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Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

14ers in California and Washington state or any other peak in the USA
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Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

Postby jsdratm » Thu Aug 02, 2012 11:37 am

I'm doing this route starting next Saturday, except our group is returning to Cottonwood Lakes after the summit, instead of ending at Whitney Portal: http://www.summitpost.org/cottonwood-lakes-route/208974

It will be 6 days and about 50 miles RT. Has anyone done this route before? How bad is it going up to the summit ridge using the John Muir Trail from the west side? I've never hiked in California, but I've done 10x 14ers here in Colorado.
Last edited by jsdratm on Thu Aug 02, 2012 2:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

Postby spiderman » Thu Aug 02, 2012 12:48 pm

The only difficulty that you will run into will be bears trying to get your food at night. The weather in August should be fantastic. It might be difficult for you to acclimate to the lack of afternoon thunderstorms and constantly not looking at your watch to see if you are getting too close to the not-dreaded noon hour. The trails in that region are like highways: most graded for horses and well maintained. California is designed for fun, relaxing backpacking and 8-10 miles per day will go by quite quickly if you take advantage of the lightweight gear that is now available. The trip has changed so much since my "old" Boyscout days when our packs weighed 50-60lbs at the beginning of treks. I hear of people carrying less than 20lbs when they start their 6 day backpacking trips, and end up with a pack so light that they don't even notice it on their shoulders. The weight that you are carrying will make all of the difference between lots of fun and seemingly endless walking.

I assume that you have the appropriate permit... I haven't kept up with the rules of coming out Whitney Portal; do you need a Whitney permit now for this route?

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Re: Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

Postby bj » Thu Aug 02, 2012 1:19 pm

You should be able to bag 2 more 14'ers on the trip; Langley and Muir. Langley will take you a few hours and Muir will be under 2 hours off your route.
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Re: Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

Postby MtHurd » Thu Aug 02, 2012 1:40 pm


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Re: Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

Postby bj » Thu Aug 02, 2012 1:57 pm

Barry Raven wrote:This guy did 13 peaks in one day.

http://www.summitpost.org/whitney-basin-traverse-13-peaks-in-a-day/800052


Rick is not a "guy" he's a freaking superman! The strongest of the strong hikers.
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Re: Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

Postby 14erFred » Thu Aug 02, 2012 2:33 pm

I've hiked the loop from Horseshoe Meadow/Cottonwood Lakes to the Whitney Portal twice (in 1981 and 2007), albeit in the (S-->N) direction opposite to that you intend to travel. I second bj's recommendation of adding Mts. Muir and Langley to your agenda (I'd climb class 3-4 Muir first and then class 1 Whitney). When climbing Muir and Whitney, you could also easily climb class 2 Keeler Needle (14,160 ft.)--the first pinnacle south of the summit of Whitney--from the Mt. Whitney trail. Keeler has an outrageously wild summit, inconceivably small and airy, with 1500-foot drops on three sides. I recommend taking the New Army Pass route to the Cottonwood Lakes area, as opposed to the Cottonwood Pass/PCT route, because the former allows easy access the class 2 south side of Mt. Langley. Given your six-day itinerary, I recommend camping at Trail Camp (Day 1); climbing Muir, Whitney, and Keeler needle and camping at Guitar Lake (Day 2); camping at Rock Creek (Day 3); camping just north of the northernmost switchback below New Army Pass (Day 4); climbing Langley by accessing the plateau south of the summit from the gully NE of camp (Day 5); and finally crossing New Army Pass and exiting Horseshoe Meadow (Day 6). I wish you all the best with this fun and rewarding adventure!
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Re: Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

Postby dmdoug » Thu Aug 02, 2012 6:22 pm

I'm doing a similar hike in 3 weeks but starting at Onion Valley and ending at Horseshoe Meadows so I wouldn't mind getting some beta when you get back. We're taking a little deviation from there and climbing Langley. Unfortunately last week an experienced a hiker fell and died at Army Pass which is no longer maintained. Make sure you know the difference between Army Pass and New Army Pass.

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Re: Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

Postby Kapelmuur » Thu Aug 02, 2012 7:01 pm

dmdoug wrote:Unfortunately last week an experienced a hiker fell and died at Army Pass which is no longer maintained. Make sure you know the difference between Army Pass and New Army Pass.


Just to clarify that the article states he was found "below Army Pass" and doesn't actually mention how he died, so with due respect saying he fell is conjecture.

I found the trail through the pass itself to be relatively easy when I climbed it two years ago in August, without snow. Though I felt its difficulty was much overhyped, obviously a hiker on the ground at the time should use their best judgement. The one potential danger seemed that short sections were prone to being covered by rockslide from above.
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Re: Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

Postby dmdoug » Thu Aug 02, 2012 7:31 pm

Kapelmuur wrote:Just to clarify that the article states he was found "below Army Pass" and doesn't actually mention how he died, so with due respect saying he fell is conjecture.

True. Official autopsy is that he died of massive head trauma, no signs of foul play, below Army Pass on a day there was a strong storm. A somber reminder of what could happen. We're taking Army Pass and I understand from recent beta that there are rockslides covering the old trail. We've got both Army Pass and New Army Pass mapped in case any in my group aren't comfortable with it.

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Re: Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

Postby JosephG » Thu Aug 02, 2012 8:31 pm

Was just up Old Army Pass yesterday (8/1).
Trail could not be easier to follow. Old Army Pass is shorter and has less elevation loss/re-gain than New. By all accounts it is easier.

There are some cliffy sections, but the trail takes an obvious ramp through them. No rockslides; some gravel/pebbles/small rocks.
Enjoy! Cottonwood Lakes are superb.

FYI--there have been several mountain lion sightings in the area.

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Re: Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

Postby bj » Thu Aug 02, 2012 9:51 pm

New Army pass was built because Army Pass retains snow into the summer making it difficult/dangerous to cross. This was a very light snow year in the Sierra and I doubt any snow remains. It is slightly shorter and lower.
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Re: Mt. Whitney from Cottonwood Lakes

Postby ChrisinAZ » Fri Aug 03, 2012 4:20 am

I did this route a few years back in August. Going up the western slope is probably comparable to going up the Whitney Trail, though with the added bonus that you don't need to go to Trail Crest and so don't lose a few hundred feet of elevation gain. I second trying to get Muir, Keeler Needle, and Langley on the trip (though I was solo when I attempted the first two, and chickened out near the top of both--a friend has said he found the last bit up Muir scarier than Capitol). It's a beautiful backpack, a very different feel than Colorado. Weather was perfect the whole trip, even the two afternoons that looked like they'd become thunderstormy ended up not becoming anything. It did get down in the 20s or so one or two mornings, so be prepared for that.

As for the permit situation, you would need a one-day exit permit to come out on the Whitney trail, which are first-come-first-serve and allocated based on specific exit dates, NOT based on specific dates of pick-up! My friend and I didn't realize this, none were available, and it put somewhat of a kink in our plans. Show up early at the Interagency center, and you'll probably have luck getting same-day walk-in permits to start at Horseshoe Meadows for an out-and-back.
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