I've been there several times and I'm realizing that people aren't always familiar with the permit application/lottery process.
First of all, the absolutely most important page to consult is this one:
and the most important factoid to gleem is that February is the month to apply for the Main Trail permits for May1 - Nov 1. Which means NOW! If you want to go up Whitney on the Main Trail (by far the most common), you need to get your rear in gear.
The information page on the lottery itself is here:
First you down load this form (this is the pdf version):
Fill it in listing as many possible dates as possible. By far the best thing you can do is list something like "any 3 [or how many you want] days from [start date] to [end date]." Generally the snow hangs around till early July. I assure you that if you include June in your list, you will get June. It might (sadly) be a low snow year and that may be ok, but odds are good you will see snow, and if you don't have snow skills, it could put the kabosh on your summit bid. It happened to me and that was my inspiration to learn snow skills, so it ultimately was a good thing, but you may not see it in that positive of a light. :)
When you're done filling out the form, you must mail it in to the address listed on the info pages with a Feb postmark. The lottery process starts Feb 15th so mailing it in now is a Really Good Idea. Applications received after Feb 15, but still in Feb will just get added to the pile. Remember the more flexible you are with dates the better the odds that we'll see you on the mountain.
Day vs. Overnight. While carrying a pack is not that fun, the overnight people suffer much less than those trying to climb and descend 6000' over 22 miles in 24 hours. Honestly, I've never tried it in a day and hope to one day, but for a first time, you will be far happier if you do an overnight trip.
Camps. Most people push on to Trail Camp at 12,000' which probably makes the most sense if you intend to summit in 2 days, but the lower camp: Outpost at 10,000' is much, much nicer is below treeline and has a lovely waterfall.
One thing. If you do get a permit (ok it's a voucher that allows you to pick up your actual permit the day before your trip), remember to reserve a camp spot at Whitney Portal the day before you go in. The pain-in-the-rear reservation site is here:
and using it is akward at best. On the left in the search area set the state to California and in the Park or Facility name say "whitney portal" and that should get you started. If you have registered with them before it may have your info - or not. :(
There are walk-in campsites, but I never have tried it as the very last thing I want to contend with right before an important climb is a full campsite. The main portal campsite is very nice and I have my favorite spots but I'm not telling. :)
When you're there, you absolutely must go see Doug Sr. at the Whitley Portal Store. His knowledge of the mountain is amazing and he truly is a dear, who I love visiting with. Plus the food is delicious especially after you've been on the mountain a while. Warning if you order a pancake, split it with someone as it's the size of a serving platter - this is not a joke. Also, if you are ever planning on going up the "Mountaineer's Route" (not the Main Trail) talking with Doug Sr. about it is invaluable. I also have an older trip that has details on the lower portion of the Mountaineer's Route (up to the two Boy Scout Lakes) here.
Oh, and in the Major Bummer dept is you have to:
- carry and use a Bear Canister
- carry and use a "Wag" bag for packing out your poop
Best of luck and hope to see you on the mountain.