In mid-July, 2014, I hiked from Mineral King to Whitney Portal
, and explored a route up Whitney Creek from the Kern River to Crabtree Meadow and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I had seen some forum discussion some years ago (here: Kern Short cuts
, and here: Hiking up Whitney Creek from Kern to Crabtree
) about rangers and others taking a shortcut, so I wanted to see how difficult it might be.
In summary, it is a climb of 2500' (800m) over about 3 miles, and cuts off about 12 miles of the High Sierra Trail (HST). In the lower section, there is a minor bit of walking through bushes, and mid-way, a steep granite ramp section climbing 300' requiring using your hands a few places (class 3). But overall, it was pretty easy. The hike between the HST and the PCT trails took under 5 hours, and I wasn't hurrying.
I talked with Ranger Rob Pilewski at the Crabtree R.S. and he mentioned a route through some willows. I am sure this is a different route. I think his route followed the creek closely, while my route stayed well away from the creek, until reaching gentle terrain on the last mile of the route.Interactive Gmap4 map of the route
(Supports both topo (t4) and Google Satellite views) Note: the 11 eastern points are taken from Google Earth, which shows a trail between the Packer Camp and the PCT/Crabtree junction. There is no trail, but it was a use trail in the past.
Here is a gpx file
built using Gmap4. View in Gmap4
Here is a Google Earth view showing the HST at the bottom, and the JMT and PCT at the top. The yellow GPS points show the route up to the horse-packer camp. Note the red line spur extending down from the PCT. It shows up in Google Earth, but not on other maps. It is the old use trail that horse packers used to get to their camp.
Below are pictures taken along the route. Click on each one to see the full-size version.
This is where I left the Kern River trail at Whitney Creek (a few yards south of the creek), and started up.
This is a crop of the above picture, showing the route I took through the steepest solid granite part. The granite knob had a weathered-out joint or crack that was easier to climb. The section had a series of big, ancient juniper trees. The section required using my hands a little, but mostly used only hiking poles. Once at the top of the granite, it was open forest, where I climbed to a high point of granite -- a low knob, only about 10 feet higher than the surroundings.
According to my SPOT record, it took 2 hours to reach the base of the ramp, and 30 minutes to get to the top. Then 1.5 hours to get to the packer camp.
It was easy to find paths through the bushes, so not much "bushwhacking". The slope started up from the Kern gently, then increased to steep.
More climbing, well above and just south of Whitney Creek. In the links above, George Durkee mentions an obvious gulley south of Whitney Creek. It may be the area on the right side of this picture. I took a more direct route, hidden by the trees just left of center.
The slope eventually reaches a granite cliff area. I found the right side of this granite block had a nice blocky ramp, with a little class 3 climbing.
These blocks and monster old Juniper trees were fun to climb. Only needed to use hands a few places.
After climbing above the solid granite section, I moved over to the "edge" to have a look into the Whitney Creek canyon. I continued to the right again, staying out of the rugged areas in this view.
Looking down from far above -- This shows Sandy Creek joining Whitney Creek.
After climbing a granite knob, then descending only a few feet, I continued climbing, but the terrain became gentle, so followed the contours, heading a little north until Whitney Creek came into view. There were occasionally flat sandy sections. I found boot prints occasionally. ...and these "sand lines".
At last, Whitney Creek. Here, I crossed to the north side, as the terrain was more open and gentle on that side.I discovered this horse-packer campsite, complete with log seats, a table, a bear proof box, and a cook-top structure built of logs with rocks and sand on top. The Crabtree ranger told me there is a spring across the creek and downstream only a small distance, and little above the stream. It reportedly has temperate water. Wish I had found it. I camped here, since it was so inviting. Next day I hiked up to the PCT in about 40 minutes. Whitney creek has lots of smallish Golden Trout here. GPS location: 36.5488,-118.3710
Lower Crabtree meadow, where I joined the PCT. First view of Mt Russell, just N of Mt Whitney.
These are the GPS locations used to create the mapping tracks and G.Earth image. Those with the * correspond to my SPOT track points. Others are interpolated to better show the route. ...so don't try to follow the points exactly on a hike. They may be off by 10-20 feet, some maybe more!
The first ten points are created from Google Earth and Gmap4 to identify the route from the PCT/Crabtree junction down to the packer camp.
36.552966,-118.358343 PCT/Crabtree RS jct
36.549137,-118.371455 Packer camp
36.548687,-118.381636* Whitney Creek crossing
36.550271,-118.391654 Low granite knob
36.551061,-118.393331* Top of steeper granite ramp
36.551277,-118.395123* Bottom of granite ramp
36.551327,-118.403255 HST, Whitney Creek crossing
This map shows the route. It can be downloaded or printed. Click it to see the full-size map.
Edit: In summer '16, I found the actual trail that connects the Packer Camp to the PCT. The gps points shown above are wrong. The old trail is more north, pretty closely follows that stream line.
...From the PCT: (This is half a mile south of where the JMT heads east towards Crabtree Ranger Station.) The PCT heading north crosses Whitney Creek, and then climbs a moderate incline for about 200 yards. Where this incline levels off (there are some old logs by the trail), there is a faint use trail heading west. Follow it west, it descends into a swail (gentle creek drainage), and it heads down to the packer camp.
...From the packer camp to the PCT: From the camp, head northwest through the trees to the grassy no-tree space. Cross that space to the trees to the northwest. I found a constructed trail making a little switchback there where the trail begins to ascend the steeper slope. Follow it east-northeast to the point where it joins the PCT.
Edit 2018: In 2016, I revisited the Packer Camp, and looked for a "warm spring" as mentioned by ranger Rob P. I found it, about 200 yards (5 minutes walk) west on the south side of Whitney Creek, up on a plateau. Unfortunately, it was covered by thick green "scum" or moss, and I spent half an hour clearing it away. As for "warm", it's chilly by swimming pool standards: about 70 F. So nothing like a truly nice hot spring -- those have to be 95 F or more. It's just warmer than Whitney Creek. But not really worth a special trip, unless you are already at the Packer Camp.
I should also mention that the golden trout in Whitney Creek at the camp are small (5"), but easy to catch. I used a small fly, and they bit often. Unfortunately, when I was there, I did not have proper cooking utensils, it had recently rained, and I could not start even a tiny fire. A truly sorry experience. Second time: Tried frying one or two on a titanium plate on a titanium wing stove (using esbit tablets)--that works!! But I had forgotten a potholder, so it was ...difficult. Maybe there will be a third chance...