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TR: Cottonwd Pass, Soldier Lake, New Army, Cottonwood Lakes

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TR: Cottonwd Pass, Soldier Lake, New Army, Cottonwood Lakes

Postby esco » Mon Jul 01, 2013 2:49 pm

June 22-24. Wife and I. Horseshoe Meadow, Cottonwood pass, Chicken Spring Lake, Lower Soldier Lake, New Army Pass, Cottonwood Lakes, Horseshoe Meadow

Picked up permit at Interagency Center in Lone Pine. We showed up at about 8:05 AM and there was about 18 groups there already to get a permit. Took us more than an hour to obtain our permit. Because we would be going into Sequoia NP, we could not use the overnight pick-up method. We were at Horseshoe Meadow parking lot at 10:15 AM and decided to at least take a small nap before getting on the trail. As I described in the "lurkers" thread, my wife and I have three children so it is not really possible for us to have the time for acclimating. We know how much of a benefit it would be to acclimate but feel thankful that we can at least have the chance for even taking a yearly backpacking trip. Headed out on the trail at 11:10 AM from the Cottonwood Pass trailhead. About 40lbs on my back; about 25lbs carried by my wife.

Reached the top of Cottonwood Pass at around 2:00 PM and physically... I felt horrible. I had only slept about 6 hours total the previous two nights, had no chance to acclimate and had too big of a dinner the night before. Mostly I attribute the difficulty to my current shape... I'm 5'10" and currently weighing 245lbs which is less than ideal. My wife... plenty of energy and ready to climb any of the peaks around us with no difficulty. Arrived at Chicken Spring lake at about 3:00PM. Of course, I stop every couple of minutes to take plenty of pictures and videos. I like going back through them while at the office and reliving being out there. Had a late lunch, explored around the lake and tried to rest a while before having some freeze dried mountain-house dinners. There was one other group of about 4 people at the lake as well as one other lone overnighter. The night was not very cold with very little wind. Needless to say the Lake was well below its usual water line even in Mid June.

Left the lake the next morning at around 9:30 AM and still was not feeling very well. Our original plan had been to stay at Lower Soldier lake on night one, go over New Army Pass in the morning and stay at the South Fork Lakes on night two but my physical condition wouldn't allow it. If your going to be so worn out that you can't fully appreciate a place as much as you would otherwise, Id say you've done too much. The views from Chicken Spring lake to Lower Soldier Lake were calming and awe-inspiring at once. Large open meadow after large open meadow surrounded by ranges of mountains as well as some interesting rock outcrops slowed me down because... more pictures. Oh the top this part of the journey looked like it would be practically flat if not mostly downhill. The reality is that it consistently climbs and drops a few time and time again until your near New Army pass at which point its a gradual descent. My wife and I discussed whether we should go over the pass or stay at Soldier Lake. I knew we had enough time the next day and decided it would be best to do the pass on completely fresh legs the next day (and after one more night of full sleep) than after the 5 miles we had done from Chicken Spring Lake. We had a tuna salad, crackers and cereal bar snack, set up camp, took a nap and explored the lake. This lake was prettier than I expected with the lake wrapping around a tall rocky island and the inlet on one side of the lake with the drainage on the other and both of these extending out to a meadow. This night was much colder than the previous but there was no wind at all and we had the entire lake to ourselves. Dinner consisted of couscous with olive oil, garlic/butter seasoning, chicken (one can) and some buffalo sauce.
The next morning was covered with clouds, cold and a bit windy but we had to return home on this day and knew we were only about one mile frm the bottom of the pass so we headed out at around 8:00 from camp. We arrived at the bottom of New Army Pass at around 9:00 AM and began the climb immediately. We only encountered a ranger on the way up (he was heading over as well). About halfway up the pass it began to get much windier and very cold. About 3/4 of the way up the pass it lightly snowed on us. This was the only time all trip that my wife wanted to take a break or felt in anyway less than full strength. I knew it was best to continue without stopping as we didn't want to be wet with no chance to build a fire anywhere near for miles passed the other side of the pass. To my surprise, we were at the top of the pass before 11:30 AM. I was exhausted. At the top we met one lonely hiker who had stopped behind some rocks to protect himself from the wind. On the way down the pass on the Cottonwood Lakes side we encountered two more groups and advised them of the conditions on the other side of the pass. Had I been choosing for them, I would have not attempted to go over the pass at that time. The conditions on the Cottonwood Lakes side were near as cold but with nowhere near the same amount of wind. The climb down was also slow because of stopping for so many pictures. I had not wanted to delay this trip when I was planning it because I wanted there to be as much vegetation as possible. The Lakes looked beautiful with flowers hiding around the rocks and our way down the pass and much tall vegetation in the drainage of each lake. There was some patches of snow around New Army Pass but none anywhere on the trail itself.

We had lunch at Long Lake which was one of the prettiest lakes I've been to. Lunch was simply some bagels with a chocolate/peanut-butter spread and some trail mix. Again, I was pleasantly surprised because most of the pictures of the area that I have seen show it to be much drier in the sense of being dominated by rock and water only. It must've been the time that we caught these lakes at because there was much green, yellow and purple from the vegetation and flowers. The only drawback I would see in staying at Long Lake is that I'd expect it to be an area of wind most of the time. After lunch at the lake we headed out the long trek back to horseshoe meadows out the cottonwood lakes trail-head and then the trek through the roads back to the cottonwood pass trailhead parking lot. We did take one wrong turn... There is an area on the map where you are supposed to turn right (south-east) around two lakes... we saw a small lake that I now know was part of the south fork lakes and begin going around it but then came to realize that it was around two remaining cottonwood lakes that we were supposed to travel by. I'm certain that even if you were to go around the south fork lakes you could reach the Old Cottonwood Creek trail back to horseshoe meadows. This little wrong turn only cost us about 15 minutes but I didn't mind it because we were able to be near one extra lake this way. We reached our car at a few minutes before 5PM... much sooner than I had anticipated we would when we started that morning.
Mosquitoes were only present on the second late afternoon at Lower Soldier Lake but only for a very short while. There were none around at any other time on the entire trip.
I feel like describing much more but it seems the majority reading this forum already have a good feel for the area. Feel free to ask any questions if this is an area that you plan on visiting and have not seen before. I will attempt to post some pictures in the next two or three days.

This is a great trail for seeing a little of everything.... Lakes both open and surrounded by ridges/peaks, views over passes, small heavily vegetated meadows, large grassy meadows, new tree growth, peaks and ranges, creeks, rock outcrops, boulder fields and colorful trees.



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esco
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Re: TR: Cottonwd Pass, Soldier Lake, New Army, Cottonwood Lakes

Postby maverick » Mon Jul 01, 2013 3:32 pm

Thank you Esco for your great TR. :thumbsup: Good to read that you started
feeling better as you got further into your trip. Can totally relate about wanting
to get into the backcountry as soon as possible, especially if you only have one
trip a year.
Looking forward to seeing your photo's.
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: Cottonwd Pass, Soldier Lake, New Army, Cottonwood Lakes

Postby esco » Tue Jul 09, 2013 4:56 pm

Hey Oakboy,

Good to hear. Chicken Spring to Lower Soldier took about 4.5 hours. It surprised me because from the topo I figured we would do it in less than 3 hours. If you stay at Chicken Spring the first night, you will have fresher legs for that leg of the journey. However, if you want to do some fishing, I would suggest not starting as late as we did on the first day and staying at Soldier Lake the first night. If starting the trail at 8 or 9 in the morning I would see it as fairly easy to have lunch as Chicken Spring and be at Soldier Lake before 5PM. You could then get a few hours of fishing in on the second day at Soldier Lake before heading over new Army and on the third day again have a few hours of fishing at Cottonwood Lakes before heading out. Or... you could spend the afternoon of the second day fishing at Cottonwood Lakes and then the morning of the third day doing the same at some of the other Cottonwood Lakes.
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