WALKING PLACES TOGETHER
Route Logistics & Details
Below we have outlined some basic logistics with thoughts on each option. We hope this information is helpful in planning your trip of the Lowest to Highest Route (L2H).
Route Information & When to Hike
A bunch of helpful information and details on the L2H can be found on Brett Tucker's website. This route is NOT A TRAIL - at many points you will be on a trail or road, but effective knowledge and skill in navigation is required. It is about 135 miles in length and often lacks water, requiring water caches and/or long stretches of carrying all the water you need. The route can have huge fluctuations in temperature because you are starting in the desert and hiking into the mountains. Remember, in the desert temps can change 40 or more degrees in any given 24 hour period.
The best time to hike the route is most likely Fall, when the desert is starting to cool down and the snow in the mountains is to a minimum. We hiked the route in April which was still somewhat hot in the valleys and snowy in the mountains. This posed a different challenge - but was still a really fun way to complete the route.
Once again, Brett Tucker has an amazing set of maps and data book information on mileage for use on the route. When we hiked this route it was donation based for map downloads, it now costs $9.95 (which is well worth it for the amount of work that he put into planning the route). We would also encourage you to carry an overview map of Death Valley National Park (National Geographic makes a useful one). And an overview map of the Whitney Zone for when you summit Mount Whitney (we used the Tom Harrison version of the Mt. Whitney High Country - which has great detail and information).
Water & Resupplies
Water makes this route logistically challenging. Luckily, in the maps and databook information there is also information on water in the different locations along the route, as well as information on proper places to cache water. We recommend caching water in at least two spots along the desert section - Trona-Wildrose Rd. cache and the junction of Highway 190 & Saline Valley Rd. There are multiple other possible caches summarized in the trip information, but we found these to be the most beneficial to prevent extra long water carries. Other natural sources that we encountered that were running in April were Hanaupah Spring, China Garden Spring, and Darwin Falls. Technically, you can stash food in the water cache locations, but it would require critter proof containers and the ability to make the journey back to pick up the items that were cached. We used dromedaries to cache water and then we carried those dromedaries with us until we got to Lone Pine. We budgeted 4 liters of water per person per day - which was a bit less than ideal - but we are still alive. Our longest carry of water was 3 days beause we skipped the Saline Valley - Highway 190 cache (looking back - we should have used that cache - it would have saved us a lot of weight in our packs).
There are two locations along the route where you could possibly purchase food or send a box ahead of time with permission. The Panamint Springs General Store and gas station has a small selection of food and supplies, but a full resupply from here may be difficult. Lone Pine is a bigger town on the Eastern side of the Sierra and gives you an obvious place to resupply and rest up before attempting to summit Mount Whitney.
We had two vehicles, so we left one in Lone Pine with our resupply/mountaineering stuff and drove the other to Badwater Basin where we left it there for the duration of the trip. We left our other vehicle at the Film Museum for five dollars a day with security cameras.
If you have one vehicle, you could leave it in Lone Pine. There are multiple hiker shuttle services on the Eastside that will give you a ride to the start. You could then finish at your vehicle after you summit Mt. Whitney. These shuttles can be expensive so you may want to consider other options if you have a small group (i.e. ride share, hitch, Craigslist, etc.)
Without a vehicle, the Eastern Sierra Transit will take you to Lone Pine from the Reno airport. From there you could get a ride to the start, hike the route, and then reverse from Lone Pine back to the Reno airport on the bus.
You do not need any permits to hike in Death Valley National Park. It may be to your benefit to check in at a Visitors Center anyway, to inform the park of your trip just in case emergency response is ever required. Perhaps be prepared for some questions. It seems few people hike something like the Low to High Route, you may raise eyebrows with your plans.
You DO NEED a permit to summit Mount Whitney if you are in the permitting season of May 1 - November 1. You can apply for this permit on the Recreation.gov website. We climbed Mount Whitney the day before the permit season began so we did not need a permit. However, we stilled checked in at the Lone Pine Eastern Sierra Visitors Center to inform them of our plan. We recommend applying as soon as the lottery opens for Mt. Whitney since its such a popular peak. Be ready for crowds during the quota/permit season.