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Permit question for backpacking
#58305 01/30/21 03:34 PM
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I can't seem to wrap my head around the permit process for requesting an overnight permit and could really use some help. We would like to stay at least one night at Trail Camp before attempting the summit and then back to Trail Camp or possibly first night at Outpost Camp, then next night at Trail Camp, summit and one final night at Trail Camp. So basically two to three nights. Does that affect our chances for getting a permit if we are requesting multiple nights?I realize it's more difficult to get an overnight permit versus a day hike in the lottery but we feel the additional time and acclimation will be helpful. Any advice would be truly appreciated.

Re: Permit question for backpacking
JMV #58306 01/30/21 08:15 PM
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As you apparently already know, you need to enter the lottery if you are entering the Whitney Zone during quota season. An overnight permit for the main trail allows you to camp wherever you want for as long as you want. They ask for your planned campsites when you apply, but that doesn’t affect your chances in the lottery. And there are no consequences for changing your plans once you start up.

Re: Permit question for backpacking
bobpickering #58307 01/30/21 09:24 PM
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Thank you, I would rather add a little padding in case we decide to take it slower going up to acclimate. I'm coming from Charleston, SC so I'm at sea level and I'm going to try to get there early to do more acclimation hikes about a week ahead but trying to think of way to increase my chances against AMS

Last edited by JMV; 01/30/21 09:27 PM.
Re: Permit question for backpacking
JMV #58313 02/01/21 12:25 AM
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To underscore: bobpickering is right -- Your number of nights makes NO difference in your chances in the lottery. In fact, you can add nights or drop nights even after starting the hike, it does not matter. The only thing that matters is that you have a permit, and that you start your hike on the date stated on the permit.

There are other places you can go to acclimate before your hike: Horseshoe Meadows, Onion Valley, Mammoth. All of those will put you at or above 9k elevation, and if you spend several days and nights there, you will be good for the Whitney hike.

Good luck in the lottery!!

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Re: Permit question for backpacking
bobpickering #58355 02/27/21 02:05 PM
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Does this — needing to go through the lottery — apply for a west-side approach, summiting Whitney via, say, Cottonwood Pass?

Last edited by Rico Borchia; 02/27/21 02:06 PM.
Re: Permit question for backpacking
Rico Borchia #58356 02/27/21 03:49 PM
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Rico, the lottery is ONLY for people using the Mt Whitney Main Trail, starting at Whitney Portal.

Cottonwood Pass and Cottonwood Lakes (and even Kearsarge Pass from Onion Valley) are all on a quota system, where 60% of the permits become available at 7 AM 6 months before the hike start date. The remaining 40% become available 2 weeks before the start date (not sure if it is 7 AM, or at a random time that morning). The 40% are supposed to be "walk-in" availability, which before COVID was the case -- they became available only to walk-in requests at 11 AM the day before the start.

Lately, those permits coming available at 7 AM are gone in seconds, due to their high demand. They are all handled via Recreation.gov.

Re: Permit question for backpacking
Steve C #58357 02/27/21 05:27 PM
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Thanks for the reply. That's what I thought, and so it would seem that the statement above, "you need to enter the lottery if you are entering the Whitney Zone during quota season," needs to have "if you're using the Main Whitney Trail" added to be correct.

I asked about Cottonwood Pass because, while there's no quota for it before 6/25 but one still needs a permit to enter that way, recreation.gov does not let one get a permit for it before 6/25; starting on 6/25 all dates just say "W" (walk-up). Neither the page for the Pass on the Forest Service website nor the one on recreation.gov say anything about permits for the Pass not being available. I know the Pass was closed during fire season last year, and there's still a zone that's off limits (https://www.nps.gov/maps/full.html?mapId=1a3dabe6-06e2-4766-ac55-a7d41b37ea14), but the Pass and the PCT going north from there are outside that zone, so I don't know why I can't get a permit.


Originally Posted by Steve C
Rico, the lottery is ONLY for people using the Mt Whitney Main Trail, starting at Whitney Portal.
Cottonwood Pass and Cottonwood Lakes (and even Kearsarge Pass from Onion Valley) are all on a quota system, where 60% of the permits become available at 7 AM 6 months before the hike start date. The remaining 40% become available 2 weeks before the start date (not sure if it is 7 AM, or at a random time that morning). The 40% are supposed to be "walk-in" availability, which before COVID was the case -- they became available only to walk-in requests at 11 AM the day before the start.

Lately, those permits coming available at 7 AM are gone in seconds, due to their high demand. They are all handled via Recreation.gov.

Re: Permit question for backpacking
Rico Borchia #58358 02/27/21 07:27 PM
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The tricky part about getting those Cottonwood Pass (or other similar trail heads) via Recreation.gov is that they are VERY popular and seem even more so this year. I'm sure that is likely due to pent up demand from so many who had to cancel plans last summer. Regardless, each day new permits are coming online for six months out, but in my experience monitoring, they are mostly gone within 2-3 minutes for popular trail heads that provide a relatively easy access to Whitney from the West. If you get online at the right time each morning and start refreshing as the moment arrives, you have a decent chance. Otherwise, you try again the next day or hope for something when it is time to release the "walk up" portion of the permit inventory.

Good luck!

Re: Permit question for backpacking
Jammer #58359 02/27/21 11:00 PM
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Rico, like Jammer wrote, those permits are gone in minutes, if not seconds. When they are gone, the W shows up, meaning the remaining 40% are available as "walk-up" availability. This year, it means online, 2 weeks ahead of the start date.

Look at Cottonwood Pass for 8/26/2021. You will see the W's and a blank on future days. Check at 7 AM, and you will see some available for the next day, but used up quickly. You have to keep refreshing the numbers. (Not sure if this works: clicking "Prev 5 Days", then "Next 5 Days" may refresh).

Re: Permit question for backpacking
Steve C #58362 02/28/21 09:27 AM
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Forgive me for not explaining better: For the Cottonwood Pass trailhead, unlike, say, the one for Cottonwood Lakes, prior to 6/25, i.e. the non-quota period, there is no W for any of those days. There's also no # sign (which means Available or Unavailable depending on the background color), no number, nothing. It's as if the trailhead is simply closed until 6/25 (which is why I mentioned the nearby fire-related closure area, although Cottonwood Pass is NOT in it). I'll call the permit help line tomorrow and see what they say about that.

Re: Permit question for backpacking
Rico Borchia #58363 02/28/21 04:10 PM
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> For the Cottonwood Pass trailhead, unlike, say, the one for Cottonwood Lakes, prior to 6/25, i.e. the non-quota period, there is no W for any of those days.

Ah, that is different. Calling the Wilderness Permit number (760-873-2483) is the right way to go. They may just issue you a permit! Please report back what you find out.

Re: Permit question for backpacking
Rico Borchia #58365 03/01/21 07:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Rico Borchia
.
Forgive me for not explaining better: For the Cottonwood Pass trailhead, unlike, say, the one for Cottonwood Lakes, prior to 6/25, i.e. the non-quota period, there is no W for any of those days. There's also no # sign (which means Available or Unavailable depending on the background color), no number, nothing. It's as if the trailhead is simply closed until 6/25 (which is why I mentioned the nearby fire-related closure area, although Cottonwood Pass is NOT in it). I'll call the permit help line tomorrow and see what they say about that.

Not sure if this will help. According to the https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/inyo/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=20896 and https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/inyo/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=20812

Permits are required for Cottonwood Lakes from -
Quote
Between May 1 and Nov. 1, overnight use is limited to 60 people / day.

For Cottonwood Pass, it's -
Quote
From the last Friday in June to September 15, overnight use is limited by daily entry quotas.

Re: Permit question for backpacking
MikeH #58366 03/01/21 10:25 AM
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Hello everyone.

Just clarifying, because I don't see it mentioned (and I may have missed it because the pandemic is stripping me of my ability to read), hikers approaching from the west need to descend to the west unless they obtain a permit that specifies "Overnight Exiting Mt. Whitney" which is itself subject to a quota.

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Re: Permit question for backpacking
Steve C #58367 03/01/21 12:07 PM
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I just had a nice chat with Cindy on the permit number. For trailheads like Cottonwood Pass (and many others), there's no way to get a permit via recreation.gov because there's a locked gate involved or some other access difficulty that they want people to know about before booking. So if, for example, you want to go over Cottonwood Pass and are willing to deal with the 14 miles of road above the gate to get to the road's end, you can call them and convince them you're up for it (you're going to walk or bike the distance) and they'll give you a permit. (Steve's right!) Once the road opens, they put recreation.gov back in its normal mode.

As others here have said, there's a software enhancement in the works to make this whole process more automated, so that with an edit to a file containing trailhead-specific info (accessibility, quotas, etc.), what's visible on recreation.gov automatically changes to match that file. Now it apparently takes a non-trivial amount of manual editing in multiple places that doesn't always get done quickly or accurately.

I asked why there was no explicit description of road closures on the forest service web pages (e.g. https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/inyo/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=20812) or recreation.gov, and she said that a lot of people have edit-access to those alerts, and while there recently was a long list of road closures visible (I think she meant on recreation.gov), somebody decided it was too long and complicated and the list was replaced with a generic warning of "Check road closures and weather forecast before choosing a trip...." (In particular, those higher up the chain, the more "federal" people involved, as it were, sometimes make changes and those on the ground, in, say, California, aren't warned the changes are coming and just have to deal with the result.) She seemed to think that the upcoming software changes might help in that regard, but given how many people are involved, it's probably good to keep pursuing that road/access info elsewhere.

Cindy also said that the informal chatter around the office is that it probably won't be until late Summer that offices start to open and literal walk-ins begin again.

Finally, I asked her if there was anything I should broadcast about the whole permit process, and she said that one common problem is people are simply wrong about which trailheads lead to what destinations, so that if you get a permit to go to, say, Tyndall Creek (which I guess would be via Shepherd Pass), it's not going to give you easy access to Mt. Whitney. (Apparently someone recently suffered under that belief.)

More as it comes in...
Cheers, Rico

Originally Posted by Steve C
> For the Cottonwood Pass trailhead, unlike, say, the one for Cottonwood Lakes, prior to 6/25, i.e. the non-quota period, there is no W for any of those days.

Ah, that is different. Calling the Wilderness Permit number (760-873-2483) is the right way to go. They may just issue you a permit! Please report back what you find out.

Re: Permit question for backpacking
Rico Borchia #58368 03/01/21 05:18 PM
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Rico, thanks for the update and staying on top of this.

Back in 2014, the road up to Horseshoe Meadows opened up around April 28, I drove up on May 3 and got a walkin permit for Trail Pass. It definitely was deserted, but much enjoyable.

In most years, the road is open by Memorial Weekend, and sometime open to the last gate which is about a quarter mile from the Trailhead. I believe 2011 the road wasn't open until July, but then again, a very heavy snow year.

This year is turning into a disaster as for snow, so unless something drastic happens, the road should be open by mid-May. But, things can change.

paul

Re: Permit question for backpacking
Paul #58378 03/15/21 10:43 AM
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Probably more detail than you need, but...
I had one more chat with Cindy on the permit line this morning. I was curious about why I can currently book a permit for the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead via recreation.gov for May but not for Cottonwood Pass (my preferred access to a Whitney west side approach). Answer: Because Cottonwood Pass is non-quota prior to 6/25 (annually the last Friday in June), there's no reason to "pre-reserve" a permit for any day during, say, May 1-June 24. Once Horseshoe Meadow Road is open (which seems likely to be well before Memorial Day this year - just my guess), permits for the Pass will be available via the website, so outside of its quota period one only needs to reserve one in time to get it via email.

When I commented that the passes for Cottonwood Lakes seem to have been snapped up to a surprising extent already for the summer, she said that permit reservations overall, including those given by entities other than Inyo NF, are running about triple those of a typical year (due presumably to all the covid-lock-down pent-up demand/cabin fever out there).

For those who fish: Fishing at Cottonwood Lakes #s 1-4, previously forbidden until July, is this year only allowed from Sept. 1 - Nov. 30 (see https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=190456&inline).

As for the weather, she said it snowed in Bishop (where she is) the last two days (3/13-14), but it was too warm there to stick at that elevation. Accumulation seemed to be well above 9,000 feet, so unless there's another significant dump soon, it could be an exceptionally low snow year (which you probably already knew). The official annual snow report happens on 4/1, and the people who take the measurements are busy at it as I type this. It's Inyo County that decides when to open the road, and while the counties are usually eager to open things up for the "Fishmas" start of the fishing season in the Eastern Sierra (4/24), Horseshoe Meadow Road is typically the last one Inyo County opens.

See you on the trail — Rico

Originally Posted by Paul
Rico, thanks for the update and staying on top of this.

Back in 2014, the road up to Horseshoe Meadows opened up around April 28, I drove up on May 3 and got a walkin permit for Trail Pass. It definitely was deserted, but much enjoyable.

In most years, the road is open by Memorial Weekend, and sometime open to the last gate which is about a quarter mile from the Trailhead. I believe 2011 the road wasn't open until July, but then again, a very heavy snow year.

This year is turning into a disaster as for snow, so unless something drastic happens, the road should be open by mid-May. But, things can change.

paul

Last edited by Rico Borchia; 03/15/21 11:06 AM.
Re: Permit question for backpacking
Rico Borchia #58379 03/15/21 05:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Rico Borchia
...
Probably more detail than you need, but...

...
For those who fish: Fishing at Cottonwood Lakes #s 1-4, previously forbidden until July, is this year only allowed from Sept. 1 - Nov. 30 (see https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=190456&inline).
...

Actually, as far as fishing regulations are concerned, most of the changes were left out above.

For the areas readily accessed from Horseshoe Meadow in the Kern and Owens drainages, from the current regs table 7.50:

7.50 (b) ALPHABETICAL LIST OF TROUT WATERS WITH SPECIAL FISHING REGULATIONS
...
(32) Cottonwood Creek and all tributaries upstream from the confluence of the main stem Cottonwood Creek and Little Cottonwood Creek,
including the unnamed tributaries flowing through Horseshoe Meadow (Inyo Co.).
All year.
Only artificial lures may be used.
2 trout

(33A) Cottonwood Lakes 1, 2, 3 and 4 and their tributaries (Inyo Co.).
Sep. 1 through Nov. 30. Only artificial lures may be used.
Minimum size limit: 14 inches total length.
2 trout

(33B) All remaining Cottonwood Creek drainage lakes.
All year.
Only artificial lures may be used.
2 trout
...
(51) Golden Trout Wilderness Area (Tulare
Co.), excluding the main stem Kern River (see
subsection 7.50(b)(69), and the Tule River
drainage (See subsection 7.50(b) (154)).
All year.
Only artificial lures may be used.
2 trout


A lot has changed in the regs in a convoluted attempt to protect the fish where necessary and allowing greater access to fishing where possible. Check the current rules for your favorite areas before you go!

Dale B. Dalrymple


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