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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: 2
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: 7263
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: 2
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: 8
Loc: CA
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 - Yesterday at 04:35 AM Re: Cottonwood to Whitney advice for a high altitude newbie. [Re: Daybreak]
britonwhit(ney) Offline


Registered: 03/06/14
Posts: 63
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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