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TR: Cottonwood Lakes Weekend, July 2015

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TR: Cottonwood Lakes Weekend, July 2015

Postby jfr » Sat Jul 25, 2015 6:16 pm

Hi! This is my first post on the forum, though I've been a lurker for quite some time... I also don't get to the Sierra very often, hence my lack of posts.

Anyway, my wife and I originally had a permit to hike in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, but then the Lake Fire ruined everything. So I had to scramble for something backpackable. Something fun! With available water, preferably. And that pretty much removed Southern California from the list of options. Which is sad, because we live in San Diego, about as far south as you can get. It's a long way to the Sierra from there.

So I stared at the maps, read some trip reports here on the board, and came up with a plan to hike the Cottonwood Lakes, which is about as far south in the Sierra as I could find, while still being wet enough, and up high enough, to make it worth the long drive. And if we were feeling particularly gung-ho once we got up there, we might even be able to bag a 14er!

We woke up early, and left the house at 3:30am, which I figured would get us past the evil Friday-morning L.A. rush-hour traffic before six, when it starts getting ugly. We had breakfast at dawn in Victorville, and proceeded to enjoy the rest of the drive to Lone Pine. It's a great feeling to be on vacation.


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10 foot diameter section of the Los Angeles Aqueduct Pipe in the Lone Pine Ranger Station.

We were late for the 8am opening, so we had to hang around town until the 11am lottery. Our luck was bad on the lottery but good on the choice of trail, as we got a permit to hike that very day. I was certain we'd be in the Horseshoe Meadows backpacker camp that night, but no. We drove up the road to the trailhead and got ready to hike.

There were lots of big cumulus clouds over the Sierra Crest that day, and the forecast said "chance of showers," but we decided to give it a try anyway. We had good raingear, and we knew what we were doing. We'd be fine. The air was cool up at 10,000 feet, but it beat the heat that was happening down in Lone Pine.

Naturally, the moment we started hiking on the actual trail it began to rain. So we got out our raingear and started all over again.


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Golden Trout Wilderness Sign on the Cottonwood Lakes Trail.


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Large meadow on Cottonwood Creek just south of "Golden Trout Camp"


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Raindrops on a puddle in the trail as we hike onward.


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The two of us posing with the John Muir Wilderness Sign


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A pile of Hailstones amid pine needles and pine cones.

At this point it started to get really cold. And the rain came pouring down. The trail was awash in water. We met folks racing down from Mount Langley, who told us that it was snowing up there above 13k. Brrr!


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We were getting chilled after the hail and rain so we set up camp early to avoid hypothermia.

We hadn't quite started the "uncontrollable shivering" stage, luckily. We got out of our wet clothes and put on the warm layers, then stuck our legs under the goose down. My wife's internal thermostat doesn't always work correctly, and she wasn't getting warmer. So I went out, filtered some water (we were camped not far from Hidden Lake's small outlet stream) and got the stove going. I made some hot tea and a hot sealed pouch of Mountain House freeze-dried dinner. I handed both of them in through the door of the tent. My wife stayed in the tent gaining heat while I wandered around outside sipping my hot chocolate.

The clouds were already breaking up and the sun was shining across the way. The hot liquids worked wonders. She came outside and we ate dinner together. I thought about packing up and hiking on, but only for a moment or two. That was when Reality reared its ugly head: We weren't going anywhere after the long day we'd had. In fact, we ended up falling asleep before it got dark!


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Morning hoarfrost on a log on the Cottonwood Lakes Trail.

Ahhh, ice in the morning! In July! Only in the High Sierra...


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We reach the Cottonwood Lakes Basin at the Muir Lake Trail junction.


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Zoomed-in view of Mount Langley and the headwall near Cottonwood Lake 5. There was a dusting of snow from yesterday!


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View of Peak 12369 and Mount Langley from across an unnamed lake in the Cottonwood Lakes Basin. You can see from the stains on the rocks that the lake's level is a bit low this year.


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Our campsite at the edge of the pines near an unnamed Cottonwood Lake. Great views!

It was still early morning, so we got a subset of gear ready for a day of easy hiking around the area. Just some lunch and snacks and the ten essentials. We wanted to see everything, even though we knew we didn't have enough time.


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We day-hiked, cross-country, over to Muir Lake.

Its water level was also low, and the outlet stream was dry. But there were some nice places to camp along the shore.


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View over the large unnamed lake (across the way from our tent).

The cumulus clouds were building up, although the weather report didn't mention rain. Still, mountains have a way of ignoring weather reports. We hiked faster.


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Cottonwood Lake number 3 from the northern shore.

The numbering of these lakes changes depending upon which map version you consult. Tom Harrison calls this Lake 3. The US Forest and ArcGIS versions on CalTopo both call this Lake 4, but 2 and 3 aren't shown. The older USGS version on Caltopo only names Lake 5. I'm going to stick with the Tom Harrison Map because at least the numbering follows the flow of the water, which makes sense.


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Old Army Pass and Cottonwood Lake number 4


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Cottonwood Lake number 5


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Waterfall on the outflow stream from Cottonwood Lake number 4 into 3


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Raindrops on the lake from our campsite.

We made it back to the tent just in time. The rain started up, but it wasn't very vigorous. In fact, we cooked dinner and ate it while watching the rain on the lake as the dark clouds blew north toward Mount Langley.


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A storm descends on Mount Langley.

We'd met people earlier that were probably up in that ice cold cloud. One madman was wearing short pants! We shivered for them, and wished them well.


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Reflection of Peak 12369 (Army Pass Point) from our campsite the next morning.

It was another beautiful day. But it had been cold and clear overnight, with no moon and the Milky Way shining clear. The condensate from our breath on the inside of the tent was frozen solid. We carefully lifted off the tarp layer, then walked away with it and shook it vigorously. All the ice fell off and we were left with a dry tent! Nice!


After that, it was time to hike out, heading cross-country to see some of the other lakes on our way back to civilization.


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Small outflow pond southeast of Cottonwood Lake Number 3.


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Mount Langley over Cottonwood Lake Number 3


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Cirque Peak left of center and Cottonwood Lake Number 2


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High cirrus clouds over Cottonwood Lake Number 1


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Fisherman's campsite not far from the shore of Cottonwood Lake Number 1


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Large meadow along Cottonwood Creek


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We arrive back at the Horseshoe Meadows Parking Area.


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Another nice view north as we descend on Horseshoe Meadows Road, with Lone Pine on the right.


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Cirrus and cumulus clouds above the Sierra Nevada from Horseshoe Meadows Road in Lone Pine, not far from Whitney Portal Road.

We drove to Lone Pine and had some burgers at the local Carl's Junior. We dumped lots of salt on everything, and it tasted great. We really needed it. Then we braced ourselves for the big drive home to San Diego. It had been a great trip and well worth the long drive. It was even worth the close encounter with hypothermia! In fact, I'm hoping to be back up here to bag Langley later on this season.


Caltopo Map of our hike: http://caltopo.com/m/6K0V

LOTS more pictures on my Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/_jfr_/set ... 6293499682


Meanwhile, I'll see what I can do about posting more often, but most likely I'll just keep on lurking. Until I have another Trip Report, of course! :D



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jfr
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Re: TR: Cottonwood Lakes Weekend, July 2015

Postby maverick » Sat Jul 25, 2015 7:01 pm

Hi Jfr,

Welcome to HST! Wonderful intro TR, and great pictures of a fun trip to a great area! We appreciate older TR's too, so don't go back to lurking, please continue being a contributor, and part of the HST family. :nod:
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: TR: Cottonwood Lakes Weekend, July 2015

Postby rlown » Sat Jul 25, 2015 7:03 pm

A very nice report! Thanks for posting it.
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Re: TR: Cottonwood Lakes Weekend, July 2015

Postby notdarkyet » Sun Jul 26, 2015 3:57 pm

Ah…one of my favorite spots! Thanks for the wonderful pictures.

John
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Re: TR: Cottonwood Lakes Weekend, July 2015

Postby hikin_jim » Mon Jul 27, 2015 11:44 am

So, jfr, (or whomsoever), what did the old trail up original Army Pass look like? I'm considering it as a descent route in a few weeks instead of taking the regular trail over replacement New Army Pass.

HJ
Backpacking stove reviews and information: Adventures In Stoving
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Re: TR: Cottonwood Lakes Weekend, July 2015

Postby SSSdave » Mon Jul 27, 2015 4:25 pm

Thanks for adding to all the foul weather stories this summer. What dates were your trip? Very nicely framed lake reflection with the two rocks mid frame. "Reflection of Peak 12369 (Army Pass Point) from our campsite the next morning."
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