Share:

Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station

Eastern Sierra + White Mountains Area, California

Start Exploring
Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station

Share:

Advertisement
  • Mount Whitney (14,505') viewed from the town of Lone Pine.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Mount Whitney (14,505') from Portal Road.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Chicken Springs Lake.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Gorgeous views on the Cottonwood approach to Mount Whitney.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Backpacking to Mount Whitney from the Cottonwood Pack Station.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Descending to 9,000 feet after the initial climb on Day One.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Some stretches of trail are very exposed.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • River crossing to Rock Creek Campground for the first night out.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Wet feet on a river crossing on the way to Mount Whitney.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • The meadow at Rock Creek.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Ascending toward the Guitar Lake Campsite on Day Two.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Guitar Lake.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Guitar Lake.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Mount Whitney (14,505') from Guitar Lake.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Chipmunks are ubiquitous in the area.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Beginning the ascent at 4:30 a.m.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • There are plenty of switchbacks on the way to the summit.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Resting in a notch on the way to Mount Whitney's summit.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • A small snowfield near the summit.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • The summit of Mount Whitney (14,505').- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Remember to sign the climbing log at the summit.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • View of the town of Lone Pine from the top (check the first photo for a view of Mount Whitney from Lone Pine).- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • The second-to-last campsite at Crabtree Meadow.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • Lichens on granite.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
  • The final campsite on the return from Mount Whitney on the way to Cottonwood Pack Station.- Mount Whitney, Cottonwood Pack Station
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Incredible views. Highest point in the continental U.S. Not as crowded as the Whitney Portal route.
Cons: 
Long route and fast pace. Very dusty. Crowds on the summit ascent.
Advertisement
Region:
Eastern Sierra + White Mountains Area, CA
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
No
Net Elevation Gain: 
4,949.00 ft (1,508.46 m)
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer, Fall
Total Distance: 
63.00 mi (101.39 km)
Trail type: 
Loop
Trailhead Elevation: 
10,352.00 ft (3,155.29 m)
Current Local Weather:
Advertisement
Hike Description

Hike Description

Contributor

The 14,505-foot Mount Whitney is the highest point in the continental United States. The mountain was named after geologist and surveyor, Josiah Whitney, who was long believed to be the first person to summit the mountain. In actuality, the peak was first visited in 1873 by two fishermen from the nearby town of Lone Pine, which is the source of the mountain's lesser-known title, Fisherman's Peak.

The most traveled route to the peak of Mount Whitney is the 22-mile Whitney Portal Trail. However, there are many routes to the mountain, including this 63-mile, six-day route, which starts from Cottonwood Pack Station at 10,352 feet and brings you to the backside of the mountain for a more secluded and difficult route to the summit. While the Cottonwood route is much longer than the Whitney Portal, you will experience fewer crowds. As with the Whitney Portal route, you will need a backcountry permit.

You'll also get to spend a little more time acclimatizing to the altitude and appreciating this phenomenal country. Day One is a 4-mile, 1,300-foot climb to Chicken Springs Lake, and it is a good opportunity to acclimate to the altitude. Day Two extends for 9 miles over various passes before it meets up with the Pacific Crest Trail, and it concludes with a 2,500-foot descent to Rock Creek Campground (watch your step over the river crossings). Day Three is another 9 mile trek that slowly ascends above the treeline to Guitar Lake at the foot of Mount Whitney.

Day Four is summit day. It is advisable to begin early, even before sunrise, so you can climb and return with plenty of time in the day. Wear warm clothing, as conditions can be very cold and windy on the mountain. You will be climbing many, many switchbacks until you reach the ridge where you will connect with the Whitney Portal Trail. Expect to meet many people during the second half of your 4,640-foot ascent. Take your time on the ridge, as there are some very exposed areas, and the altitude can pose some physical challenges. Once you reach the top, take some time to sign the log, eat a meal, and then start your long trek back down. You'll conclude the 12-mile day at Crabtree Meadows. Days Five and Six are approximately 10 miles each, and you will have the opportunity to modify the route slightly before you finish the trip back at the Cottonwood Pack Station.

As with any high-altitude adventure, nights can get very cold, and weather can change rapidly. Also, be sure to give yourself some time to acclimate before trying the summit. 

Updates, Tips + Comments

Updates, Tips + Comments

Field Guide + Trail Map

Field Guide + Trail Map

Download
Advertisement
Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(7 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(23 within a 30 mile radius)

Advertisement
Related Content

Related Content

Adventure Community

Adventure Community

Who Wants To Do It
57 Members
Who's Done It
7 Members
Submission by
Contributor
62 Adventures Explored
61 Adventures Published

Newsletter Signup

Join the Outdoor Project Community

Get access to essential planning materials and information for your next adventure. Take a few seconds to join the community. It’s FREE!

Free Field Guides + Maps

Post Updates, Tips + Comments

Organize + Track Your Adventures

Insider Detailed Info, News + Benefits

Custom Driving Directions

Recommended Campsites, Photos + Reservation Info