If you’re hoping to climb Mt. Whitney in 2023, Wednesday is where the drama begins. Then US Forest Service officials open the month-long lottery for permits at Recreation.gov.
The lottery runs from February 1st to March 1st, with applicants having to decide whether they want to climb in one day or multiple days. The results will be announced online on March 15 when good or bad news is posted on the walkers’ personal profiles on the site. Last year, 29% of lottery participants received good news. 28% in the previous year.
At 14,505 feet (or 14,494, depending on which expert you ask), Mt. Whitney is the tallest peak in the Sierra Nevada and contiguous United States. 14 miles west of Lone Pine in Inyo County.
It can be dangerous, especially if snow stays on the trail. The Inyo County Sheriff’s Department reported at least four Whitney deaths while rock climbing in 2021 and 2022, many of them “in the spring or early summer from falls on snow and ice.” Despite drought conditions across the west, the National Weather Service and California Department of Water Resources have reported unusually heavy snow cover in the Sierra Nevada so far this winter.
“Snow could remain in July at higher elevations,” Lisa Cox, public information officer for Inyo National Forest, said in an email Tuesday. “People will need ice axes, crampons and additional skills (and training) to navigate snow and ice covered slopes. This shouldn’t necessarily put people off, though [be] ready to turn back before you reach your chosen destination, also known as the summit.”
The trailhead is 8,374 feet above sea level. From there, the most popular route is a 22-mile route up the mountain and back, including a stretch of 99 switchbacks near the top. Overall, the trail typically requires 12-14 hours of climbing (and packing your own waste in a WAG bag named after Waste Aggregation and Gelling).
US Forest Service officials call the route “non-technical but strenuous” when it’s clear of snow, which is typically July through late September.
Aspiring hikers must indicate the size of their group (maximum 15) and the days they would like to hike, with up to 10 alternative options allowed.
Winners must pay a reservation fee of $6 per permit and a recreation fee of $15 per person and complete reservation details by April 21 at 9:00 p.m. If dates remain open, prospective climbers may reserve online (first come, first served; no phone requests) beginning April 22 at 7:00 p.m. Although walk-up permits have been available in the past, this year there are none.
The vast majority of hikers climb during “quota season,” May 1 through November 1, when officials set a daily entry limit of 100 day climbers and 60 overnight climbers. The Forest Service prohibits resale or transfer of permits, and there are no rain controls.
Cox of Inyo National Forest noted that some climbers who win the lottery later cancel their permits or reduce the size of their group “so permits may resurface.” She suggested checking Recreation.gov regularly.
In 2022, from February 1 to March 15, officials accepted 26,767 applications and rejected 71% of the applicants. The 29% of group leaders who won (i.e. those who received one of the appointments they wanted) included 2,739 who planned overnight climbs and 4,243 who applied for day use permits (which are only valid for 24 hours from midnight to midnight). ).