Whitney Portal Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling






Whitney Portal

CA, USA

Cycling Whitney Portal: A Complete Guide

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Climb Summary

Cyclist on Whitney Portal Road with Mt. Whitney summit in background.

Cycling Whitney Portal

Ride 11.4 miles to 8,371’ gaining 4,595’ at 7.6% average grade.

The Whitney Portal Road bike climb in California, and Whitney Portal at its end, is the gateway to the amazing hike to the top of the tallest mountain peak in the contiguous United States.  This road is home to one of the top bike climbs in the U.S. and affords stunning views of Mt. Whitney as we slowly ascend toward it from Lone Pine in Owens Valley.

Mt. Whitney is unmistakable from Highway 395, Whitney Portal Road, Lone Pine, and points below and east of it if you know what you’re looking for. It is recognizable by its serrated ridge and peak profile far in the distance (and also very high above us -- over two miles of climb - straight up - to get to it).

YOU CAN’T MISS IT!

spires of mt whitney summit 

Mt. Whitney is the largest of the jagged peaks middle photo..

Cyclists riding on Whitney Portal Road Owens Valley - Mt. Whitney summit

Mt. Whitney is unmistakable as we climb Whitney Portal Road.

PJAMM’s Tayler Hocket on his ride from Badwater to Whitney Portal +

Climb to Whitney Summit

Mt. Whitney middle of photo.

The daunting Whitney Portal Hairpin is visible 3 miles in front of John.  

Park sign at top of Whitney Portal cycling climb

Mt. Whitney is recognizable from great distances -

Here, from Lone Pine.

Park sign at top of Whitney Portal cycling climb

PJAMM’s Ryan Tetz shattering the record -

Badwater to Whitney Summit in 13:17 - record by 41 minutes!

Photo taken from Hwy 136 on the way from Death Valley - Mt. Whitney middle photo.

Final approach to Whitney Portal - Mt. Whitney dead ahead!

ABOUT THE WHITNEY PORTAL BIKE CLIMB

                                                         

We have had the opportunity to climb this stout brute six times and have thoroughly enjoyed each chance to do so.  We prefer to stay in Bishop, California, which is the “Big City” by the Eastern Sierra Highway 395 corridor at the northern end of the Owens Valley[1].  We also host an altitude training camp out of Glacier Lodge that includes Mt. Whitney.

The Whitney Portal Road bike climb is the #5 most difficult climb in California, #13 in the U.S. and #60 in the World.  We begin the climb in Lone Pine with a nice one-mile 5% grade warm up, unless you happened to be riding on the roadway July 25, 2017 on your way from Badwater Death Valley to the Portal and then the Summit by foot. In that case, you’re riding over a newly tarred and sticky road (see photo below)!

PJAMM cyclist on Whitney Portal Road with Horseshoe Meadows giant hairpin turns in background.

Horseshoe Meadows giant switchbacks in center background[2].

Tayler Hocket riding his bike up Whitney Portal Road

That was some sticky stuff in July 2017

Tayler had ridden all night from Badwater 125 miles away,

116 degrees at our 6 p.m. start time (see summary, below)

The next three miles pick up to 5.6% average grade, then 6.8% (Miles 4-6), then hang on for 9.5% average grade for the next 4.5 miles (Miles 6.5 to 11) as we enter the zone where altitude can be a factor (altitude sickness "commonly occurs above 2,400 meters/8,000 feet," per Wikipedia).  The climb begins at 3,802’ and ends at 8,372’.  

Beginning of Whitney Portal Road bike climb, Lone Pine, Owens Valley, CA

Climb begins in Big Pine.

Park sign at top of Whitney Portal cycling climb

The giant hairpin -- seven miles west.

Park sign at top of Whitney Portal cycling climb

Mt. Whitney (background upper left) and hairpin (lower right).

Park sign at top of Whitney Portal cycling climb

Looking back to the east towards Lone Pine from the top of the hairpin.

Along the last three to four miles of the Whitney Portal Road bike climb, we are treated to incredibly  gorgeous and stark views of the central Sierra Nevada mountain range, which continues on up to Mt Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States at 14,505'.

Ryan coming around the sweeping right turn at mile 9.5 -  Owens Valley in background.

WHITNEY PORTAL

Park sign at top of Whitney Portal cycling climb 

Much of the climb is in Inyo National Forest (Whitney Summit upper middle).

Aerial view directly over the portal -

Hike to Mt. Whitney Summit begins here

At the top of our climb is a very nice grill and store: Whitney Portal Store and Hostel.  

Be prepared for temperatures 15-20 ℉ lower at the top than the start.

We have 1.8 miles at 8.7% average grade to the Portal after the big right turn at mile 9.5.

Just past the right turn and looking up at Mt. Whitney Summit.

 

That’s a wrap . . . on the climb summary, anyway . . .

 

CHALLENGING (NUTTY?) OPTIONS

One-Two Punch

For those with great stamina (or who love pain 😆, give the one-two punch of Whitney Portal/Horseshoe Meadows Road loop (#2 CA, #7 U.S., #69 World) a go (MAP) -- starting and ending in Lone Pine = 62.4 miles and 10,691’ of climbing.

One-Two-Three-Four (boy I’m dumb) punch

Or, take on Horseshoe Meadows, Whitney Portal, Onion Valley and White Mountain (22,000’) in a day:

John Johnson and Steve Tiede with bikes on Horseshoe Meadows

#1 of the day -- Horseshoe Meadows Road.   

   

John Johnson and Steve Tiede at Whitney Portal during 4 HC climb day -

#2 -- Whitney Portal Road.

John Johnson third climb of 4 HC - at Onion Valley after riding Whitney Portal and Horseshoe Meadows

 #3 --  Onion Valley Road.

John Johnson rides Horseshoe Meadows Road, Whitney Portal Road, Onion Valley Road and White Mountain in Owens Valley in 1 day.

#4 -- White Mountain Road.

Badwater - Whitney Portal By Bike / Hike To Summit

Another amazing adventure is cycling 135 miles (15,272’ of climbing) from Badwater Death Valley to Whitney Portal then hiking 22 miles (round trip) gaining 6,100’ to the summit of Mt. Whitney (summary).

Cyclists at Badwater Death Valley at start of Badwater to Mt Whitney Summit bike ride and run

Badwater, -266’ below sea level.

Badwater, CA, USA

The hottest temperature ever recorded on earth was in Furnace Creek (20 miles from Badwater) on July 10, 1913 (134℉/56.7℃) and, while that record has been challenged, the “alternate” record is also held by Death Valley (2013 in a tie with Mitribah, Kuwait in 2016 at 129.2℉/54.0℃).

IMG_3587.JPG

It was 116°F  (confirmed at Furnace Creek).

John Johnson at Whitney Portal for hike to top. 

Base of hike -- Whitney Portal.

John Johnson and Tayler Hocket on summit of Mt. Whitney

Whitney Summit, 14,505’ above sea level.

When to Climb Whitney Portal Road by Bike:   The average high temperatures for the summer time frame are 92°F June, 98°F July, and 96°F August.  We suggest May or September, as the months just before or after could put you into a snowstorm as we climb towards the top of this dead end climb that tops out at 8,371’.

How to Climb Whitney Portal Road by Bike: Pick the right time and train well, keeping in mind that this is the fifth hardest climb in California and #14 in the US, at 11.4 miles, 4,593’ gained at 7.6% average grade (¼ mile at 12.8% and ½ mile at 11.8%).  The climb begins 0.6 miles up Whitney Portal Road in Pine, CA on at 36.60186, -118.0738 latitude/longitude.  We commonly stay in Bishop, California (57 miles north of Lone Pine, CA and the start of the Horseshoe Meadows and Whitney Portal climbs) at the Creekside Inn, next to Erick Schat’s Bakery,  but have also stayed three times in Lone Pine at the Best Western Plus Frontier Motel which is a decent, although not great, place to stay.

Traffic and Roadway Report:  The roadway surface should be pristine as of 2017 as the roadway was fully chip sealed in summer 2016.  There is some fast moving traffic along the lower section, but the traffic seems lighter and slower as we reach the switchback at mile 7.7 and begin in earnest our climb up toward the portal.

That’s a wrap


[1] We have long described Owens Valley as the U.S. mecca for HC climbing by bike.  With 10 HC Top 100 U.S. Bike Climbs within a 25 mile straight line radius, nothing is comparable, although the Island of Hawaii does rival Owens Valley with challenge, but not quantity.

[2] Tayler looks a little dazed for good reason. He is at this point about 120 miles into a ride that began in 116 degree heat at Badwater Death Valley.  He made it to the top of Whitney Portal on bike then hiked to Whitney Summit, all in a day!