Flickr album link: Whitney Portal Recreation Area
Whitney Portal is where the trailheads to the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states are located. The portal is on the east side of the mountain range where the Sierra Nevadas suddenly level off in the Owens Valley. Lone Pine, California is right next door and this town definitely caters to Mt Whitney adventurers. Camping, trekking and climbing gear are stocked in Lone Pine, so anybody can join in on the fun. There are also several outdoor guide services and rentals to choose from in this area. Depending on the season, stocking up for a back country hiking trek in these mountains may require lightweight cool clothing for summer or sub zero temperature gear and snowshoes for when the days get shorter. It can be a flip of a coin when determining what the weather conditions will be like in the high elevations during the autumn season, so it is always best to prepare for the worst. It is not good to gamble because a quickly passing storm front can cause environmental extremes like no other place on earth, so being well prepared is the only way to go when planning a fall season Mt Whitney excursion.
Not everybody is up to the task of hiking or climbing the tallest peak in America and for most folks, just taking in the beautiful views at the portal will be more than enough to please the senses. The hike up to the summit is fairly easy going in dry conditions, while a brief snowstorm can leave a hiker totally lost. The views of Mt Whitney from the portal certainly are astounding and this is a comfortable place to spend some quality time. Whitney Portal is nestled in a high elevation pine forest, so this definitely is a great spot for a family picnic outing. A campground and basic facilities are located onsite, while water and firewood are available. Campsite reservations are accepted and there are a few large pads. There is also a section of first come-first serve campsites for tent campers, so the long distance trekkers are in luck.
A word a warning is best for those who are planning an autumn season Mt Whitney adventure. Looks certainly are deceiving in the high elevations, because the crystal clear air has a way of making distant objects look closer than they really are. The lure of this famous mountain has caused many casual hikers to perish in the past, because the weather conditions can change drastically with little warning. Going too far on a casual stroll without proper gear is the main danger. When the snow comes down, it really piles up deep in the high elevations, which can leave an unprepared hiker totally lost. Freezing to death in these mountains is a cold reality, so it is best to not stray too far away from the portal if you are not packing winter survival gear.
As can be seen in the photos, the weather at Whitney Portal can vary greatly from year to year. I did two trips to the Alabama Hills and Whitney Portal during the autumn season on two consecutive years. The first trip was right after an unexpected early season heavy snowstorm and the road to the portal was closed till the deep snow could be cleared. The second trip took place on almost the same date a year later and the conditions were dry, bright and sunny, which was ideal for getting a few sharp photos of the big mountain. Either way, packing a camera or artist palette will be necessary, so the unforgettably majestic views of Mt Whitney can be shared back home!
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