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Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

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Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

Postby Slugman » Thu May 03, 2012 10:58 pm

Hello, my first post here. I'm heading down to the Cottonwood lakes area this mid-June (10th - 16th) , and I was wondering just what to expect conditions-wise. I see the snow is melting fast, the road is open already, so conditions seem to be about one month ahead of usual. I was hoping to do a loop starting over Cottonwood pass, head up to Soldier lake and Sky Blue lake, then back over New Army pass, and check out the Cottonwood lakes, then back out (plus other side trips like Iridescent lake). I'll be with a group of four, all experienced backpackers, able to deal with some snow travel and route finding, but we aren't bringing ice axes or crampons, just microspikes and poles. We are from WA, lots of snow travel up here, usually well into July, this year maybe a bit worse, that's why we are coming down there.

I guess I'm wondering if it will really be melted out enough by then that our trip would be backpacking and not mountaineering, if you know what I mean. Also, how bad of a bug onslaught might we face?

The pass issue has me a bit confused. Sequoia NP says get my pass from the trailhead agency, which would be Inyo NF, starting over Cottonwood pass means Golden Trout rules? The part I don't get is that my trail head has no quota until the last week of June, but there is one is Sequoia NP, and one in Cottonwood lakes. So, should I reserve a pass, or can I cruise into Lone Pine on Saturday June 9th at 2 or 3 pm, and just go get my pass? I'm not worried about any fees, I want to be sure of having the passes I need, which seems to include one for being off-trail in Miter basin. I guess I should call the rangers for that info, but plenty of people here must know the system.

We are allowing six days for the trip, in part because we will need a couple of easy days at the beginning to acclimatize a bit, plus the conditions may pose some challenges, and there seems to be plenty of side trips if the main loop leaves us extra time and energy.



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Re: Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

Postby RoguePhotonic » Fri May 04, 2012 6:44 am

I have always just walked into the Mount Whitney Ranger station and got a permit for the Cottonwood Lakes area with no problem. That early in the year I doubt you will have any issues.

As for snow I imagine it will be patchy here and there in Miter Basin but shouldn't be too bad.
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Re: Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

Postby tomcat_rc » Fri May 04, 2012 7:09 am

Horseshow Meadows road open. I read a post earlier this week(yesterday) that the Ranger Station gave information that the gate opening would not make it for this weekend due to rockfall still being cleared. They were hoping before "next" weekend, but were unable to commit a promise. Any first hand knowledge?
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Re: Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

Postby cgundersen » Fri May 04, 2012 8:40 am

Hi Slugman,
First, the permit: I'm sure that Rogue is right in saying that at that time of year you should be OK, but if you can spare the $5 (or $6), you can reserve a permit online or by phone. Check the Inyo Natnl Forest website for details. It would just be a drag to hit the one day the quota was filled....

Second, bugs: yes, I too am wondering how the bug bloom will develop. I'm aiming to head out a week earlier than you and I'm slightly concerned that it may be heading into peak skeeter time. But, I'm sure it depends on the temps over the next month, and lately it's been staying chilly up high (I regularly check the weather reports for the top of Whitney). I'm guardedly optimistic that it will be early for winged beasties.

Third, the route: for reasonably experienced folks, Cottonwood Pass will be a snooze and from there it's a quick hop to Chicken Spring Lake. That's the only major body of water you'll hit on the first leg of the trip, and if you really need to acclimate, that may be the best area to stop. There are a couple semi-decent campsites between there and Soldier Lakes, but if it were me, I'd just keep going to Soldier (at least). Although it becomes a moderately long day, I've made it to Sky Blue (or Primrose) in a day from Horseshoe meadow and I've talked to folks who've gone further. The trail from Chicken Spring to Soldier provides great vistas to the west, and with the modest elevation changes, you really should have no problem reaching Soldier. Once in Miter Basin, there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, so it should be great. On the way out, New Army Pass can be daunting in high snow years (bad cornices), but I'm guessing it won't be a problem. It gets early morning sun, and if you hit it in midday, any remaining snow should be tractable.

cg
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Re: Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

Postby tim » Fri May 04, 2012 9:08 am

If you are going in via Cottonwood Pass then you are correct - no quota until June 29. So you can just walk in to the ranger station in Lone Pine and be guaranteed a permit. It doesn't matter where you go after that (e.g. SEKI) or where you exit (with the possible exception of Mt Whitney, which is the only place with exit quotas - I suspect they haven't thought of that one in implementing the online system).

That would seem the easiest way to go anyway - straightforward climb to the pass and no snow problems likely (even last year it was easy by the last weekend of June). But I would certainly expect lots of bugs in Miter Basin by mid June, probably elsewhere even by early June. Last year they were just getting going at the beginning of July at Chicken Spring and Soldier Lakes about 2 weeks after melt out in Siberian Outpost/Big Whitney Meadow (this year the distant photos I've seen elsewhere suggest its nearly melted out already), while we didn't have any in Miter Basin because it was still largely snow filled and the lake was frozen (unlikely to be the case in mid June this year).

We didn't take microspikes and didn't need them (but we went out and back via Cottonwood Pass - New Army Pass was still difficult, we didn't meet anyone who'd come in that way). Here's our trip report: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=6526
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Re: Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

Postby Slugman » Fri May 04, 2012 10:18 am

Thanks for the great information, everyone. I was mainly worried that my plan might be completely unreasonable for some reason I didn't even know about. If we don't like the look of New Army pass, we will just come back out the way we came in, missing Cottonwood lakes, yes, but better safe than sorry.

tim, your trip report is perfect, though it is a bit after ours in time frame, it looks like we will have similar conditions, or perhaps even less snow. Also your pass information was exactly what I was hoping to hear. We are going to spend a very similar first three days, taking it easy, camping at Chicken Spring the first night, and maybe just go to Soldier for the second night. We figure to make the actual backpacking days fairly easy, then use extra time/energy to see off-route spots like Primrose, Iridescent, Crabtree pass, or summit one of the nearby peaks if that seems like a good idea.

I have one of those Mombasa bug shelters, weighs 10 ounces and is big enough for two people to lounge inside while in camp. I might team up with one of the guys on the trip and share the weight of carrying it, just in case we do meet some clouds of voracious flying beasties. I also have the permethrin-treated shirts, and we will bring some Jungle Juice as well. We get some pretty bad bugs up here in WA, but never having been down your way, I want to be prepared. I figure we'll get a taste of the bug situation camping at the trail head the afternoon before the trip.

We are pretty excited about this trip, it's a pure bonus trip for us, as up here there will be nothing good to do in the mountains until mid-July, since we are well above average for snow pack this year. I even managed to get the time off from work by trading days, so I didn't use any of my precious vacation days. And with gasoline costs split four or five ways (one person still not sure they can come), the trip is being done very much on the cheap. A cheap trip to a million-dollar destination, can't beat that!
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Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

Postby Bluewater » Fri May 04, 2012 11:41 am

My wife and I are doing a similar loop over memorial day weekend (5/26 - 5/29, sat thru tues). Our permit is for entry from the cottonwood lakes th. The permits for cottonwood pass for sat 5/26 on recreation.gov were all reserved, but it sounds like there are usually walk up permits available. We plan on going over nap and into miter basin then explore a few days and go back via cottonwood pass on Tuesday. I'll post some info on conditions when we get back.
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Re: Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

Postby tim » Fri May 04, 2012 12:13 pm

Bluewater wrote:My wife and I are doing a similar loop over memorial day weekend (5/26 - 5/29, sat thru tues). Our permit is for entry from the cottonwood lakes th. The permits for cottonwood pass for sat 5/26 on recreation.gov were all reserved, but it sounds like there are usually walk up permits available. We plan on going over nap and into miter basin then explore a few days and go back via cottonwood pass on Tuesday. I'll post some info on conditions when we get back.


The recreation.gov site won't allow you to reserve Cottonwood Pass before Jun 29, because its the non-quota period for Golden Trout Wilderness with unlimited walk-in permits available. If you prefer to go that way then you certainly can.
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Re: Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

Postby quentinc » Fri May 04, 2012 12:29 pm

Slugman, I did the same trip (except for NAP) last year in mid-June. I was glad I had microspikes since I had to break trail over Cottonwood Pass, but it really wasn't bad. As CG mentions, this year will be a breeze except for NAP. Since we're about 6 weeks ahead of last year in terms of snow melt, my guess would be that NAP will be doable without ice axe, but it might be close. Usually, there's an improvised route broken into the snow just a little bit to the east of the NAP trail a few weeks before NAP becomes easy.
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Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

Postby Bluewater » Fri May 04, 2012 4:33 pm

The recreation.gov site won't allow you to reserve Cottonwood Pass before Jun 29, because its the non-quota period for Golden Trout Wilderness with unlimited walk-in permits available. If you prefer to go that way then you certainly can.[/quote]

Thanks Tim! I didn't realize the lack of a quota before June 29th effected availability on the website. I was hoping to go over cottonwood pass the first day to avoid possible snow on nap.
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Re: Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

Postby whrdafamI? » Fri May 04, 2012 4:47 pm

Please be aware that getting a permit reservation over the phone is a thing of the past. You need to log on Recreation.gov. in order to "reserve" a permit. Ask me how I know.......
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Re: Conditions mid-June in the Cottonwood lakes area this year?

Postby Slugman » Fri May 04, 2012 5:06 pm

Sounds like there is a tale of woe behind that advice....... :(
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