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Mt. Whitney closed for the season because of smoke, fires

The stone building atop Mt. Whitney.
(Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times)

It’s been a tough year for hikers hoping to scale Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. Early in the season, the mountain was closed to hikers because of the pandemic. It reopened in early July and closed again at the beginning of September when national forests throughout California shut because of fires and poor air quality.

The Inyo National Forest, which manages traffic on the 14,500-plus-foot peak and surrounding wilderness, recently announced that the area will be closed until Dec. 1 because of nearby fires and smoky air. Popular backcountry wilderness areas — South Sierra, Golden Trout, John Muir, Ansel Adams, Owens River Headwaters and Hoover — also are closed.

Mt. Whitney just opened to hikers and backpackers. It’s a tough 22-mile day hike, with or without the pandemic.

“Many of the Inyo’s trail networks lead into active fire areas that are closed and that are managing complex and difficult fires,” the website says. The order could be lifted sooner if conditions change.

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From May 1 to Nov. 1, the quota period when Whitney permits are required, human traffic is limited to 100 day hikers and 60 overnight visitors. Hikers holding permits for dates during the closure will receive refunds from recreation.gov.

Inyo has been affected by the massive Creek fire to the west, the SQF Complex fire near Sequoia National Park (which has kept areas of that park closed) and the Rattlesnake fire burning within the Sequoia and Kings Canyon wilderness, according to fire reporting website InciWeb.

Popular recreational destinations such as Reds Meadow Valley and Devils Postpile National Monument also remain shut because of the Creek fire; no reopening date has been set. However, parts of the Inyo and White mountains, including the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, have reopened.

Southern California’s national forests, including the Angeles, San Bernardino, Los Padres and others, are closed and will remain shut at least through Thursday because of high risk of fire.

Visitors soon will be again able to drive into Yosemite National Park on short notice.

Fires are burning in 13 of the state’s 18 national forests. The agency closed all forests in the state on Sept. 9; local forests haven’t reopened since. It’s still “a day-to-day decision” on when to reopen, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jonathan Groveman.

Farther north, Eldorado, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta-Trinity, Stanislaus and Tahoe are open to varying degrees.

It’s been an unprecedented year for wildfires. The agency reports that more than 3 million acres have burned statewide so far this season. In a typical fire season, that number is about 300,000 acres.

Authorities urged would-be visitors to check individual forest web pages (for specific restrictions), the Cal Fire website (for updates on the blazes in progress) and AirNow or a comparable source (for air-quality readings).


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