A Guide to Hiking Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney is the tallest peak in the continental United States. See more national park pictures.
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As the highest summit in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney is a tantalizing tourist attraction for avid hikers. It is the most frequently climbed peak in the Sierra Nevada [source: National Park Service]. Ascending to the peak has been a coveted accomplishment since at least 1864, when a California Geological Survey team discovered it. The mountain was named after the survey's leader, Josiah Whitney. One of the survey members, Clarence King, attempted to be the first to climb it. Seven years later, King believed he was finally successful. However, as he eventually found out, he had actually climbed Mount Langley, not Mount Whitney, thanks to a mistake on his map. By the time he did finally make it up Mount Whitney, a group of fishermen had already beaten him to it.

According to the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, local residents pushed to rename the mountain Fisherman's Peak in 1881 in honor of the first men to climb it. If the bill hadn't been proposed in the state legislature on April Fool's Day and amended as a joke, it might have been passed [source: LonePineChamber]. The original name has thus prevailed to this day.

Peaking at a relatively modest 14,505 feet (4,421 meters), Mount Whitney doesn't rank with the world's highest peaks, but it does make for a manageable hike -- doable by even unseasoned hikers. Whitney is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. In fact, it stands merely 90 miles (145 kilometers) from the lowest land point in the Western hemisphere, Badwater in Death Valley National Park. Some adventurers like to traverse from one to the other in the Badwater Ultramarathon.

If you, like others, drool at the opportunity to ascend the highest point in the lower 48 states, you'll need to be prepared. Read on to find out what you need to know.