The 14,505-foot Mount Whitney is the highest point in the continental United States. The mountain was named after geologist and surveyor, Josiah Whitney, who was long believed to be the first person to summit the mountain. In actuality, the peak was first visited in 1873 by two fishermen from the nearby town of Lone Pine, which is the source of the mountain's lesser-known title, Fisherman's Peak.
The most traveled route to the peak of Mount Whitney is the 22-mile Whitney Portal Trail. However, there are many routes to the mountain, including this 63-mile, six-day route, which starts from Cottonwood Pack Station at 10,352 feet and brings you to the backside of the mountain for a more secluded and difficult route to the summit. While the Cottonwood route is much longer than the Whitney Portal, you will experience fewer crowds. As with the Whitney Portal route, you will need a backcountry permit.
You'll also get to spend a little more time acclimatizing to the altitude and appreciating this phenomenal country. Day One is a 4-mile, 1,300-foot climb to Chicken Springs Lake, and it is a good opportunity to acclimate to the altitude. Day Two extends for 9 miles over various passes before it meets up with the Pacific Crest Trail, and it concludes with a 2,500-foot descent to Rock Creek Campground (watch your step over the river crossings). Day Three is another 9 mile trek that slowly ascends above the treeline to Guitar Lake at the foot of Mount Whitney.
Day Four is summit day. It is advisable to begin early, even before sunrise, so you can climb and return with plenty of time in the day. Wear warm clothing, as conditions can be very cold and windy on the mountain. You will be climbing many, many switchbacks until you reach the ridge where you will connect with the Whitney Portal Trail. Expect to meet many people during the second half of your 4,640-foot ascent. Take your time on the ridge, as there are some very exposed areas, and the altitude can pose some physical challenges. Once you reach the top, take some time to sign the log, eat a meal, and then start your long trek back down. You'll conclude the 12-mile day at Crabtree Meadows. Days Five and Six are approximately 10 miles each, and you will have the opportunity to modify the route slightly before you finish the trip back at the Cottonwood Pack Station.
As with any high-altitude adventure, nights can get very cold, and weather can change rapidly. Also, be sure to give yourself some time to acclimate before trying the summit.