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Cottonwood Pass Trail to Whitney Portal

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 5.0 (5) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

Alternate route to hike Mt. Whitney.


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Map Key

38.7

Miles

62.3

KM

Point to Point

14,358' 4,376 m

High

8,375' 2,553 m

Low

7,417' 2,261 m

Up

8,973' 2,735 m

Down

8%

Avg Grade (5°)

54%

Max Grade (28°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Commonly Backpacked · Lake · River/Creek · Views

Permits by Inyo National Forest, not Whitney lottery permit. Go here: recreation.gov/permits/233262, click "Explore Available Permits." For Permit Type choose "Overnight Exiting Whitney," choose ID GT60 (Golden Trout) Cottonwood Pass. Next page asks for campsites. Not all camps show, some in itinerary are outside GT area. You are not obligated to camp at your selections. No additional camping permits/fees needed (except $6 walkup fee @ Horseshoe Meadow if you stay there before you hike).

Overview

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. A great option is to park and Whitney Portal and prearrange with Paul at eastsidesierrashuttle.com to shuttle you to Horseshoe Meadow.

Need to Know

Need bear canisters which can be rented from Lone Pine Visitor Center or from some of the shops in Lone Pine like Elevation Sierra. Will need WAG bags to pack out human waste. You can pick up free WAG bags at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center in Lone Pine.

Description

Day 1:
Horseshoe Meadow to Lower Soldier Lake - about 10 miles.
(Alternative: Day 1 continue on to Rock Creek campground, 14 miles total while you are still fresh, leaving 10 miles Day 2).

Sleep at Horseshoe Meadow (10,000 elevation) before setting out to acclimatize. It's a walkup campground, $6 cash. It has 2 main sites, at the Cottonwood Pass Trail #3505, and also at Cottonwood Lakes Trail, they are not far, if one site fills, try the other. If both fill you are permitted to camp / sleep in your car.

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.

(Alternative for Day 1 - continue on from Lower Soldier Lake to Rock Creek campground covering 14 miles Day 1, reducing Day 2 to 10 miles. Day 2 ends with a long unexpected uphill to Guitar Lake, you'll prefer to do that after 10 miles versus 14.2 miles. by lengthening Day 1 and cutting Day 2. There is a nice campground with bear containers on a lake midway between Lower Soldier and Rock Creek too).

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.

From Crabtree it's uphill up to Guitar Lake. You can also camp 1/4 mile after Guitar at the next lake, cutting your summit day miles.

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

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. Continue 2 miles past Trail Camp to Outpost Camp if you can, it's nicer and shadier.

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!

Contacts

Shared By:

Mag Miller with improvements by Jon Good and 1 other

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  5.0 from 5 votes

#521

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  5.0 from 5 votes
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#521

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Photos

View west from Mount Whitney Trail
Sep 14, 2015 near Lone Pine, CA
Tired and happy to be on the summit of Mt. Whitney, a pair of hikers enjoys their accomplishment.
Feb 28, 2017 near Lone Pine, CA
It's a long, rough trail to the summit of Mount Whitney.
Jun 27, 2017 near Lone Pine, CA
July 2018 - JMT thru hike. On our way up to summit Mt. Whitney
Nov 25, 2019 near Lone Pine, CA
Daybreak looking down on Trail Camp from the middle of the 99 switchbacks. Can you find the tents?
May 2, 2017 near Lone Pine, CA
09/11/2018 Trail Crest looking west towards Hitchcock Lakes and Sequoia.  Cloudless day and only a breeze.
Sep 28, 2018 near Lone Pine, CA

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Check-Ins

Jul 18, 2020
Stephen Pryor
8mi — 9h 30m
Jul 13, 2020
Aaron K
Outstanding 3+ day hike. Stayed at Horseshoe Meadow @ 10,000 elevation the night before, helping acclimatize. Spotted car at Whitney. 40mi — 31h 00m
Jun 30, 2020
Private User
Nov 3, 2019
Christina Cashen
38.7mi
Sep 8, 2019
Misa Eiritz
Aug 27, 2019
Nicole Brown
Sep 6, 2018
lauren yakuta
Jul 23, 2018
Lorraine Flores
Start backpack hiking on Monday, July 23, 2018 40mi