Whitney or Won't We?

On to Cottonwood Basin
  |  Gorp.com

The trails begins on a flat, dusty footpath in a forest of pines, heading west and then north along Cottonwood Creek. Cross and recross the creek several times before crossing the boundary of the John Muir Wilderness and beginning a steady climb. The trail gains 400 feet in elevation and turns west just before reaching Cottonwood Basin. Continue west through the alpine meadows (avoiding side trails heading north) and skirt Cottonwood Lakes #1 and #2, which in 1998 were opened to catch-and-release fishing for the first time in 32 years (see "A Golden Opportunity").

The trail continues west past Long Lake (5.5 miles, 11,135 feet) and High Lake toward the imposing gray granite walls that ring this basin and begins a thigh-burning climb to New Army Pass. High above timberline, this moonscape is not the place to be caught during an infamous Sierra thunderstorm. From the pass at 11,475 feet, the trail descends to the northwest, entering Sequoia National Park and heading down into the Rock Creek drainage.

Turn right on the trail toward Soldier Lakes and continue through heavenly meadow country, keeping an eye out for The Major General commanding the horizon to the northeast. At a creek 2.8 miles from New Army Pass, turn left and head west again, then descend to cross Rock Creek (14.5 miles, 9,525 feet). The path continues to lose altitude until hitting a junction with a trail heading south to Siberian Pass. Continue straight ahead on what is now the Pacific Crest Trail, through more meadows, and switchback up a ridge to find the Guyot Creek crossing. Beyond that lies Guyot Flat in the shadow of?you guessed it?Mount Guyot.

The trail continues north and descends again to idyllic Upper Crabtree Meadow (21.3 miles, 10,320 feet). On a clear day, you'll be able to see Mt. Whitney's spire beckoning on the eastern horizon. Hike on this flat portion northeast from the meadow to a junction with the John Muir Trail and bear right, then continue east past the Crabtree Ranger Station. Begin ascending in earnest, following Whitney Creek past tiny Timberline Lake toward larger Guitar Lake (actually, the resemblance is quite uncanny when viewing the lake from the east), nestled right up against the backside of the towering Eastern Sierras.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 4 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »