To hike the Pacific Crest Trail for more than 500 miles, a hiker must acquire a permit. Hikers doing large sections of the PCT are known as “through-hikers”. The permitting process is coordinated by the Pacific Crest Trail Association based in Sacramento, CA. There is no cost for the permit. There are limits for the number of permits granted.
Since we are planning our trip from the southern terminus near Campo, CA, we are competing with many others for the 35 permits that will become available for each calendar day. The process involves completing a permit application on line while everyone else that wants one does the same thing. The application process goes through several pages and even involves arranging a payment for a “Mt Whitney Area Permit”.
Here’s what you need to know about Mount Whitney
Free day hike to summit and back
PCT long-distance permit holders will be allowed to day hike from the PCT to the summit of Mount Whitney and back to the PCT. There is no fee, nor any additional permits needed. Long-distance permit holders may not camp east of the Crabtree Ranger Station. Stock is not permitted beyond the base of the switchbacks on Mount Whitney.
$21 add-on permit to descend mountain eastbound
You can get a special add-on to your long-distance permit that will allow you to descend the mountain eastbound to Whitney Portal (and Lone Pine.) This access along the Whitney Trail crosses the Inyo National Forest. This special add-on (which is printed on your long-distance permit) is for people wanting to end their trip at Whitney Portal or those who wish to visit the area for resupply. It costs $21 and is non-refundable. Holders of the Whitney Zone permit should re-enter the wilderness within 48 hours of when they exit to resupply.
No PCT long-distance permits will be issued for trips originating from Whitney Portal.
The Mt Whitney Area Permit allows a through-hiker to exit the trail system to the Whitney East Portal and the road to Lone Pine for resupply. It also allows through-hikers to day hike to the Mt Whitney summit. The trail crosses the Inyo National Forest. Access to Mt Whitney is very controlled by the National Forest because of human impact issues. Hikers wishing to get to the Mt Whitney summit must have a permit to do so.
The permitting process opens at precisely 10:30am on November 1st.
We were ready with both our computers to get going on the application process. The PCTA assures applicants that it’s not necessary to refresh your computer screen as the calendar is updated with the number of taken and available permits.
As we went through the process, the webpages often timed out. Soon we were extremely frustrated as we watched the permit dates disappear. We had wanted the specific day of April 20 as this date is of special significance for us.
In the end, and with no lack of angry comments and obvious frustration, we claimed 2 permits for May 6. It was important to at least get a permit at this point and to possibly modify it later. On January 17, the PCTA opens permitting again for an additional 15 permits per each calendar day. We will see what happens on January 17. Maybe we can get our April 20 preferred departure day.