The first step on the challenging trail to the 14,505-foot summit of Mt. Whitney begins months ahead of time when thousands enter a lottery for a trail permit. This year’s online lottery, delayed by the 35-day partial federal shutdown, has been rescheduled for Feb. 22.
Getting a permit is a must for anyone who wants to scale the steep bucket-list peak in the Eastern Sierra’s Inyo National Forest. Because of high demand, just 160 people per day are allowed on the main trail between May 1 and Nov. 1. Last year, only 37% of 16,000 people who entered the lottery prevailed.
Hikers and backpackers wait for the lottery to open each year on Feb. 1. Though the shutdown ended Jan. 25, furloughed federal employees working with a new contractor couldn’t get the online protocols ready in time.
Now the lottery will start taking applications at 7 a.m. Feb. 22 and close at 9 p.m. March 15 (all times are Pacific).
Those who want to apply should go to www.recreation.gov and register. Each applicant can choose up to 15 preferred dates for a day or overnight permit, which cost $20 per person. Lottery results will be posted March 24.
If you don’t get one, you can try to snag unclaimed permits that will be posted online May 1. Failing that, you can wait until summer and try for a walk-up permit — based on the number of hikers and backpackers who cancel — at the forest’s Eastern Sierra Visitor Center in Lone Pine.
The Mt. Whitney Trail climbs 11 miles from Whitney Portal north of Lone Pine to the top of the peak, the highest in the contiguous U.S. The elevation gain on the steep grade is more than 6,000 feet.