Whitney Portal Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

12.1
FIETS
11.4 mi
DISTANCE
4,556 ft
GAINED
7.6 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

Page Contributor(s): Luke Hise, Phoenix, AZ; Tom Morton, Gardner, IND

INTRO

Whitney Portal is another epic Owens Valley HC.  This route ascends to vibrant Whitney Portal which is a hub for adventurers hiking to Mt. Whitney and also those taking on the Pacific Crest Trail. There are exceptional views of the steep walls of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains on our ascent which finishes with a unique and dramatic perspective of Mt. Whitney Summit. 
The second half of this climb is extremely difficult because of the steep grade and high altitude.  The steepest segment surrounds the giant hairpin that is visible for much of our approach to it.  The steepest quarter-mile of the ascent (12.4%)  is just before the right turn that begins the long approach to the hairpin and the steepest mile (11.5%) covers the same territory.  The average grade of this climb which finishes over 8,000' is a demanding 7.6% and 22% of the route's 11.4 miles is at a grade of 10%+. 
Roadway:  The roadway was repaved in 2017-2019 and is in excellent condition as of 2020.  There are expansion or freeze joints (vertical ruts) every 20 yards or so over several miles at the top which makes for a very bumpy descent. 

Traffic:  Minimal and not a problem.

Parking:  Never a problem in Owens Valley - we either leave from our hotel in Lone Pine and ride to the climb start, or park near the start - MapStreet View.
Clothing:  Be sure to check the weather at the top (use the PJAMM Weather Tool) and pack accordingly - we finish at altitude and over 8,000' which can be cold and windy during the spring and fall.  Bring cushioned gloves for the bumpy descent (the freeze joints every ~20 yards at the top).

Food:  The Whitney Portal Store and Grill is a great place to eat - we recommend giant pancakes for breakfast or hamburger and fries for lunch/dinner - Google Maps + Reviews


Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
We stay in Lone Pine (hotels) if we are just riding Whitney Portal and/or Horseshoe Meadows Rd or in Bishop (hotels) if we are cycling throughout Owen's Valley, CA.  Our favorite things to do around Lone Pine are to visit the the Museum of Western Film History (Google Map + Reviews), and the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center (Google Maps + Reviews) both in or within a mile of Lone Pine.  Lone Pine is also only 50 miles from Panamint, the first town in Death Valley. 

ROUTE MAP

MEMBER RATING

Difficulty: Strenuous
3.7
Road
4.3
Traffic
4.3
Scenery

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Jun 5, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 4
traffic: 4
road: 4
Jun 5, 2021
scenery: 4
traffic: 4
road: 4
I've done one solo up Whitney and two times up combined with Onion Valley Road (one incomplete; had to stop for sleet in April on OVR). Today I finally managed both by starting Whitney in darkness and coolness. I hit the switchback just as the sun came over the eastern mountain range. After today, I'm not sure if this one is harder than OVR or not. I suppose whichever one you do first is the easier. During the summer go very early to avoid traffic and heat.. I left at 4:4O and halfway up someone passed me going down who must have been really early.
Apr 30, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 4
traffic: 4
road: 3
Apr 30, 2021
scenery: 4
traffic: 4
road: 3
This seemed like it is right up there with Onion Valley in difficulty. The gradient is more variable than Onion Valley which meant more work for a fat old man in some places. They were doing some repairs on the road when I did the climb a few years ago, so hopefully the surface is better now.
Apr 20, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
Apr 20, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
A brisk spin out of Lone Pine. Largely unrelenting grades, with the crucible at the final straight away before the first 2 switch backs averaging 10 percent. Traffic is minimal, and furthermore, the road is often closed to cars in April/May on account of snow pack but still accessible to bike. World beater scenery throughout the entire duration, our American Dolomites, if you will.
ROUTE MAP
PROFILE TOOL

Climb Profile Not Found
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.

“Whitney Portal is a great and difficult climb out of the high desert up towards Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48.  Like most eastern Sierra ascents this one starts out tame and ends up tough.  The grade generally increases as you climb although it does ease again toward the top.  An almost dead straight section heading west starts things off over moderate but gradually increasing grade and with great views of the wall of mountains in front of you.  About halfway up the climb you make a 90 degree right hand turn to increased grade.  This is the beginning of the big switchback on the hill and much of it is double digit grade.  This section will stay with you for several reasons.  At the upper end of the switchback you turn west again and enter a canyon over decreased grade.  Bit walls soar over you on this stretch and trees make an appearance.  The hill finally gives up at Whitney Portal within an alpine setting and a parking/hiking area (trailhead to Mount Whitney).  The scenery on this ascent you will certainly remember and is simply spectacular. Its descent is challenging (remember the big switchback) and very fast in places as well.  Whitney Portal is very similar to the famed French Alps climb of the madeleine, a monster frequently used in major cycling classics including regular appearances in the Tour de France…” (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, pg. 142.)

Approaching the finish: Mt. Whitney Summit top center of photo.

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).

Before heading out on your Whitney Portal adventure, be sure to rely on our list of Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip, and use our interactive checklist to ensure you don't forget anything.

IT’S A MOVIE STAR

I Love Lucy - The Long, Long Trailer (in Anscocolor)

The Mt. Whitney Scene

Trailer for the Long Long Trailer

Photos from Pinterest - California Girl - Long, Long Trailer

You gotta watch the Mt. Whitney scene - priceless . . . the only thing crazier than riding up Whitney Portal Road on your bike is doing it while towing a long, long trailer driving a 1953 Mercury Monterey convertible with a 125 HP flathead V8.

YOU CAN’T MISS IT!

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 three miles in front Tayler.

Park sign at top of Whitney Portal cycling climb

PJAMM’s Ryan Tetz shattering the record:

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

Photo taken from Highway 136 on the way from Death Valley, Mt. Whitney middle photo.

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 Lone Pine.

Photo location:  Whitney Portal & Movie Roads - 2.1 miles into the climb.

Line of sight:  10 miles to Whitney Summit and 8.5 miles to Horseshoe hairpins

Park sign at top of Whitney Portal cycling climb

Whitney’s giant hairpin directly in front of Tayler

Mt. Whitney photo top left.

Park sign at top of Whitney Portal cycling climb

Mt. Whitney (background upper left-center) 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, this climb is 62.4 miles and 10,691’ of climbing.

One-Two-Three-Four (the, “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 in June, 98°F in July, and 96°F in 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, California 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 Surface Report:  The roadway surface should be pristine as of 2017 as the roadway was fully chip sealed in the summer of 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.  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!