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black Cottonwood Pass Trail to Whitney Portal

  5.0 ( 2 ) Favorite


38.7 mile 62.3 kilometer point to point


Ascent: 7,417' 2,261 m
Descent: -8,973' -2,735 m
High: 14,358' 4,376 m
Low: 8,375' 2,553 m


Avg Grade: 8% (5°)
Max Grade: 54% (28°)


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Alternate route to hike Mt. Whitney.

Mag Miller

Features Lake · River/Creek · Views · Commonly Backpacked

Need permits, but not the Whitney lottery permit.


Just about 40 miles starting in Horseshoe Meadow and ending at Whitney Portal. It is not a loop so you'll need to figure out how to get back to your car or have a car waiting at the end.

Need to Know

Need bear canisters which can be rented from Lone Pine Visitor Center. Will need WAG bags to pack out human waste.


Day 1:
Horseshoe Meadow to Lower Soldier Lake - about 10 miles.

Leave Horseshoe Meadow and hike 3.5 miles up the 1,200-foot climb to Cottonwood Pass. Turn right at the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail in the direction of Rock Creek. Pass Chicken Spring Lake, and continue northwest along the trail through a rugged alpine forest of ancient foxtail pines. These trees can grow north of two thousand years old, and the golden red trunks are an everlasting source of beauty along the trail. At 3.6 miles from the pass (and 7.1 from the trailhead), turn right at the junction with the Siberian Pass Trail and continue 1.6 miles to the creek that flows from Lower Soldier Lake. Along the way, you'll pass through a mostly level forest of Lodgepole and Foxtail Pines, and cross a creek that parallels New Army Pass Trail. Go through this junction. When you come to a T-junction at a second creek, make a right and travel a tenth of a mile along the meadow’s edge to reach Lower Soldier Lake.

Day 2
Lower Soldier Lake to Guitar Lake - 14.2 miles

From Lower Soldier Lake along Rock Creek until you meet up with the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail starts out flat along Rock Creek and a small lake and then heads downhill for a bit. This sounds great, but it actually sucks because you know you’re just going to have to make up for it with a lot more uphill.

You’ll come to a wooden fence that looks like you’re not supposed to pass, but we do. Then you’ll pass a Ranger Station which is a great spot for a snack. Eventually, you make it to the uphill part which consists of a series of switchbacks over a pass near Mount Guyot. The uphill is relentless for a while and feels like it will never end. There is a stream at the top of the pass (might be dry in late season) where you can fill your water. Check with Rangers before your trip.

On the other side of the pass, you head downhill briefly into a meadow that you follow along for a bit. This section is relatively flat which is a nice break, but don’t let it fool you – you still have another pass to go before hitting Crabtree Meadows.

Day 3
Guitar Lake to Summit to Trail Camp- 8 miles

Hiking from Guitar Lake to the Mt. Whitney summit is a little over 4.5 miles with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain. About 1.9 miles from the summit, with about 1,000 feet to go, you reach the Junction. The Junction is where the trail from Guitar Lake meets up with the Portal Route. Most backpackers will take some water and snacks and leave their packs for the final push to the Mt Whitney summit. Watch for marmots make sure there are no accessible crumbs in your bag. They will chew through pockets.

Day 4
Trail Camp out Whitney Portal- about 8 miles
Follow the Mount Whitney Trail east from the junction with the High Sierra Trail. The descent can be quite steep at times, so watch your footing. When you reach the Mount Whitney Portal hope you have a car or ride waiting!

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Sep 6, 2018
lauren yakuta
Jul 23, 2018
Lorraine Flores
Start backpack hiking on Monday, July 23, 2018 40mi
Jul 23, 2018
Thomas Corcoran

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