Smithsonian Institution Shelter

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Smithsonian Institution Shelter
Smithsonian Hut Whitney.jpg
The Smithsonian Institution Shelter, against the backdrop of the Sierra.
Smithsonian Institution Shelter is located in California
Smithsonian Institution Shelter
Smithsonian Institution Shelter is located in the United States
Smithsonian Institution Shelter
Nearest cityLone Pine, California
Coordinates36°34′43″N 118°17′32″W / 36.57861°N 118.29222°W / 36.57861; -118.29222Coordinates: 36°34′43″N 118°17′32″W / 36.57861°N 118.29222°W / 36.57861; -118.29222
ArchitectArch, Speiden & Speiden
Architectural styleRustic architecture
NRHP reference No.77000119
Added to NRHPMarch 08, 1977[1]

The Smithsonian Institution Shelter, also known as the Mount Whitney Summit Shelter and the Mount Whitney Hut, was built in 1909 on the summit plateau of Mount Whitney, in the Sierra Nevada within Sequoia National Park, in California.


The shelter at the summit was proposed after Byrd Surby, a U.S. Fisheries employee, was struck and killed by lightning on the summit in 1904. The shelter was built to house scientists who used the 14,505-foot summit to study high-altitude phenomena in the time before sustained high-altitude flight was possible.

In 1909 the site was used by Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory director Charles Greeley Abbot to conduct spectroscopic observations of Mars to investigate the existence of water on the planet. Other studies included observations of cosmic rays and nocturnal radiation.[2][3]

Although the structure was built in part as a shelter from storms, hikers are now warned against seeking shelter there during lightning storms.


Gustave F. Marsh, the builder of the summit trail, built the shelter with funding from the Smithsonian Institution, with assistance from the Lick Observatory. The mortared granite shelter comprises three rooms in a line with windows in each and doors in the north and south rooms. The roof is corrugated metal on a steel truss frame.[4] The materials to build the shelter were carried to the summit by donkeys.[5] The shelter has a log book hikers may sign. The site has been considered for National Historic Landmark status, but has not been recommended for submission yet.[6] However, in 1977 the Smithsonian Institution Shelter was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. April 15, 2008.
  2. ^ "SAO Mount Whitney Shelter Erected". Smithsonian Institution Research Information System. 2008-12-09.
  3. ^ "Mt. Whitney's Early Days". Mount Whitney History. Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce. 2008-12-09. Archived from the original on 2012-05-14.
  4. ^ "Smithsonian Institution Shelter". List of Classified Structures. National Park Service. 2008-12-09.
  5. ^ Py-Lieberman, Beth (27 August 2009). "The Mount Whitney Hut Turns 100". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  6. ^ "National Register Sites considered but not recommended for designation as National Historic Landmarks". National Historic Landmarks: Astronomy and Astrophysics, Other Sites. National Park Service. 2008-12-09.