Page Contributor(s): Luke Hise, Phoenix, AZ
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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).
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.
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. 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)!
Horseshoe Meadows giant switchbacks in center background.
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’.
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
Whitney’s giant hairpin directly in front of Tayler
Mt. Whitney photo top left.
Mt. Whitney (background upper left-center) and hairpin (lower right).
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.
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
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:
#1 of the day -- Horseshoe Meadows Road.
#2 -- Whitney Portal Road.
#3 -- Onion Valley Road.
#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).
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℃).
It was 116°F (confirmed at Furnace Creek).
Base of hike -- Whitney Portal.
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!
 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.
 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!