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#52609 - 02/13/18 11:21 AM Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie.
Daybreak Offline


Registered: 02/13/18
Posts: 8
Loc: NC
Hey all, east coaster here! This August some friends and I will be tackling Mt Whitney and I'm pretty excited about it as I've never been hiking out West. I'm an avid A.T. hiker and am pretty confident with my abilities through the toughest sections NC or NH can throw at me, but hiking at 5-6k ft is not the same as 10-14k ft...

We fly into Vegas and I'm hoping to find a good dark sky location for the Perseids meteor shower (thats another topic all together) and am going to try and get to an 8k+ ft location for better "seeing". Possibly near Telescope Peak in Death Valley. We'll then be spending a night at Cottonwood lakes to acclimate some more before starting the hike.

So, the plan is to take either NAP or Cottonwood Pass out to the PCT, on up to the JMT to the West side of Whitney. I understand that route would be ~30 miles 1 way? Because of what the group wants, we are doing a round trip back to Cottonwood Lakes, and are supposed to do that over 6 days. Is that a realistic timeframe for the 60 miles? We can do 15 miles on the AT without issue, what should we expect out here? I'm open to tacking on another day to be safe, but would have to convince the group.

Any suggestion between Cottonwood Pass and the NAP?

How is the camping along the trail? I've seen good camp sites listed on "Halfmile's PCT Maps" but those locations didn't break up our days very well if we try for 12mi/day. From pics along the trail, brush didn't seem to be an issue like it is along the AT, so is it easy enough to just find some flat ground off the trail? Camp location suggestions welcome as well!

I'd like to leave out via the Whitney Portal with an exit permit, but while talking to the Ranger in Lone Pine over the phone he said they're tough to get in mid August because of the demand. I'd have to convince the group as well, and we're quickly approaching the 15th for decisions to be made.

Thanks for any advice, I'm sure I'll have more questions as I do more research.

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#52614 - 02/13/18 12:05 PM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Daybreak]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7524
Loc: Fresno, CA
The reservable Trail Crest exit permits disappear in less than a second on Recreation.gov the morning they become available (15 permits each day, 6 months in advance), and you have to already have your entry permit lined up. It's just about impossible.

When you come in to pick up the Horseshoe entry permits, there might be some exit permits available, but do not count on that. Hikers coming south start a few days before you, so get first crack at those 10 first-come-first-served exit permits.

So plan on the 6-day round trip. I've not hiked in or out that way, but pretty much every water crossing will have camp sites near by if you look for them.

Many people hike in and out that way in 5 days, with the middle day for climbing and descending Whitney's west side. But, if at all possible, talk your group into an extra day -- for high-altitude acclimating. You never know... someone in your group may need the extra time. Do check into using Diamox starting when you arrive in LV.

There are plenty of things to do and spots to see, if you have that extra day (or more!) You're spending enough to get out here, so add as much time as you can possibly get! People here can suggest highlights to see.

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#52616 - 02/13/18 03:21 PM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Steve C]
Daybreak Offline


Registered: 02/13/18
Posts: 8
Loc: NC
Thanks Steve, it's sounding like we're going to add a day onto the front end of our trip. Even if we end up finishing the hike in 6, we'll still have the option to do more sightseeing like you said. Or on the flip side, not kill ourselves trying to finish on time.

So now the only question is Cottonwood Pass or New Army Pass? Anyone have suggestions on which is a better route? More scenic?
I've read that Cottonwood Pass is a little easier with less elevation gain/drop so I'm leaning toward it.

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#52618 - 02/13/18 09:22 PM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Daybreak]
Goose Offline


Registered: 07/17/16
Posts: 12
Loc: NY
Why not tackle both routes? Hike in over Cottonwood Pass to help everyone acclimate, and then return by way of New Army Pass? That would add some variety and even let you have a crack at Mt. Langley depending on how everyone is doing on the way out.

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#52636 - 02/19/18 04:35 AM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Daybreak]
britonwhit(ney) Offline


Registered: 03/06/14
Posts: 76
Loc: UK
Iíve done cottonwood pass to Whitney and variants thereof a few times. Itís easy trail with gentle grades, but how your body performs at altitude can vary. I lose about 35% power (which I can measure because I run and use a heart rate monitor, and Iím about two thirds of my low altitude trail running pace for a given heart rate when Iím above 10k feet).

Camping depends on what you look for in a site. If itís simply flat ground with space for a tent then youíll almost never have a problem. If you like to camp next to water then thereís potentially some dry stretches.

On the cottonwood pass route, the following have water and flat ground.
1mile just by the old cabin at the head of the meadows
4.5m chicken spring lake
10 soldier lake (if you go that way)
11 lower rock creek lake
11-15 multiple locations on rock creek
16 guyot creek
20.5 lower Crabtree
22 upper Crabtree
24.5 guitar lake
25.5 tarns after guitar lake, and others over next half mile
28 flat spots at Whitney trail junction if thereís snow for water, if not itís dry
30 summit similarly only water if thereís snow.

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#53971 - 07/31/18 08:14 AM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Daybreak]
Daybreak Offline


Registered: 02/13/18
Posts: 8
Loc: NC
Well this is finally coming up and we're just about set on our trip. Lots of thanks to this forum for all the info, I've been reading through the threads, it's really helped us plan everything out. I have a couple more minor questions but i'll give a quick overview of our itinerary.

After flying into Vegas we'll be hitting Grandview Campground near White Mountain for some star gazing. This is at 8k ft elevation.
Pick up permits next day and head to Horseshoe Meadows to camp, or, hike in a couple miles depending on time. Horseshoe Meadow at 10k ft
We then have 6 days to do: Cottonwood pass, to PCT, to JMT, to summit Whitney and then back to Horseshoe Meadow. ~60 mile round trip. Going to play it by ear as far as mileage per day depending on what our bodies are telling us.

On the way back I'm thinking we'll change up the trails and take Rock Creek trail over to Soldier Lake. Then, depending on how we feel and how much time we have, either hike into the Miter basin or, summit Langley.
We'll take New Army pass back through Cottonwood Lakes to our car on the final day. (final day needs to be short as we have to get back to Vegas that night)

So quick questions:
1. Temps? Our plan is to stay at Guitar lake the night before we summit, which would be our highest overnight spot. What can we expect for lows? The Mountain-forecast site and Timberlinetrails site give conflicting temps for 12k feet. MF says lows in low 50's, TLT says lows in upper 30's to lower 40's. The highs are also way off. Big difference in which bag I bring.

2. Water sources? I carry 3L with me always, how is the water flowing this year? I just got back from a 45 mile trip in VA where everything was bone dry from drought, not fun!

3. Can you swim in the lakes?

4. I've read a lot of people get up at 2-4am to start the summit climb. I like the idea of seeing the sunrise from the top, but otherwise we're not in a huge hurry. Is it worth it to avoid afternoon storms this time of year?

5. Diamox? We'll be camping at 8k feet, 10k, ~10-11k, and ~12k on the nights leading up to our summit day. Is Diamox still recommended?

6. GPS maps? Does anyone have recommendations? I use Guthooks for the AT and absolutely love it, but they don't cover all the trails we'll be on for this trip (rock creek, etc) and I'd have to purchase multiple different trails for what we're doing here (PCT section, JMT). I've seen Gaia recommended, worth the purchase price? I'd like to be able to load tracks into it for the side tails on our return trip. Reliability and offline maps being key here.

Thanks for any more details you can provide. I'll also try to provide a trip report when we get back.

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#53974 - 07/31/18 12:43 PM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Daybreak]
Golden Ram Offline


Registered: 05/14/15
Posts: 7
Loc: North Carolina
Hi Daybreak,

As it turns out, I just got back from hiking from Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and out the portal. I am from NC so I can tell you my experience.

We flew into Vegas, spent the night, then drove up to Mammoth for acclimation over the weekend. We then dropped the car at the portal and shuttled over to Horseshoe Meadow, getting started around 11am from the trail head.

Day 1: 4 miles over Cottonwood pass to Chicken Springs Lake. Great hike, and great camping spot. Walkmeter Link: http://walkmeter.com/b12246701af4d093/Walk-20180723-1105

Day 2: Hiked 10 miles to Rock Creek. Easiest day by far, another great camping site along the creek. Walkmeter Link: http://walkmeter.com/b12246701af4d093/Walk-20180724-0815

Day 3: Hiked 6+ miles to Upper Crabtree Meadow. Our original goal was Guitar Lake, but this section was tougher than expected and then a storm came in earlier than expected so we laid low. That climb out of Rock Creek is like some of the steep east coast trails. Walkmeter Link: http://walkmeter.com/b12246701af4d093/Walk-20180725-0744

Day 4: Hiked up to the Whitney junction, arriving around 9:30am. Storm clouds were already forming, so we elected to turn right and head over trail crest. This was made easier as we had already summitted in previous years so we hiked out. Walkmeter Link: http://walkmeter.com/b12246701af4d093/Walk-20180726-0447 (Gap in this one where I forget to turn back on for a short time).

I only kept about 1 - 1.5L of water with me, plenty of water. Summit day, carried 3L but found water above Guitar Lake so carried too much that day.

Swim and enjoy the rivers and lakes, just be downstream of where people are camping, as that is also your water source.

We left about 5am on Day 4 from Upper Crabtree Meadow. Don't get summit fever, watch those storm clouds!

I did not use Diamox, my hiking partner did.

We used GutHook App and paper maps, trail was very easy to follow.

Used the Walkmeter App to track progress, put phone in Airplane mode and used about 20% per day, recharged overnight.

The altitude really gets your heart racing so just watch red-lining too much. Drink plenty and eat plenty especially before you attempt that last climb up to Whitney and high altitude, many lose their appetite, and thus their fuel. Stop and enjoy the sights but get into camp early to avoid storms, it does hail in those thunderstorms.

Good Luck!

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#53975 - 07/31/18 12:57 PM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Daybreak]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7524
Loc: Fresno, CA
> Temps? Our plan is to stay at Guitar lake the night before we summit, which would be our highest overnight spot. What can we expect for lows?

Try using the Mt Whitney Weather page links, especially NOAA. I trust the NOAA site far more than the others. You can click the map to get to different parts (and elevations) for your hike.

For actual temps, look at the Cottonwood Lakes, 7-day Temperatures link on the weather page.

> Can you swim in the lakes?
Yes. I have.

> Is it worth it to avoid afternoon storms this time of year?
Yes. It's not fun to be caught up high in a storm. There is often lightning.

> Is Diamox still recommended?
If I were doing your trip, I'd use it for the first 3 days.

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#53977 - 07/31/18 02:49 PM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Golden Ram]
Daybreak Offline


Registered: 02/13/18
Posts: 8
Loc: NC
GR, great info, thank you! Shame about not being able to summit but good call considering. I'm hoping to get to Guitar lake by the 2nd day so we could spend a 2nd night there if by chance we can't summit because of the weather. Try again the next day.
That's some big miles you did on the last day even without hitting Whitney.

I think with Guthooks i'm more concerned about wanting to go up Langley. If the route up is clear then no problem, but I'm not familiar with the area so didn't want to chance it without GPS. I do have the paper maps as well.

One more thing, how were the bugs!? Mosquitoes in particular, I bring a head net with me on every hike because of them, was hoping I wouldn't have to deal with them out West.

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#53978 - 07/31/18 02:57 PM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Steve C]
Daybreak Offline


Registered: 02/13/18
Posts: 8
Loc: NC
Steve C, those were the links I was using. I'll go with the NOAA site, appears we're looking at lows between 37-44 and highs 56-64 (at 12k). I'll play it safe and bring my winter bag.

And I'll give a call to my Doc tomorrow and ask for a prescription.
Again i'd rather play it safe, this is a big trip to do from the East coast, would hate to get so close and have to turn around.

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#53984 - 07/31/18 08:20 PM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Daybreak]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7524
Loc: Fresno, CA
Bugs should be minimal by August. If you can find a tiny 1 oz container of DEET, that would be all you would need. I have something like that, spray a little on my hand and rub a whole arm with it. Keeps the bugs off for hours.

If you get the Diamox, take a tiny dose: half a 125 mg tablet twice a day. Increase it only if you start feeling symptoms, like low appetite. Some doctors (using old prescription dosage info) prescribe way too much.

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#53988 - 08/01/18 04:49 AM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Steve C]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 1007
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
agree with Steve about using Diamox. Your schedule STARTS above 8,000 ft, the very official medical definition of high altitude. People get AMS at "only" 8,000 ft, they do not need to go to Mt Everest. In a group your size, at least one person is statistically likely to have AMS symptoms to some degree.

I've been to the area many, many times. Lowest August temp I have had at 12,000 camps has been 18F. While 30 is more typical, I use a 20 F bag and glad to have it. In the event of illness, injury, or wet you want more bag, not less.

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#53990 - 08/01/18 10:56 AM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Harvey Lankford]
Golden Ram Offline


Registered: 05/14/15
Posts: 7
Loc: North Carolina
No problem with bugs. Maybe a little around Rock Creek in the evening, but we never had an issue that caused us to run back into our tents. I never applied any bug spray during the whole trip.

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#53998 - 08/02/18 10:52 AM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Steve C]
Daybreak Offline


Registered: 02/13/18
Posts: 8
Loc: NC
I pick up my prescription today, will see what size and dosage they sent. Thanks for the tip Steve.

As for bugs, I've yet to find my equal even when people say mosquitoes and other biters love them, so I hope you guys are right!

Anyone have any personal recommendations on GPS apps for a cell phone? AllTrails, Gaia, etc?

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#53999 - 08/02/18 11:35 AM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Daybreak]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7524
Loc: Fresno, CA
On the rx, sometimes people recommend taking one or two doses at home to find out whether you have any bad side-effects. I've only experience the tingling finger-tips once.

Bugs: Yep, I've seen them go after others and hardly bother me. My daughter for one -- drove her mad.

Mapping app: You don't really need one on that trip. But it's still fun to have, and see exactly where you are during the trip. I have an InReach, so use Earthmate on the iphone ($30/yr without InReach subscription). Unfortunately, my i7 had serious battery problems on a 4-day trip. Airplane mode, shut down ALL apps AND Bluetooth, and it had almost nothing left on day 4. Turned it on only every several hours. This may be an iphone battery issue, though.

Bob Pickering has an Android, using a different App -- Hope he chimes in and names it here. He had 67% battery left after 4 days.


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#54001 - 08/02/18 11:55 AM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Steve C]
psykokid Offline


Registered: 07/28/15
Posts: 56
Loc: Pasadena, CA
* The following is highly dependent on your groups ability *

Instead of going back the way you came in you could go up to Dicovery Pinnacle drop down the sand hill to upper Crabtree Lake then up and over Crabtree Pass into the Miter Basin. Wander down the Miter Basin and then take the use trail down rock creek to the junction and head up to Old Army or New Army passes perhaps hitting Langley if your group feels. The route finding through Miter Basin is pretty straight forward, mostly use trails and path of least resistance to get where you need to go. Cuts off some miles, and takes you through some really stunning areas.

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#54002 - 08/02/18 01:05 PM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: psykokid]
futbol Offline


Registered: 06/27/17
Posts: 41
Loc: San Diego, CA
I got bitten by mosquitoes several times at Cottonwood Lakes after hiking back from Mt Langley in the afternoon via Old Army Pass a few weeks ago. Didn't have repellent so I had to hike faster to try and out pace them.

As for smart phone hiking apps, I use AllTrails on Android. Recommend pro version because you can download maps and keep them on your phone. I got the lifetime version for $99.

If cell phone battery life is a problem, you could bring a power brick with you to recharge it at night, but that is a little more weight.

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#54003 - 08/02/18 01:47 PM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: futbol]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7524
Loc: Fresno, CA
> If cell phone battery life is a problem, you could bring a power brick with you to recharge it at night, but that is a little more weight.

Ya, did that. But used it on my InReach SE first, and it sucked the brick empty :-( ...lesson learned!

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#54004 - 08/02/18 02:38 PM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Steve C]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 1007
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
Tom Harrison maps still work just fine! It is all I have ever needed.

for the Langley/Miter/Cottonwood/Whitney area you are considering, get this
Mt Whitney High Country

unfortunately it does not include all of the Horsehoe Meadows /Cottonwood trailhead details for your day one, so get this on just for the top right hand corner:

Golden Trout Wilderness

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#54006 - 08/02/18 03:47 PM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: futbol]
bobpickering Offline


Registered: 02/07/10
Posts: 349
Loc: Reno, Nevada
I paid $8 for Backcountry Navigator Pro. It takes a little effort to learn to use it, but itís perfect for me. You can download CalTopo maps free. You can also download .GPX files (created on CalTopo or elsewhere). Then you turn off Bluetooth and select airplane mode (to save battery) and start hiking. Iím very careful to turn it off when I donít need it, and I still had 67% battery left after four days.

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