Hikers eager to sign up for a Mount Whitney permit will have to wait a little longer this year. The online lottery that manages the overwhelming demand for a chance to summit the highest peak in the contiguous U.S. usually opens Feb. 1. But this year it was delayed because of the partial government shutdown.
Work with a new contractor to develop the lottery’s online protocol came to a halt during the 35-day shutdown and wasn’t ready in time for the opening date, according to a recent statement by Inyo National Forest, which distributes permits based on a quota system.
Now officials are hoping to be up and running by mid- to late February. “The new date will be announced when the details are finalized,” the statement said.
The lottery generally remains open until March 15, but that may change.
Through the permit system, the national forest in the Eastern Sierra limits the daily number of day hikers to 100 and backpackers to 60 between May 1 and Nov. 1 on the main Mt. Whitney Trail. And getting one of these slots can be as challenging as the 11-mile hike to the top.
Last year, only 37% of 16,000 applications (which can be individual or groups) won permits. Those odds plummeted to 1% to 2% on Aug. 4, the most sought-after permit date in 2018.
Mt. Whitney is a popular bucket-list hike. Thousands of people around the world apply for a permit to scale the 14,505-foot peak near Lone Pine.
To enter the online lottery, apply at Recreation.gov, and, if successful, pay $20 for each permit. People who don’t win a spot can enter a second lottery, usually starting April 1, or try to reserve unclaimed dates on May 1. Also you can try for a walk-up permit, based on cancellations, at the forest’s Eastern Sierra Visitor Center in Lone Pine.
How can you increase your odds of success in the lottery? Choose your dates wisely. The trail isn’t usually clear of snow until July, depending on conditions, and August often is the most popular time. Try for midweek dates instead of weekends and dates later in the season.