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The Mountaineers Route to Mt. Whitney

Mt. Whitney, Inyo National Forest, Califronia (Photo: fotoVoyager/iStockphoto.com)
by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on March 10, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: adventure travel, Alaska, arts and culture, Berkeley, camping, Croatia, family travel, hiking, Kings Canyon Natl Park, Laos, Molly Feltner, mountain, national park, New Zealand, Peru, Saguenay, Sedona, Tanzania, trekking, wildlife.

Provider: REI Adventures
Length: Four days
Price: $675

The tallest mountain in the continental U.S., Mt. Whitney (14,496 feet) attracts more peak-baggers than any other summit in California's Sierra Nevadas. Most hikers climb the mountain via the strenuous but nontechnical John Muir or Mt. Whitney trails, typically planning months ahead to secure the required-but-hard-to-get entry permits. Some, only able to obtain a one-day pass, hit the trail before dawn to complete the 22-mile trip in one grueling slog.

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REI Adventures offers a more attractive alternative for those with more time and ambition. During the summer and early fall, REI runs four-day Mt. Whitney summit trips which tackle the peak via a lesser-used classic alpine route.

"The Mountaineers Route is more challenging, more direct, and provides breathtaking views of Whitney and the surrounding peaks," says REI Adventures Weekend Getaways Coordinator Justin Wood.

The trip begins with an overnight at a campsite near Lone Pine, California, to acclimatize before the first day of climbing. "[Starting the second day] from the bottom of the desert floor, this climb leads through fragrant ponderosa pine, up into high alpine landscapes of wildflowers and towering granite peaks," says Wood. "[After sunset and some sleep] we set out under the bright Sierra stars, climbing to a turquoise alpine lake for sunrise, continuing up steep and challenging terrain that eventually gives way to the broad summit."

Depending on conditions, you'll need to scramble up rock using ropes or traverse a snowfield with crampons and ice-axes. No prior mountaineering experience is required, but you do need to be in good shape. "A fit hiker with camping experience, preferably with backpacking experience, could look to this climb for a taste of what makes mountaineering more difficult than traditional backpacking, including carrying a heavier pack on steeper terrain and at altitude," says Wood.

Trip planning

Trips are scheduled weekly from July 10 through October 2. Rates cover guides, mountaineering instruction and equipment, all meals, tents, and permits. The $675 price noted above is for REI members; nonmembers are charged $715 for the trip, so it's worth paying $20 for an REI lifetime membership if you don't already have one. You'll need to bring your own sleeping bag and backpack. You must arrange your own transportation to the trip start point. The closest airport with regular service is located in Bakersfield, (169 miles away), but you'll probably find cheaper fares to Los Angeles (210 miles west) or Las Vegas (230 miles east). Rental cars are available at these airports.

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