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).
From Lone Pine -- Whitney is towards the back of the range --
Upper center right of photo.
We have had the opportunity to climb this stout brute five 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.
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)!
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.
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 Big Pine.
Two giant hairpins -- seven miles west.
Looking down back towards Lone Pine from the top of the hairpins.
Much of the climb is in Inyo National Forest (Whitney Summit upper middle).
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'. At the top of our climb is a beautiful pond and very nice grill and store: Whitney Portal Store and Hostel.
For those with great stamina (or who are just nuts), give the one-two punch of Whitney Portal/Horseshoe Meadows Road loop (#2 CA, #7 U.S., #36 World) a go (MAP) -- starting and ending in Lone Pine = 62.4 miles and 10,691’ of climbing.
Horseshoe Meadows giant switchbacks in center background.
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.
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.
Another amazing adventure is cycling 135 miles from Badwater Death Valley to Whitney Portal then hiking to the summit of Mt. Whitney (summary).
Badwater, -282’ below sea level.
It was 116°F (confirmed at Furnace Creek).
Base of hike -- Whitney Portal.
Whitney Summit, 14,505’ above sea level.
 We have long described Owens Valley as the U.S. mecca for HC climbing by bike. With 9 HC Top 100 U.S. Bike Climbs within a 50 mile diameter, nothing is comparable, although 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!