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Redemption: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney loop
#59261 09/06/21 09:57 AM
Joined: Apr 2018
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MikeH Offline OP
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This trip was 3 years in the making.... The hiking gods were shining on me this time as the timing worked out just right.

Planned for a 6 day backpacking trip starting and ending at Cottonwood Pass going up to Whitney, down to Crabtree Lake, up and over the pass and down Miter Basin. Turned into a 4 day for a couple reasons. Had to change routes part of the way through and decided to plow through the 20 mile last day. Weather was great. A little hot during the day but not too bad. Lowest overnight temp was the last day. 36 degrees. With the closure and fires, there were very few people. Almost all the ones I did see were JMT/ PCT hikers.

I spent Sunday day/ night in the portal and then Monday day/ night at Horseshoe Meadow to acclimate. Started my hike on Tuesday. Lucky I didn’t reserve the permit for a day later or the trail would have been closed.

Day 1-

Hiked to Lower Rock Creek Camp. Love that camp. 14 miles. Met Ranger Matt who confirmed the national forests were closing that night, but since I was already in, I was good.

Day 2-

Hiked to the tarns above Guitar Lake. 11 miles. Shorter, but harder hike than trailhead to Rock Creek. It’s… all…. uphill. First time for me past Rock Creek. Very cool back there. National Forest (Park?) Service members cleaning up the trail leading up to Guitar Lake.

Day 3-

Summited Whitney (YAY! FINALLY!) and headed back to Trail Crest to make my way to Crabtree Lake. The plan was to go over Discovery pass via one of two ways- neither of which did I find much information about in my research: Scramble up to Discovery Pinnacle or hike down the first switchback down the Whitney Trail to a trace trail before the first left turn. I looked up at Discovery Pinnacle and didn’t think I wanted to try climbing that hill. Found what I thought was the “trace trail” down the switchback. I ended up climbing the steep boulder/ block/ scree slope and, with a heavy backpack, I was past my comfort zone.

Got to the top of the pass and found the basin and made my way down to upper- upper? Crabtree Lake. Very cool. Going down the "dreaded sandhill" was a pain, but not too horrible. I can't imagine imaging going UP that thing. Crazy.

Took a look at where I had planned to go - up and over Crabtree Pass but decided my nerves were shot from climbing up and over Discovery Pass. Since I hike solo, I'm very risk averse. Didn't see a reason to chance fate going up and over Crabtree Pass this trip. Soaked my feet, ate some lunch and used my “Plan B”. I had multiple "exit plans" for this trip. Decided to use one.

Headed down Crabtree Basin. No trail, but essentially you just head down the basin any way you think looks right. If I got to a point that didn't get me down, I backed up and found a bette way. At some point, GaiaGPS (the app I use) showed a trail so I followed it and found the actual trail that got me back to Crabtree Meadows.

Spent the night by the river crossing at Crabtree Meadow. Such a cool place to camp. Saw a group of 4 or 5 bucks in the meadow in the morning. Amazing image with the mist coming off the grass etc.

Day 4-

20 miles back to the car. 1 day… 2 days? There really isn’t anything with water half way back. Rock Creek is about 5.5 miles. That’s too short of a day. Chicken Spring Lake is 16 miles… I could stop there, but then I’m only 4 miles from the car…. figured I’d just hike and see what happened. Did the whole 20 miles and got back to the car. Met up with a PCT hiker who asked if I could give him a ride into town, so I dropped him off, gassed up, got a burger and headed home.

58 miles total. About 10,500ft ascent elevation.

Good times…. time to recuperate.

A few pics:

Rock Creek Camp: Loved this spot.

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Trail Crew was working on this section. Amazing work they do in less-than-ideal conditions:

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Camp at tarns above Guitar Lake:

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On the way to the summit in the morning looking back at where I came from:

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Goofy summit pic:

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Re: Redemption: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney loop
MikeH #59262 09/06/21 10:08 AM
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MikeH Offline OP
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Looking up at Discovery Pinnacle:

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Top of Discovery Pass:

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Looking back up from where I came:

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Upper Crabtree Lake. Very cool.

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Looking Down Crabtree Basin:

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A lake with a beach!!

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Made it down to Crabree Meadow. Camp for the night:

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In the morning:

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Nothing like a climb first thing in the morning. smile

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Back at the car:

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Re: Redemption: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney loop
MikeH #59263 09/06/21 09:20 PM
Joined: Sep 2009
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Great report, thanks! Really good pictures, too.

A few years ago, I came up from the second Crabtree Lake to Discovery Pinnacle. It was before I had a phone with map & GPS, and climbed too high too fast, but it all worked out. Descending to the trail from Discovery Pinnacle didn't seem very far -- but I was descending.

Re: Redemption: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney loop
Steve C #59264 09/07/21 07:11 AM
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MikeH Offline OP
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Originally Posted by Steve C
Great report, thanks! Really good pictures, too.

A few years ago, I came up from the second Crabtree Lake to Discovery Pinnacle. It was before I had a phone with map & GPS, and climbed too high too fast, but it all worked out. Descending to the trail from Discovery Pinnacle didn't seem very far -- but I was descending.

Thanks Steve. My inexperience in climbing that type of surface showed for sure. The other issue was that, going up what I thought was the trace trail, I went too far left (looking up) and ended up with a very steep drop below me. From the comfort of my couch now, it all seems "not that bad". But was sure a bit scary at the time. smile

Re: Redemption: Cottonwood Pass to Whitney loop
MikeH #59265 09/07/21 12:01 PM
Joined: Aug 2011
Posts: 565
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Posts: 565
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I'm very glad you got to take your trip before the closure. Congrats on reaching the summit too!

Thanks for sharing your report and pictures as well.


@jjoshuagregory (Twitter & Instagram) for mainly landscape and mountain photos

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