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TR: Cottonwood Lakes to Whitney - 5d

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TR: Cottonwood Lakes to Whitney - 5d

Postby marjolijn » Wed Oct 07, 2015 9:15 pm

a full year after the trip I researched on HST it's about time I made good on my promise to write down a trip report.
It took too long, I know, but here it is.

We headed out to Lone Pine on Saturday 30 August. I'd booked a room at the Whitney Portal Hostel. Good room, nice people. We went out for a stroll in the Alabama Hills and made arrangements for a shuttle on Sunday. I had called Dave Sheldon ( but - if I remembered correctly - he put us in touch with someone else to drive us. Worked out fine. We drove up to Whitney Portal after lunch on Sunday and left our car there. Our shuttle driver then drove us down Portal Rd and up to Horseshoe Meadows campground. We didn't have reservations, but there were plenty of campsites available. (Make sure to bring correct change for the campground fee.)

Next day we headed off. We had planned to take Army Pass, but had heard it was a bit sketchy and that New Army Pass was just as beautiful, and made for good acclimating. It turned out a perfect first day, with easy climbing and beautiful scenery. Quite a few people were heading back to civilisation on Labor Day - but further down the trip we would only cross paths with 4 other people until we got close to Guitar Lake - 1 of which was a ranger, and 1 a mule guide. We camped at the closest Soldier Lake. The bear box came in handy on this first day.

Day 2 we followed Rock Creek up Miter Basin. Pretty mellow hiking, and just as we lost track of the use trail we ran into a ranger - she gave us some advice on the best descent off Crabtree Pass as well. Miter Basin is stunning. At Sky Blue Lake we took the wrong side of the lake, we ended up scrambling up the west side of the lake. Maybe not the best option, it was a bit sketchy. From up high we could see the trail running along the opposite shore... We got rewarded for our effort though: a secluded camping spot that was pretty much perfect, in between the smaller lakes to the north-west of SBL.

Day 3 we easily made our way up to lake 12,129. The hardest thing was to keep moving - Miter Basin is definitely a place I wanted to linger. No problems getting to Crabtree Pass, we easily made our way up through the boulders and past some beautiful tarns. As suggested by the ranger, we descended down the left side of the pass. There was a visible use trail. It was steep and it was all loose rock and scree, but it never felt dangerous. We made our way around the north side of upper Crabtree Lake and down to the middle lake. The stretch between the 2 lakes was stunning. Big granite slabs, small waterfalls, great views of the Sierra. We camped to the north-west of the lake (there were a lot of obvious campsites) and again no-one else to be seen. I watched a beautiful sunset from the bench above our campsite.

Day 4 we descended further down to Crabtree meadow and joined the JMT to Guitar Lake. I was expecting the lake to be small and the place to be barren and crowded, so I was surprised to see how beautiful it was. There were quite a few groups, and on the way there we crossed paths with a mule train, but we had ample choice of campsites and really enjoyed the place.

Day 5 we were one of the last to head off. As we got up at 5am, we could see the stars in the sky and the headlights of other hikers going up the mountain. We dropped our packs at the trail crest, and went on to the summit with a small drawstring bag (that doubled as my sleeping bag sack). That last stretch of trail felt otherworldly, and big (and it took a while). After a break at the summit we headed out to Whitney Portal. It was definitely a long day, and we didn't do the Mt Whitney Trail justice. We just went down down down - ready to be done with it - but the area is stunning, and would be a great destination in and of itself. After a burger at the Portal we drove down to Lone Pine and stayed one more night at the Portal Hostel. Next day we treated ourselves to a yummie post-hike breakfast at the Alabama Hills Cafe and headed home to the Bay Area.

This might have been the most beautiful Sierra trip we have made so far (maybe even topping our trip from Red's Meadow to Tuolumne meadows the year before). And while it's satisfying to have 'conquered' Mt. Whitney, that is not what made the trip so special for me. I think we enjoyed it so much because of the scenery in Miter and Crabtree basin, and because of the seclusion and the challenge of venturing off-trail. I was awe-struck so many times on this trip, and I truly feel grateful to have seen this little corner of the Sierra.

Some pictures here:
Happy trails!

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Re: TR: Cottonwood Lakes to Whitney - 5d

Postby maverick » Wed Oct 07, 2015 9:38 pm

Thanks for coming back Jo and writing up this great TR, and wonderful pictures. :thumbsup:
Professional Sierra Landscape Photographer

I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member:
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Re: TR: Cottonwood Lakes to Whitney - 5d

Postby Bluewater » Fri Oct 09, 2015 10:45 am

I like the west side approach to Mt. Whitney (much better than the busy trail from Whitney Portal) and the scenery in Miter and Crabtree Basins is beautiful. I had dinner on the sandy beach near your camp at Middle Crabtree Lake a few weeks ago. It's funny how you can have huge basins and lakes all to yourself just by hiking a few miles off trail.

BTW, thanks for the info on the descent of the left side of Crabtree Pass. If you're interested in an option for next time I went up the benches on the opposite side of the pass. It is less steep with no loose scree, but a slightly longer route. There are cairns along the way.
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