SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Backpacker Magazine – August 2012

The Other Way In

Hike to life-list hot spots without waiting in life-list lines. These under-the-radar trails deliver everything but the crowds.

by: Brendan Leonard

Hermit Trail (photo by Laurence Parent)
Hermit Trail (photo by Laurence Parent)
Cottonwood Lakes Trail (Chris Werner)
Cottonwood Lakes Trail (Chris Werner)
Angels Landing Trail (Scott Mansfield)
Angels Landing Trail (Scott Mansfield)
John Muir Trail (Londie G. Padelsky)
John Muir Trail (Londie G. Padelsky)
West Face Gully (Timothy Piya Trepetch)
West Face Gully (Timothy Piya Trepetch)
Rainbow Falls Trail (Kurdistan/Shutterstock)
Rainbow Falls Trail (Kurdistan/Shutterstock)
Huntington Ravine (Paul Rezendes)
Huntington Ravine (Paul Rezendes)
Mt. Katahdin (Michael Kormos)
Mt. Katahdin (Michael Kormos)

Mt. Whitney
Inyo National Forest/Kings Canyon National Park, CA

X    Trade route Mt. Whitney Trail
→   Sneak route Cottonwood Lakes Trail
Key stats 36 miles, 8,900 feet elevation gain
Off-radar cred A cross-country route to the standard summit trail

Highpoints are always hiker magnets, and the highest piece of rock in the Lower 48 is no exception. Add Whitney’s proximity to the Los Angeles metro area—plus a summit view taking in miles of Sierra granite—and no wonder demand is staggering for the grueling 22-mile round-trip to the top. The online lottery system for permits on the standard approach, the Mt. Whitney Trail, limits use to 60 overnight campers and 100 dayhikers per day in the summer (this year, the lottery opened February 1 and closed six weeks later). Avoid the crowds and permit hassle with this rugged, cross-country, four-day route, which tours the dramatic granite landscape and alpine lakes of the southern Sierra.

Do it Day one is big, so get an early start at the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead. First, cruise about a mile to follow pristine Cottonwood Creek, through pines and past the 400-foot-tall cliffs guarding High Lake (mile 6.5). Then head up and over 12,300-foot New Army Pass to dreamy campsites at picture-window-clear Lower Soldier Lake (mile 10.5), unnamed on maps but sitting at the base of The Major General, the southwest-facing granite buttress a mile north of New Army Pass. On day two, allow extra time to navigate cross-country above treeline (you’re off-trail from now until you join the Whitney Trail on summit day). Go 1.5 miles north up the Rock Creek drainage to Sky-Blue Lake. From here, angle to Crabtree Pass, then drop down to campsites at Crabtree Lakes and head to bed early. Get a headlamp start at 3 or 4 a.m. on summit day (depending on your speed). Leave camp with a daypack (layers, food, and jacket) to finish the last 2,500 vertical feet to Whitney’s top, climbing off-trail scree up the drainage south of Discovery Pinnacle (class 2). Then join the Whitney Trail for its final 2.5 miles to stand above the entire Sierra, and command views all the way to the desert floor nearly 11,000 feet below. Return to camp at Crabtree, or if you’ve still got legs, pack and descend to Lower Soldier Lake (with a smaller, solitude-guaranteed campsite on a tiny peninsula). Next day, retrace your path to the trailhead.

Get there From Lone Pine, take Whitney Portal Rd. three miles, to Horseshoe Meadow Rd. Turn south and go 20 miles to the trailhead.
Map Buy the BACKPACKER PRO MAP
Permit Required ($15); reserve up to 6 months in advance at recreation.gov. Click on “with Whitney visit” to secure access to the summit. Food storage Bear canisters required.
Contact (760) 873-2400; fs.usda.gov/inyo




Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Back in Colo
Jan 28, 2014

I've done the Hermit trail 3 times. Twice to the river on a day hike. It's a long day, but you earn your burger at Beaver Street Brewery (in Flagstaff). I also enjoyed the Boucher trail. If camping permits are available, you can loop Boucher to Hermit. We did this with a stay at Boucher campground, looped over to Hermit rapids via the Tanto trail and then an extra night at Hermit campground.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jan 24, 2014

Beautiful scenery minus the crowds means less chance of other hikers finding you if you need help but it can still be a safe and enjoyable hike. Why? Because you read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hiked off-trail. A MUST READ for hikers who love to hike where others don't! Learn essential day-hiking skills, including items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Hike Smart and STAY ORIENTED. This book is a fast, easy read that will definitely make hiking off the beaten path safer and more enjoyable! Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart on Amazon.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jan 24, 2014

Beautiful scenery minus the crowds means less chance of other hikers finding you if you need help but it can still be a safe and enjoyable hike. Why? Because you read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hiked off-trail. A MUST READ for hikers who love to hike where others don't! Learn essential day-hiking skills, including items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Hike Smart and STAY ORIENTED. This book is a fast, easy read that will definitely make hiking off the beaten path safer and more enjoyable! Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart on Amazon.

Star Star Star Star Star
sierracanon
Jan 23, 2014

Did this Whitney from the south trip in a all on-trail version several years ago. Went over Cottonwood Pass, through Rock Creek, Crabtree Meadow, and out through Whitney Portal in three days. A good alternative for those who are not comfortable with extended cross-country travel.

imjackhandy
Aug 16, 2012

If you have to take the Rainbow Falls trail take it down and not up. Not a lot of views on this trail but the falls are spectacular. I recommend the Bullhead trail up and Rainbow Falls down. It'll put you out at the same parking lot.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/imjackhandy/sets/72157609867058824/

Nick
Aug 16, 2012

I just got back from a very similar trip where we came down from tenaya lake stayed need sunrise lakes then did clouds rest then staying at the john Muir trail connection. Only had to get up at 4am the make the 2.5 miles to half dome where we beat the sunrise by half an hour and had the entire summit to ourselves for the sunrise. The weather could not have been more perfect. This is the only way to see half dome.

David Dickey
Aug 16, 2012

I did the short hike 3 times last April. The crouds don't get up early so if you start early the hike is croud free. That seems like a easier way to beat the crouds than to spend $39 and 19 miles of hiking. The main point is that it is not that crouded and the last half mile (the chained part) is crouded the same no matter which way you do the hike.

Phil R.
Aug 16, 2012

Did approximately this hike before they started requiring permits to go up the cables. If you want shorter hiking days, consider taking three nights. One additional night at Upper Cathedral Lake is worth considering. Then the second night at mentioned in the article is OK. Consider a third night camped at at Little Yosemite Valley...it is a large backpackers campground, but we enjoyed it. When hiking out the last day you can choose the John Muir Trail or the Mist Trail. The Mist Trail has some wet steps, but you pass by two amazing water falls. You can also consider taking a hike to Clouds Rest. That would add another day.

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

The Political Arena
Am I missing something here?
Posted On: Apr 17, 2014
Submitted By: Ecocentric
Trailhead Register
This is my 1000th post
Posted On: Apr 17, 2014
Submitted By: bigsilk
Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions