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#55987 - 08/14/19 12:51 PM Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 64
Loc: Escondido, CA
Hi all,

Call this my redemption hike. I turned back at Trail Camp last year. Figure I'll take the long(er) way to Whitney with the hopes of having more time to acclimate and experience more of the area.

Need a bit of help planning. I'm hoping to be back to my car on the 6th day. Thought I'd post here to get the combined experience of those more knowledgeable.

Planning to do this mid-September. There are permits now, but who knows how long that will last.

Tentative Itinerary:

Day 0- Stay at Cottonwood Pass Trailhead (Need permit to camp?)

Day 1- Hike to Rock Creek (or Rock Creek Lake? < Can't find that on my NatGeo map)

Day 2- Hike to Guitar Lake

Day 3- Summit and back to GL (plan all day for summit trip? Or, if all goes well, maybe hike to Crabtree Meadows just to camp somewhere different?)

Day 4- Hike to Lower Soldier Lake

Day 5-6- Hike back to trailhead over New Army Pass (where to stay night 5?)

Options: Take longer to get to Guitar Lake and come back the same way.


Edited by MikeH (08/14/19 12:52 PM)

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#55990 - 08/14/19 02:11 PM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: MikeH]
SBanks Offline


Registered: 08/02/19
Posts: 2
Loc: USA
In July, I did pretty much the same trip that you're thinking of doing. I had a 6 day permit, to allow for maybe needing an extra day due to altitude or whatever, although I planned the actual hiking portion of the trip for 5 days. Here's what I did:

Day -1: Camped at Whitney Portal after traveling all day to get from New England to Lone Pine.

Day 0: Got permit, last minute shopping, picked up box of gear at Post Office, etc. in Lone Pine and camped at Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead. No permit needed, but there is a self-registration drop box with envelopes for the fee.

Day 1: Hiked to Rock Creek

Day 2: Hiked to Crabtree Meadows

Day 3: Summit and back to Crabtree Meadows

Day 4: Hiked from Crabtree Meadows to near the Siberian Pass/New Army Pass Trail junction.

Day 5: Hiked back out over New Army Pass to car.

I definitely had a shorter day on Day 2, and could have gone up to Guitar Lake or higher. Since I was coming back the same way and not exiting down to Whitney Portal, it really didn't matter and saved me from hauling gear some extra miles. I was also able to relax more before summit day.

The only problem I had with acclimating was the loss of appetite. I was aware of that, so I just made sure I was eating regularly.

There are lots of different ways to divide up this hike and many places to camp depending on how you are feeling/weather/etc.

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#55991 - 08/14/19 03:04 PM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: SBanks]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 64
Loc: Escondido, CA
Excellent information. Thanks.

I thought about staying at Whitney Portal for a night before heading up to Cottonwood, too.

All the best.

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#55992 - 08/14/19 05:20 PM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: MikeH]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 64
Loc: Escondido, CA
I've read some information that there are bear boxes along this trail. Is this true?

Might save me from buying/ renting a larger bear can if I could carry my extra food in a bag to store in a bear box to pick up/ resupply on the way back.

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#55993 - 08/14/19 05:41 PM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: MikeH]
G4u2 Offline


Registered: 08/03/17
Posts: 31
Loc: San Diego, CA
The only bear boxes I remember on this part of the trail is one a little north of Soldier Lake on the Army Pass trail, one at Rock Creek and one at Crabtree Meadows. There are none between Crabtree and the Submit.


Edited by G4u2 (08/14/19 05:42 PM)

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#55997 - 08/14/19 08:06 PM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: G4u2]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 64
Loc: Escondido, CA
Thanks. Rock Creek would work well if that ends up being my first camp. I would carry all 6 days worth of food but only until then. Drop a three days worth off and pick it up on the way back... assuming it's still there when I get there I suppose.

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#56138 - 08/29/19 12:13 PM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: MikeH]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 64
Loc: Escondido, CA
Originally Posted By: MikeH
Thanks. Rock Creek would work well if that ends up being my first camp. I would carry all 6 days worth of food but only until then. Drop three days worth off and pick it up on the way back... assuming it's still there when I get there I suppose.


Quoting myself since I found some information. I read on one of the sites that "Caching" is not allowed in bear boxes.

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#56143 - 08/29/19 05:58 PM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: MikeH]
bobpickering Offline


Registered: 02/07/10
Posts: 460
Loc: Reno, Nevada
You can find bear box information here. However, it may not be up to date.


Edited by bobpickering (08/29/19 06:01 PM)

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#56146 - 08/30/19 11:48 AM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: bobpickering]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 64
Loc: Escondido, CA
Originally Posted By: bobpickering
You can find bear box information here. However, it may not be up to date.


Great resource. Thanks Bob.

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#56147 - 08/30/19 11:59 AM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: MikeH]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 64
Loc: Escondido, CA
Thinking about the return part of my trip.

I will be camped at Guitar Lake before going up to Mt Whitney. Depending on how that goes, after coming back down, I'll either stay another night at GL or pack up and go to Crabtree Meadows just to camp somewhere different.

From there I will go to Lower Soldier Lake for my next camp.

Noticed on Caltopo the trail going up to Crabtree Pass and down to Sky Blue Lake. Appears to be called Route 10 in a Whitney book I saw online.

Thought this would be a interesting way to go. From what I've found, there are really no surprises going this way- other than a bit of route finding coming down from the pass and getting over to Sky Blue Lake.

I've never had to do any route finding, but looking at the map, it doesn't appear to be much of an issue.

I figured I'd post here in case anyone has been there recently (or ever) and wouldn't mind offering their experience.

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#56155 - 08/30/19 09:33 PM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: MikeH]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7952
Loc: Fresno, CA
Mike H, the Crabtree Lakes route is fun. I went through there two years ago, coming from Horseshoe Meadow. Having a gps unit might help find the start of the trail. Last trace of the trail around Crabtree Meadow is here:
https://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=36.5571,-118.3504&z=20&b=sat&o=mbt&n=0
In the dry sandy area. All the meadow vegetation has wiped out any trace. Once you find that starting trail it is pretty easy to follow. Middle lake has a great sandy beach. Perfect swimming (or camping) spot.

Due to the bare granite, it really doesn't exist between the middle and upper lake. I descended the west side of Crabtree Pass. I don't recall anything bad. It will be your steepest climb, maybe third class.

I climbed the slope west of the middle Soldier Lk (36.5055, -118.2707), and then walked the contour until I hit Rock Creek. But that was because I climbed Langley, and then descended to the upper, then middle lake.

It's a pretty area. You should do it!!
P.S. If you haul your gear up to Trail Crest, you could descend directly to the upper lake from Discovery Pinnacle. The sand would make a fun descent, but you would miss the Crabtree Lakes experience.

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#56156 - 08/31/19 07:07 AM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: Steve C]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 64
Loc: Escondido, CA
Thanks Steve.

I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a little intimated by doing this, but I also would love to make this trip as much of an adventure as I can- safely of course. I will have multiple GPS devices (phone, watch and InReach) with courses mapped as well as printed maps.

Looking through the maps and reports, I also thought it might be fun to go down the "Dreaded Sand Hill" to the upper Crabtree Lake. Would save some mileage by not going back down to Guitar Lake etc and I could camp around Sky Blue Lake.

Only thing I'm a little worried about is the climb up over Crabtree Pass (looks daunting in pictures)- especially after doing Whitney. Although I read one report from someone who camped at the upper lake, so perhaps I could do that and climb the pass, fresh, in the morning.

Might all hinge on whether I want to haul my gear up to Trail Crest. smile

Thanks for your insight.

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#56157 - 08/31/19 09:21 AM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: MikeH]
Jonathan C Offline


Registered: 03/03/19
Posts: 45
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Lots of useful photos in this thread: http://www.whitneyzone.com/wz/ubbthreads.php/topics/45940

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#56158 - 08/31/19 09:29 AM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: MikeH]
Jonathan C Offline


Registered: 03/03/19
Posts: 45
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
If all goes well I'll be doing Cottonwood Pass to Whitney next weekend as well. Also planning to get to Rock Creek for the first night. Any opinions on taking the PCT all the way to Rock Creek vs. turning north at Siberian Pass Junction towards Soldier Lake and then along Rock Creek as if coming from NAP? I could swear I read somewhere that it's a nicer route. Appears to be only about 0.5 miles longer (5 vs 4.5).

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#56161 - 08/31/19 11:34 AM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: Jonathan C]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 64
Loc: Escondido, CA
Haven't done any research on that option, but, if you are coming back that way, you could take one way going and the other way coming back.

Have fun.

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#56162 - 08/31/19 11:36 AM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: Jonathan C]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 64
Loc: Escondido, CA
Originally Posted By: Jonathan C
Lots of useful photos in this thread: http://www.whitneyzone.com/wz/ubbthreads.php/topics/45940


Thanks. Saw that thread too. Lots of good info.

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#56167 - 09/01/19 08:55 AM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: Jonathan C]
britonwhit(ney) Offline


Registered: 03/06/14
Posts: 81
Loc: UK
I've done both. The route via the Siberian pass junction and Rock Creek trail is _much_ nicer than the PCT. The PCT isn't bad and has some more expansive views to the South and West, but Rock Creek is a really beautiful hike with plenty of water, some very good camping, and another couple of lakes to swim in.

It also gives you the option of stopping 3 miles early at rock creek lake where there is (or at least, was 2 yrs ago!) a bear box and decent camping, very under-used.

I'm not even sure if it's as much as 0.5 miles longer, but even if it is, the scenery will easily distract you from the extra distance :-)

For anyone going up Whitney, I strongly suggest moving beyond the horrendously over-used Guitar Lake. What I always do, ascending from the West, is to cook dinner at a nice spring about 0.5-1 mile after Guitar, and then head up to the spectacular sites just below the junction of the JMT and Whitney trail. Although dry (absent snowmelt), these sites are stunning, and put you well ahead of any crowds the next morning.

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#56172 - 09/01/19 03:28 PM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: britonwhit(ney)]
MikeH Offline


Registered: 04/05/18
Posts: 64
Loc: Escondido, CA
Originally Posted By: britonwhit(ney)

For anyone going up Whitney, I strongly suggest moving beyond the horrendously over-used Guitar Lake. What I always do, ascending from the West, is to cook dinner at a nice spring about 0.5-1 mile after Guitar, and then head up to the spectacular sites just below the junction of the JMT and Whitney trail. Although dry (absent snowmelt), these sites are stunning, and put you well ahead of any crowds the next morning.


Thanks Britonwhit(ney)- That was my plan. like! Are these up by the tarns above Guitar Lake I've heard about?

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#56174 - 09/01/19 08:54 PM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: britonwhit(ney)]
Jonathan C Offline


Registered: 03/03/19
Posts: 45
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Originally Posted By: britonwhit(ney)
I've done both. The route via the Siberian pass junction and Rock Creek trail is _much_ nicer than the PCT. The PCT isn't bad and has some more expansive views to the South and West, but Rock Creek is a really beautiful hike with plenty of water, some very good camping, and another couple of lakes to swim in.

Thanks a ton for this, very useful.

I'm doing a one-way trip so can't do both.


Edited by Jonathan C (09/01/19 08:55 PM)

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#56179 - 09/02/19 12:09 AM Re: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney and back [Re: MikeH]
britonwhit(ney) Offline


Registered: 03/06/14
Posts: 81
Loc: UK
Originally Posted By: MikeH
Thanks Britonwhit(ney)- That was my plan. like! Are these up by the tarns above Guitar Lake I've heard about?


Hi Mike
No, these are quite a lot further on (about 2 miles more). The tarns are less over-used than guitar, but nothing like as spectacular as this place (centre of view I hope):
Google maps camp

Basically, you continue up the JMT until about 500ft before it connects with the Whitney trail. These camping spots are slightly above the JMT, so much easier to see from above than in ascent. If you get to the Whitney trail junction you've gone too far, but turn around and you'll see the sites. If you drag the little person icon onto this google map, and position it on a spot just above the junction, you can look round and see the camping spots.

I've always (even in a dry year) found a good spring at this point, a bit beyond beyond the tarns. Hopefully centre frame as well:
Google maps spring

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