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High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

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High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

Postby mwstowe » Tue May 07, 2013 6:19 am

My family is planning a mid-July backpacking trip to the high Sierras with the goal of climbing Mt. Whitney. We have two permits -- one hiking from the High Sierra Trail from Crescent Meadow and exiting Whitney Portal and the other from Onion Valley over Kersarge Pass up to Whitney and exiting at Horseshoe Meadow.

I'm seeking advice on whether one trip is better (more scenic, less crowded, etc.) than the other.

The overall distance of the two hikes is similar (about 70 miles) but the logistics of transportation and shuttling seems much greater for the High Sierra Trail.

I'll be hiking with my wife and two teen daughters (13 and 15). The girls have been hiking since they could walk and backpacking for about five years. We've backpacked in and out of the Grand Canyon, through Glacier National Park and many nights on the Appalachian Trail near our home in the East. We've hiked above 10,000-feet multiple times and climbed one 14er in Colorado but will still need a little time to adjust.

Anyone have a strong preference for one trail over the other? Is one more difficult? Should we take Cottonwood Pass or Army Pass toward Horseshoe if we opt for that trail? Suggestions on transportation or where to stay the night before?

Thanks for any advice.



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Re: High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

Postby DavePloessel » Tue May 07, 2013 7:00 am

High sierra trail is a lot more gentle in getting you into higher elevation. Typically people don't break 10000 feet until their second or third day when they reach precipice/kaweah gap. Simply for acclimationg your daughters more comfortable that might make it a better option. On day one out of OV you could very easlily hit 11500...

Shuttle is much easier on the OV-horseshoe meadows route.

If my final decision were based on crowding, I would do the high sierra trail. It's busy, but nothing like the crowds you'll find on the john muir highway.

If you really want to get away from crowds and altitude isn't a problem, maybe consider the "circle of solitude" loop out of onion valley. It hits areas far less crowded, just as pretty, and eliminated the need for a shuttle at all. viewtopic.php?f=1&t=8893&hilit=circle+solitude

it is a little longer, but it or a similar loop might fit your needs and eliminate some of your concerns
Last edited by DavePloessel on Tue May 07, 2013 12:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

Postby AlmostThere » Tue May 07, 2013 7:09 am

The logistics of shuttling from Whitney Portal to Sequoia NP is a little different than Onion to Horseshoe. The easiest way to get from Onion to Horseshoe for me was a private shuttle - someone with a pickup got us at Horseshoe and took us to Onion.

From Whitney Portal, one can get on a CREST bus and head into town, hop on a Greyhound (or Amtrak?) and ride around to Visalia, where one can get on the Sequoia shuttle and head up to the park. It probably would take a couple of days to do and needs to happen while the shuttle is running.

It was 60 miles - precisely, by my GPS - from Onion to Horseshoe via New Army. We got to Crabtree Meadow and asked the ranger living there about the weather - it had turned cold, 30 degrees below the forecasted lows at night (meaning in the teens) and the winds on the crest were upwards of 60 mph. We did not day hike to Whitney as planned, but continued on and made what was supposed to be a 6 day into a 4 day trip. This was in August. The second two nights we aimed to hike high and camp low, below treeline, because of the weather. We hiked out with jackets on - my friend had put on her base layer, her midlayer, her jacket, gloves, hat, and rain gear - over New Army with dark clouds looming as if they were about to attack us. It started to spit sleet on us as we finished the last couple of marathon miles to the trailhead and drove out. The winds were pushing my car off the road before we got to the pass so we stayed the night in a motel in Mojave.

Which isn't a reflection of what your experience will be, but it's snowed on me in July, August, September, and last weekend we watched the lightening playing games across the entire southern Sierra... watched it again last night. Weather does things different up there than you would expect it to, some days.

I would do the HIgh Sierra Trail if you can get the permits - an alternate would be starting at Wolverton. Plan to use either Onion or Horseshoe as an exit if the weather turns on you en route. Camp in less populated places, with bear canisters - you can rent by mail or pick up bearikades at the visitor center.
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Re: High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

Postby maverick » Tue May 07, 2013 8:35 am

Hi Mwstowe,

Welcome to HST! Please read viewtopic.php?f=1&t=4205
Knowing your mileage capabilities, whether or not your comfy with crosscountry travel
and especially knowing the length of your trip (how many days) will allow us to
recommend the option more suited to your experience levels.
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: High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

Postby sparky » Tue May 07, 2013 11:20 am

EDIT

Mav is right, and there are some great options in the area you might want to consider. Fill out the form when you have time, and perhaps we can point you in the right direction.
Last edited by sparky on Tue May 07, 2013 11:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

Postby maverick » Tue May 07, 2013 11:28 am

I agree Sparky, but the OP has not indicated how many days they plan to do the
trip in for example which is important, plus some other information that would
be helpful in recommending the most suitable choice of the two.
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: High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

Postby Mike M. » Tue May 07, 2013 11:46 am

mwstowe,

I prefer a semi-loop to a trans-Sierra shuttle.

New Army Pass is preferable to Cottonwood Pass -- much more scenic. If you have time and are comfortable with cross country travel, Crabtree Pass and then down to Sky Blue Lake and through Rock Creek basin is preferable to the rather drab stretch of Pacific Crest Trail south of Crabtree Meadow.

Kearsarge Pass is overused and overcrowded because it is so scenic and accessible and it gets you into the high country right away. Best to time your entry on a weekday rather than a weekend. It is a very easy hike to the pass. Bears are notorious in the Kearsarge Lakes basin and last year the bear boxes were closed to hiker use, so be bear-aware! Forester Pass is one of my favorite passes -- great views of stunning country. Since you'll be there relatively early in the season, you'll probably run into a few snow patches and, if you're lucky, some nice wildflower displays in the area where the trail turns up from Bubb's Creek.

Be sure to sleep at altitude the night before (at or near the trailhead) and give your group time to acclimate before hiking over Forester -- it's over 13,000 feet.

If you want to climb Whitney, my favorite staging point is above Guitar Lake, near some tarns and granite benches just before the serious switchbacks begin. Good water and sleeping options abound.

I've had great luck hitch-hiking on the east side. I'm usually able to get a ride from point-to-point from friendly people at the trailhead. Just approach them and let them know you're headed to the Kearsarge area. It's best to hitch alone, with your pack -- the pack let's people know you're a friendly hiker and being alone means most anybody can fit you in their car. If you're lucky, they'll treat you to a beer from their cooler!

Mike
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Re: High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

Postby maverick » Tue May 07, 2013 11:57 am

Mike wrote:
It's best to hitch alone, with your pack -- the pack let's people know you're a friendly
hiker and being alone means most anybody can fit you in their car. If you're lucky, they'll
treat you to a beer from their cooler!


Their are 4 in this group (Father, wife, and 2 daughters 13 and 15 years old).
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: High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

Postby mwstowe » Tue May 07, 2013 12:09 pm

Thanks for all of the suggestions and advice. I really appreciate the input.
Some more info as requested: We are looking at a 5-7 nights on trail, hiking no more than 10-14 miles a day. Would prefer trails to cross country. I'd like to limit the trip to a max of 70-75 miles. Hope to avoid serious snow/ice at the passes; have some experience with river crossings, though nothing extreme.
Looking for the most scenic hike we can get -- alpine lakes, big mountain views. Plan to include a summit of Mt. Whitney.
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Re: High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

Postby Jim F » Tue May 07, 2013 2:03 pm

Hi,

Both of these hikes are sensational. However, the shuttle for the HST (High Sierra Trail) can be more of a challenge.

I hiked the HST with my daughter three times (between ages 13 and 20). Excellent service was provided by The Mt. Whitney Shuttle Service (www.mtwhitneyshuttle.com, phone 1-760-876-1915 in the evening). Bob, the owner, can discuss many options which are available for a HST shuttle. He is highly professional and makes a big effort for things to work out well for his clients. Having a party of four will help dilute the cost per person.

My daughter and I have also done the Onion Valley to Mt Whitney hike. We have used the Mt Whitney Shuttle service for transportation up to Onion Valley and Horshoe Meadow on rather short notice. However, the HST requires very careful planning.

I imagine that the Mt Whitney Shuttle Service will be in operation this season. I drove by Bob's house in Lone Pine last Friday (May 3) and saw a shuttle vehicle parked in front. I believe the vehicle might have said Eastern Sierra Shuttle Service, so be advised that Bob might be in the process of changing the name of his operation.

This sounds like a great family adventure. Enjoy!

Jim F

PS: If you decide on Onion Valley as the start, consider experiencing the Miter Basin after you descend from Mt Whitney. It involves some cross country, but by then your party will be well acclimatized and the packs much lighter.
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Re: High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

Postby Mike M. » Tue May 07, 2013 3:54 pm

Maverick wrote:
Their are 4 in this group (Father, wife, and 2 daughters 13 and 15 years old).

Right. But it's best for one of them to hitch back to their car, then drive back to the other trailhead, where the others would be waiting to be picked up. It's obviously much easier to get a ride if there's only one hitcher, rather than four or five.

Mike
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Re: High Sierra Trail OR Onion Valley-Mt. Whitney-Horseshoe Mead

Postby Ska-T » Tue May 07, 2013 4:11 pm

Mike M. wrote: . . . it's best for one of them to hitch back to their car, then drive back to the other trailhead, where the others would be waiting to be picked up.

If the logistics work, I like the idea of hitching before the hike when you are clean and not so tired. Park the car at the end point and hitch back to the others waiting at the start.
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