Cottonwood Pass to Whitney Portal


We had no intentions of doing this trip in 2002. We look at Whitney as something we do every other year from a different trailhead. Last year's trip was suppose to be Celeste and I, however, injuries forced her out at the last minute, thus a solo trip. One of the many reasons this trip got put together was a group of 8 I ran into at Upper Crabtree Meadow last year. After watching them interact for three days I thought this would be a great idea. Celeste concurred but our group was mainly day hikers. So, we started to approach everyone and suprisingly 2 of the day hikers wanted to become backpackers to do this trip. We found out a neighbor wanted to do the trip. Now, we were five.


We ended up with four and some of the four were not on the original roster. Unfortunately, Celeste didn't make it again this year :~(.


Photo Gallery for this trip

Where There's Smoke...
New Army Pass Trailhead Acclimatization Day
New Army Pass Trailhead in Horseshoe Meadows, Elevation 10,040'


8/17/02 - We stopped at the Shell Station in Pearsonville and as we got out of the car we were hit with the smell of smoke and a haze which stretched as far is the eye could see from the McNally Fire. This was as bad as any bad smog day in the LA Basin and worst we had ever seen in the Eastern Sierra. This really shows you hot dogs and meth don't mix.


When we got to Lone Pine we did our normal stuff, picked up the permit, had lunch at PJ's (now the High Sierra Cafe), picked up a bear resistant canister for a member of our group, headed up to Whitney Portal to drop off a car and have dinner before heading over to Cottonwood Pass for the night.


Upon our arrival at Horseshoe Meadows we took a look at the campsites at Cottonwood Pass Trailhead and found them lacking compared to sites over at the New Army Pass Trailhead, so we headed over there for the night. Just personal preference, I guess.

Oh, Chipmunk Where Art Thou
Cottonwood Pass Trailhead to Long Lake
Trailhead: 9,950'          High Point: 11,242' (Chicken Spring Lake)
Campsite: East side of Chicken Spring Lake (11,242')
Started: 7:55 AM        Arrived at Campsite: 11:35 AM
Elevation Gain (Loss): ~1,292'
Distance: 4.5 miles
Maps(S): Cirque Peak 7.5' USGS quad


8/18/02 - The Cottonwood Pass Trail lacks the charm and views of the New Army Pass or South Fork Trails and the smoke from the fire didn't help matters. The trip through Horseshoe Meadows was as expected, flat, extremely sandy, progressively hazy and the smell of smoke was annoyingly pervasive.


Since we are old and slow, anyway; and knew the hiking day was going to be done before noon we really took our time and enjoyed a trail none of us had previously hiked. The hardest part of the day were the switchbacks from 10,200' to the top of the pass but with the day being so short this wasn't even a minor annoyance.


We set up camp on the east side of the lake but should have went to the west side because we would have been in the shade in the afternoon and would have had the morning sun. I never said we were smart, just old.


Now, the tale of the chipmunks. We were busy looking around the place and when we returned there were these two chipmunks in our packs and on top of the bear canisters. We shooed them away but these were the most habituated chipmunks we had ever encountered. Eventually they returned and this time they were determined to get inside the bear canisters. We watched as the dug out around the bottom of the can searching for the secret opening to a century's worth of food. This was a definite howl.

We Don't Need No Stinking Beaches!
Chicken Spring Lake to Rock Creek Ranger Station
Starting Elevation: 11,242'        High Point: 11,520' (High Point of Chicken Spring Lake Climb Out)
Campsite: ~1/8 mile east of the Rock Creek Recrossing (9,640')
Started: 7:50 AM        Arrived at Campsite: 2:00 PM
Elevation Gain (Loss): ~600', (~2,000')
Distance: 9.0 miles
Maps(S): Cirque Peak and Johnson Peak 7.5' USGS quad


8/19/02 - The group chose to go over Cottonwood Pass after a trek up New Army Pass on 7/6 on our way to Langley. The figuring was it was better to climb 900' up Cottonwood Pass than 400' up the Cottonwood Lakes headwall on day one and 1,300' up New Army on day two, plus the 2,600' knee jarring descent to Rock Creek. However, none of us thought this day was going be as hard as it turned out to be. The main reason?  A trail as sandy as any of us had ever hiked on. There was one 1/4 mile section where the trail was the consistency of beach sand. Thank God, this didn't go on for the whole nine miles or we all would have given up.


Once we dropped off of Siberian Outpost and headed toward Rock Creek we got a glimpse of three mule deer. This was our only major wildlife sighting for the six day trip. It's always a good hiking day when you see more wildlife than people; this day it was Deer 3 People 0, amazing when you consider the traffic this section of the PCT gets.


We utilized the same campsite I used last year just west of the Rock Creek Ranger Station use trail. This site is about 1/8 mile short of the Rock Creek Recrossing.  Although this site is literally just off the a heavily traveled section of the PCT we had the area to ourselves and didn't have to put up with the zoo down at the Rock Creek recrossing point.  After we set up camp we all frolicked and washed clothes in the icy waters of Rock Creek.

Don't Ask; Don't Tell
Rock Creek Ranger Station to Upper Crabtree Meadow
Starting Elevation: 9,640'        High Point: 10,958' (Guyot Pass)
Campsite: In the trees south of Whitney Creek near the trail junction (10,630')
Elevation Gain (Loss): ~1,975', (~500')
Started: 7:40 AM        Arrived at Campsite: 1:45 PM
Distance: 7 miles
Maps(S): Johnson Peak and Mt. Whitney 7.5' USGS quad


8/20/02 - This was the day everyone was dreading since the start of the trip. The climb to the top of Guyot Pass and it lived up to it's billing as a real B&*%#. This was the big climb but this day is series of ups and downs but the views to the west are what keep you going. Once we bottomed out at Crabtree Meadow there was one more climb to Upper Crabtree Ranger Station and at least one of our members legs started to balk just as we pulled into our campsite.


After we set up the tents it was down to the creek to frolic and filter water.


There is a sit down toilet at Upper Crabtree, which is like finding a bit heaven after 3 days of digging holes, if you know what I mean. A group of around 15 people camped just above us  and didn't know where said toilet was and we adopted an if they don't ask us where it is we sure as hell ain't going tell them policy. We figured 4 was the right amount of people who should know about the toilet because none of us wanted to stand in line for no toilet in no woods.

Macho, Macho Man, I Want To Be...
Upper Crabtree Meadow to the Tarns East of Guitar Lake
Starting Elevation: 10,630'        High Point: 11,680' (Tarns)
Campsite: About 200 yards east of the tarns (11,680')
Started: 9:00 AM        Arrived at Campsite: Noon
Elevation Gain (Loss): ~1,050'
Distance: 3.2 miles
Maps(S): Mt. Whitney 7.5' USGS quad


8/21/02 - No one was moving all that fast in the morning and everyone wanted one more shot at the john. This was basically a moving layover day. We planned to take our time and have a long stop at Timberline Lake, a place someone in our group said was the most beautiful place we passed through in the 6 days we were out.


We pulled into tarns around noon and set up in the same campsite I used last year, just east of trickle of water which crosses the trail. It was time to nap or explore. Since I noticed a shortcut into Hitchcock Lakes late in day of my stay here last year, a trip to Hitchcock Lakes was high on my list of things to do in 2002. So, my neighbor and I headed up to the lakes. It was a trip well worth the effort.


Camped by the lower tarn was this climber who was out conquering Mts. Young and Hale when we showed up. Upon his return he regaled us with a bunch of stories about the mountains, his unemployment compensation scam and a run-in he had with a National Park Ranger on his way in. When he arrived at Whitney Portal, just after we did, a sworn officer nailed him for harassing park ranger. This will entail a visit, and probable fine, to a federal court just because he refused to let the nice little ranger girl see his permit.

Racing With The Moon and Simple Pleasures
The Tarns East of Guitar Lake to Lone Pine Lake Via Mt. Whitney
Starting Elevation: 11,680'        High Point: 14,497' (Mt. Whitney)
Campsite: Lone Pine Lake (10,120')
Started: 3:33 AM        Arrived at Campsite: 4:30 PM
Key Times: Junction of Main Mt. Whitney Trail - 6:30 AM, Summit - 9:00 AM, Trail Crest - Noon
Elevation Gain (Loss): ~2,817', (~4,500')
Distance: ~12.6 miles
Very Strenuous
Maps(S): Mt. Whitney and Mt. Langley 7.5' USGS quad


8/22/02 - This trip was set up to take advantage of the full moon while traveling from the tarns to the lower Trail Crest and to watch the moonset over Mt. Hitchcock multiple times, one of our party swears it did five times. There are other advantages of the early start it is cooler, like 18 F on the crest when we got there, being on the crest at sunrise is truly spectacular and we would be able to pick and chose where we set up camp for the night, or go to Portal for beer, burgers and garlic fries.


The weather was clear as can be but cold and windy when we got to Trail Crest. I told everyone they would be in shorts by the time we got back to our packs, HA! This ended up being the coldest August day I have ever spent on Mt. Whitney. The views from the crest were fabulous as usual but smoke from the fire limited the clear views to the west and north.


The trip over to summit and back was as uneventful as any we have taken. We can't even remember any people doing any truly stupid things, maybe because this was a mid-week summit attempt. We were the only ones on the summit when we arrived at around 9 AM, believe me it didn't last, and were greeted by one fat ass marmot. We got all the pictures we wanted, swapped stories with fellow hikers, watched someone roaming around the summit in search of a cell phone signal, visited highest outhouse in the continental US and after 45 minutes of freezing our collective rear ends off we headed off toward Trail Crest and points east.


Our plan was to as far down the mountain as possible. Where we would stay was to be dictated by the tiredest hiker in our group. There were no takers at Trail Camp, there were multiple reasons one of which is was too stinking cold at 11,700' the previous night. Since we weren't going to stay at Trail Camp Jay and I knew we were going to spend a bit of time at Trailside Meadow, simply one gems of this or any trip in the Sierra. What we didn't know was we were going to stay there about an hour soaking our feet and heads; and filtering water. Yes, this qualified as one of life's simple pleasures. This soak also served a purpose as couple of us noticed our feet were a couple of widths narrower after the soak.

We continued down through Outpost Camp since this place was just as unappealing as Trail Camp so we moved on. I don't think anyone wanted to share our trip with anyone else. When one of our members sprained his ankle on the switchbacks going into the Lone Pine Lake area our decision was made for us to stay at Lone Pine Lake this night. We could not have planned this any better. There was only one other person at the lake. It's hard to believe you could have seclusion so close to the main trail but we did.

Showers, Pizza and Beer
Lone Pine Lake to Whitney Portal
Starting Elevation: 10,120'        High Point: 10,120' (Lone Pine Lake)
Campsite: Lone Pine Lake (10,120')
Started: 7:50 AM        Arrived at Portal: 9:20 AM
Elevation Gain (Loss): (1,760')
Distance: 3.0 miles
Maps(S): Mt. Whitney and Mt. Langley 7.5' USGS quad


8/23/02 - This was the first day no one complained about getting up before 6, since everyone was asleep by 8 PM the previous night. However, no one was moving all that swiftly getting breakfast going and breaking camp. I think if given the option of heading back up the trail or going back to civilization; going back up the trail would have won by a 4-0 margin.


The trip down was short and bittersweet. We all had a great time and didn't want it to end but there was a reward at the end of the trail, namely showers at the Portal Store and Pizza and Beer at The Pizza Factory in Lone Pine, yes we brought the Internet coupons (we ain't no stinking Whitney rookies).


Note: The shower at the Portal Store and the internet coupons for The Pizza Factory are gonzo but you can get a shower at The Hostel in Lone Pine.

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Date of Last Change: 12/22/09