Finally fall asleep
A couple hours later, wake up with the urge to pee
Debate for 30 minutes on getting up to pee
Wonder if bear might be waiting for you outside your tent when you get up to pee
Finally, put on cold boots, walk a few paces from tent, squat, and pee... back to tent
Wake up again... commence pee routine once more.
Finally, wake up again... almost time to wake up anyway, and you need to pee... decide to wake up early, pee, and begin morning routine.
End day 1.
Day 2 - June 5, 2015
A good nights sleep did us all good, and we were all set to continue on the next morning.
Our first milestone for the day was Forrester Pass (13,200 ft.), and it was a gradual uphill hike towards the base of the pass. We spent our morning crossing streams and making slow progress to the base. At the base, we fueled up and then headed toward the dome you see in the picture below. The route to the dome here is not obvious... you have to go left and around following the path to an area behind the dome.. and the dome isn't even where the pass is, but you can't see it from this picture.
The path toward the pass was obvious for most of the way up. We just followed switchbacks. It was slow going though. I found myself thinking too much about being tired, so I changed my strategy and started counting to 100. After about counting to 100 say 3 to 4 times, I'd usually stop for a “micro break”... take in the views, eat something real quick... and then start counting again. This was really effective for me. I'm not saying its everyone's cup of tea, but when I'm having a hard time not complaining to myself the whole time, I count.
There was about 1000 ft. left when we ran out of trail and hit snow. I was immediately glad I decided to bring my ice axe. There were tons of people, however, going across this snowfield to Forrester pass in their sneakers. Me, on the other hand, I like to play it safe. I feel secure with my axe... my axe is my friend.. my partner in crime... it hasn't let me down so far..., so I got it out, and strapped on some cheap yak tracks I bought last minute to replace my heavier crampons for the trip (I wasn't really expecting to need them, brought them just in case).
People may have been doing this in tennis shoes... but it was mountaineering in a simple sense, although non-technical. There was snow, a steeper slope, and a possibility of slipping and falling a few hundred feet before you bashed your body or head on some loose scree below. It was slow going. Step. breathe. Step. breathe.
But we finally made it to the top!
We didn't spend much time at the pass because it was insanely cold. We snapped 2 or 3 pictures and were out of there. Can we pause for a moment and check out my outfit here. I look part mountaineer, part park ranger with my gps hooked to me, part tourist with my camera bag, and part hick with my trucker hat... I digress...
We were warned by the PCT'ers that once we reached the top.. NOT.. to go over the snow bank (seen right behind me)... this was a cornice. Instead, we went right and up on top of some rocks and dropped down to the trail on the other side of the pass... which coincidentally had no snow on it.
We. were. wrecked.
We stopped a little ways down on the trail to the base of the other side of Forrester and had a quick break, and then made our way down the actual base and had lunch, near a stream like the one shown below. We took a long break here, made some warm foods (mountain houses, and oatmeal) and had a nice little break.
It was downhill from there, until we reached our next campsite... which was still about 6 miles away at this point. All the lakes were pretty frozen, but it was still gorgeous out there. We also got snowed on and off throughout our hike, but nothing too gnarly.
We reached camp exhausted. Another little site that I don't know the name of (its marked on my gps log) that had bear boxes and a nice little lake to filter water at.
Day 2 was my hardest day. I had zero energy left by the time we got to camp. I followed my basic routine... and it was too cold to hang out by the tents and chat. I went to bed at like 6 or 7pm. I think my friends stayed up, but I couldn't do it... too cold, and too tired.
I made some key mistakes on day 2 that evening. I went to bed too early, which made sleeping harder at night. And I barely drank any water before bed, and so I woke up with horrible altitude induced sickness. Learned my lesson.
End Day 2.
Day 3 - June 6, 2015
Day 3 was supposed to be our easy day, but that is deceptive. It wasn't hard like day 2, but it had its own set of challenges. Namely, I woke up with blurry vision, dry mouth, and a throbbing headache, but that was my own fault because I didn't drink enough water the night before. So after I ate some oatmeal, chugged some water and took some Advil, I started to feel good again.
I was the first of the group to wake up, as usual. It was nice when I woke up, but about 30 minutes after I woke up when everyone else had just gotten up... it started snowing. This time the snow was pretty sticky and wet. It was soaking everything. I got back in my tent and sat there eating oatmeal and we waited for it to clear up. Fortunately it didn't last long, but it made packing up everything a pain in the butt... everything was soaked.
At first the hike was mostly flat, and only slightly uphill, but eventually we had to gain some elevation, and that wasn't the easiest thing since we were all tired, but it wasn't horrible either.
We crossed plenty of streams at first, and thought, in 1 more hour we will stop at the next stream to filter water... WELL, 1 hour later there were no streams... and we started to realize we should've filtered water a while back. It was a mile and half till we would reach Crabtree where we knew there was water.
I still had a liter or so left, so I was fine, but my buddies were basically out. I stopped to eat because I needed some food fuel, but they kept going to make it Crabtree. I got to hike solo for a bit, and it was kind of interesting. I was wondering what it would be like to hike solo out there. Mainly, it just felt quiet. You kind of hike for a while and think, hmm, it’s just me and the trees, and then you forget you're hiking solo.
I caught up to them at Crabtree where we took a longer lunch break. It was the only time the whole trip I felt a little bit warm. The sun was out, and with my jacket on I was able to feel comfortably warm for maybe 30 minutes.
It was nice, until we saw the storm clouds in the distance. Time to get moving again. The sign at Crabtree told us deceptively that we only had 2.7 miles left. Hey, that's not so bad right?? Wrong. Longest 2.7 miles of my life. It was basically uphill the whole way. And it was like one big step after another. Felt like 15 miles.
But, amongst all that pain, it was absolutely dreamy out there. It was snowing and misty and beautiful. I made it to Guitar Lake (which is at the base of the Whitney on the other side not the portal side) with Mike and it was a cloudy, snowy, misty mess... and it was cold. We scouted out a spot to make camp and began our routine.
This time though, it was super windy. I started worrying about the wind hitting my not-so-four-season-tent at night... so I built a little rock wall around it. Not sure how much that really would've helped, but building the wall helped keep me warm. Looking back, I wouldn’t build a rock wall again, because of Leave No Trace, but I was pretty new to backpacking then.
Our last evening was quite interesting. The other guys strolled in an hour or so after Mike and I had made our tents. There was still bad weather but it was only 5pm. They were feeling pretty bad. They made their tents, and we basically all got in our tents to avoid the weather... hoping it would clear up in a bit so we could make some dinner. Two of our guys threw up and were having bad altitude sickness. I was feeling pretty nauseas myself. After waiting a while though, things started to finally clear up. That's when Lucas offered us the amazing broth, and immediately after the cup of broth, it felt like the whole attitude changed. We slowly started coming out of tents, the sun came out, we chatted with our tent neighbors... and before I knew it, it was 9pm and time to go to sleep. I warmed up a liter or so of water with some tea, and drank it before bed and slept pretty good the whole night (still peed like 3 times though).
End day 3.
Day 4 - June 7, 2015
The last day was an epic day. Epically long, epically beautiful, and epically painful on my feet.
We first were headed up to Trail Crest. Which is close to Whitney's summit, but not quite there at about 13,800 ft. We tried to get an earlier start in the morning so that if there was any snow to encounter, it would be firm and not slushy.
The majority of the trail up to trail crest was switchbacks, there was a bit of snow, but nothing too crazy.
Like every uphill this weekend, it was slow going, but we all felt immeasurably better than we had the day before, and the views were unbeatable.
I think we reached Trail Crest at about noon, and we were all stoked! We decided not to summit Whitney, been there, done that (You can read about that here)... only 2 people on our team hadn't summited, but they weren't feeling up to it. Only 8.7 miles of downhill left to go before we could sink our teeth into a nice juicy burger. Oh, but did we mention that it was about 5,000+ ft to descend... and first we needed to navigate the infamous snowy switchbacks that we had been hearing rumors about the whole trip.
Here is some of the different feedback from the PCT'ers we asked along our hike the last 3 days concerning the condition of the switchbacks:
"Nah, the switchbacks are fine, I saw someone going down in tennis shoes.
"I would definitely wear crampons... and use an ice axe. If you have those, you should be good."
"I think you should take the chute."
"They looked pretty icy, I'm not sure..."
"I saw some people sliding down the chutes, that looked like fun! ...."
The feedback was so all over the board, that we knew we'd just have to see for ourselves. Turns out, it was 90% totally fine. There were a few sections of snowy switchbacks that had the hairs on my arms sticking up, but nothing was overly sketchy. (However, I did wear my yak tracks again and used my mountaineering axe...). The chutes looked like a soggy mess and a stupid idea. We heard someone broke their tailbone glissading down them too so that was also out of the question.
Eventually, there was no snow left, and we reached the bottom of the switchbacks. We still had a ton of miles left to go though... it was a long trip back down to the portal.
The downhill is pretty rough. The first half you are just pounding your feet and knees on rock the whole way, you're just praying for dirt the whole time because you know once you hit dirt, you might actually make some speed with your downhill.
But then once you finally do hit the dirt... your knees and feet are so wrecked you can hardly go 2 mph.
It got to the point where we wouldn't even stop to take breaks for fear that if we stopped moving, we may never move again.
But like with many painful hiking stories... we did eventually reach the portal, and it was glorious. We ate a big burger and plate of fries at the portal store, gave advice about the switchbacks to the eager hikers hanging around in the area, and then finally drove off (getting more food at the McDonald's in Lone Pine) and headed home back to Bakersfield.
It was a hard trip, but amazing. I'm really glad I got to go. Here are some key (but basic) things I learned for future backpacking trips:
Broth. Pack Broth packets.
Chocolate covered coffee beans. Most amazing thing ever when backpacking that I almost forgot to mention in this post.
Drinks a lot of water before sleepy time.
Here's a little video I put together too of the trip.
If you are in good enough shape, enjoy backpacking, and can handle a bit of pain for a consistent 4 days, I highly recommend this trail if you can get a permit. It was awesome... I dare even say... I'd do it again.
Allison - She Dreams of Alpine