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Lowest-to-Highest Trail

The Concept
At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater, in Death Valley National Park, is the lowest elevation in North America. Mount Whitney, located on the far eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada range, is the highest elevation in the contiguous United States.  It's incredible that these two points exist just over 130 miles apart in California.  The Lowest-to-Highest trail is an informal route created through a network of trails, old mining roads, and cross-country travel.  There is an annual Badwater ultramarathon race, described as the "world's toughest foot face," from which the route's concept originated. The Badwater race remains mostly on paved roads whereas the Lowest-to-Highest route avoids paved roads whenever possible. The route has been defined beautifully on this site, where we discovered the concept. Please see this site for details of what is included along the route. On our site we'll focus on the logistics of hiking the route.

When to Go
Obviously, when there are both elevation extremes involved, the timing of the trip must be considered. Death Valley National Park is aptly named for its 130+ degree intense heat during the summer months and mostly lack of of water. A prominent backcountry ranger advised to wait until October 10th to avoid the dangerous heat. Conversely, Mt. Whitney is often covered in snow and ice from mid-to-late October through mid-to-late June and temperatures below zero are not unusual. In 2007, the first snow fell on September 20th.

The Lowest-to-Highest route, therefore, is most realistically completed in the months of September and October. The last week of September and the first week of October are probably the optimal time period to avoid the worst of the heat in Death Valley and to hopefully beat the first Fall storms on Mt. Whitney.  While this period is optimal, Death Valley can still be a deadly oven even at this time of the year. Water is even less prevalent the longer the summer continues and before any rain might fall (all 2-inches annually in Death Valley).  Similarly, hikers should be prepared to face snow and ice while ascending Mt. Whitney. Depending upon the weather each year and how late the route is attempted, it might be wise to stash snowshoes, crampons, and/or an ice axe in a vehicle previously left at Whitney Portal.

Another timing consideration involves the permit required for the Whitney Trail. There is a quota for permits for day/overnight hiking the Whitney Trail and the annual lottery occurs around February.  This would require planning ahead to predict exactly which day you would want to summit.  Generally, however, the first weekdays of October doesn't get reserved ahead of time. Essentially, the more risk you are willing to take as to meeting a snow storm, the easier it will be to reserve a permit.

DISCLAIMER: This route is NOT an established trail at all. The "Lowest-to-Highest" route described on this website crosses extremely dangerous, remote terrain susceptible to extreme weather. Due to the nature of the route, there is serious risk of losing ones life. does NOT encourage anyone to attempt this route and therefore disclaims all responsibility of anyone who decides to attempt the route.


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