19 August 2012

Sierra: Cottonwood Pass

Sequoia National Park and Inyo National Forest

This is the final part of a nine day backpacking trip that starts here.

Locate the trail head.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6 | DAY 7 | DAY 8 | DAY 9

The sun starts to come up and we get up for an early start. We were thinking we might meet the other two of our group, back from Sky-Blue Lake, at Soldier Lake, but it as it is so near, they had gone on for more adventures. The secondary meet point is the trail head at 2 PM which is still 10-12 miles off, depending on our choice of route. I'm not too set on the importance of getting down by 2, but I suspect 3 PM is a good target to leave enough time to return my bear canister, so I'm running a little more slowly. We all get out before the sun hits our campsite and head up the trail we came in on, going toward Cottonwood Pass.

trees disappearing again
Near the junction between the Army passes and Siberian Pass, the trees are already thinning out again.

We turn off our inbound route again quickly, taking the route marked Siberian Pass. Crossing the creek that comes down Army Pass, we head down a good trail into the trees along the creek, but quickly realize, especially with the help of the campers taking down their tents there, that this is not the route. We head back near the creek and head up a wide and washed out trail section, quickly coming to more good trail. This trail climbs up to give a good view of the Siberian Outpost as it goes to meet the Pacific Crest Trail again.

high meadow
A large meadow on the way leaves space for views.


We rejoin the PCT as we leave the trail to Siberian Pass for the higher route to Cottonwood Pass and more views of the Siberian Outpost. The junction is decorated with large crests and I have to chuckle when I notice they were once used to ban vehicles from entry somewhere.

Siberian Outpost
Looking out over the Siberian Outpost, a large treeless high plane.

We cross over a ridge of mountain, high above the Siberian Pass that crosses it at a low point, entering Inyo National Forest. The sign here is also confused about which National Park we've just left, claiming it to somehow be both Kings Canyon and Sequoia. This confused sign shows the start of some advise to avoid being hit by lightning. As we cross over, the land below us falls away.

Big Whitney Meadow
Big Whitney Meadow a few thousand feet below.

looking north
Looking back over where we've been as we climb higher over the ridge of the mountain.

twisted tree
The trees vary from nearly straight to strong right hand twists and this is one of the twistiest.

As we get closer to the pass, the land becomes a little less vertical in small sections around us. We cross above a few meadows and the trail is often sandy.

bowl of land
A small bowl in the land above the trail.

meadow below the trail
Below there is a small meadow.

purple flower
A purple ball of flowers along the trail.

yellow flower
Yellow shoots of flowers near the purple ones.

sandy section with a veiw
A sandy section of the trail as it travels high on the mountain slope.

Big Whitney Meadow
Another look down at Big Whitney Meadow.

We pass a group that looks like day hikers. It seems about time we hit some, but these seem a little too fresh. They are hiking with support, on their way to Rock Creek Lake, and camped at Chicken Spring Lake the night before. They have barely started for the day. As we get to Chicken Spring, their support is still packing up the animals. We stop by the lake for the first water we've had for a while and a bit of relaxing. Well, some of us. We chat for a while with a fellow from Darwin who is making his way especially slowly through the unpopulated sections of land then continue on to Cottonwood Pass.

Chicken Spring Lake
Chicken Spring Lake, bustling with people packing up animals.

Chicken Spring Lake
The high water lines seem to show regular lowering process for Chicken Spring Lake as well.

Cottonwood Pass
Horseshoe Meadow below Cottonwood Pass.

The PCT touches the pass, but then continues on the same side. Another trail heads down to Big Whitney Meadow and points in the Golden Trout Wilderness. The wooden signs that mark the junctions are missing parts, but it is easy to figure out which route is over to the other side. We take in the view briefly, but then start down the far side at speed. Near the bottom, I can hear a great ruckus of mooing behind the trees. It seems like a poor place to put cows.

Horseshoe Meadow, nearly
A bit of meadow as I near Horseshoe Meadow.

the slope I've come down
Looking back up the slope toward Cottonwood Pass.

I cross over the creek and soon find I'm out of water. The creek is so full of the green debris of horse and cow that I'm not really certain I want water from it, besides, I'm close to the end of the trail. A sign points left saying "trail", which alerts me to the smaller trail going right. I notice there is a cabin among the trees and go to check it out.

old cabin
An old cabin in the woods, the one structure marked on the map in this area. It is falling down and looks to have been used as shelter sporadically.

After the cabin, the trail crosses the creek again. I finally see a couple of real day hikers along this flat section. Trail heads off to the left, unmarked, and I assume it is the route to the horse stables until a second one marked as trail to stables heads off. The trail heads into a sandy area and I find one speedier companion waiting at the trail. He points off to the right, where yet another unmarked trail heads out over the meadow and says he's making sure I don't go that way. That way is Trail Pass and more time in the wilderness. I point down and say I'd probably have gone that way instead. We go up into the trees instead, my route likely going to more horse stables.

yellow-orange butterfly on a purple flower
A butterfly along the trail.

We finish off the trail as a group of four right around 2 PM, then ride back over to the trail head for New Army Pass to put our stuff down, put on clothing that hasn't been worn quite so many days already, and imbibe items we wouldn't have wanted to carry. I pull out my smelly stuff from the bear box to find there's plenty of room in it now. The clouds have gathered, but haven't started to rain in spite of being dared to do so to complete the set.

Golden Trout Wilderness starts
Leaving the Golden Trout Wilderness.

About an hour later, we are joined by the last two of our group still in the mountains. The day before they climbed Langley. The hail and thunder ended before they got too high, but the dense cloud hung around. Determined to go even if there was nothing to see, they continued on to be rewarded, as they got to the top, with clearing and beautiful views. They came down Army Pass and dropped camp at the first lake along the way. They had a relaxed day coming out, not really believing we'd actually get out when we said. We did get a couple drops while eating, but it didn't really start until we were halfway to Lone Pine and big drops started falling. Big enough to be melted hail stones. Getting down, I found that the hardware store isn't even open on Sunday... so no worries about getting down before they close.

I tried a couple new things on this trip. One was Energizer Advanced Lithium batteries that the camera and GPS were both powered by. These claim to last six times as long as ordinary batteries. The camera doesn't take much battery and may have been fine with a single set of AA alkaline batteries although my old rechargeable batteries are getting a bit worthless. The lithium powered it perfectly the whole trip. I was expecting to need about 3 sets of AAA for the GPS, so lasting six times as long looked great for this. It should power the GPS for the whole trip and still have half left for another trip. I threw in the second set anyway, because I wasn't really sure about them. Into the fifth day with the GPS on, I needed to change them. If I had given looking in the top pocket for the GPS a little longer and found it to use the first day, I would likely have had power for the whole nine days, but just barely. Maybe it's six times a battery of the sort before alkaline, but this doesn't seem to be quite worth the cash.

My other new thing for this trip was a Mountain Hardware Conduit Bivy SL. This performed admirably, except for the one flaw that is obvious from first looking at it. It kept my sleeping bag dry except when someone (well, I) sabotaged it in some way. The super light weight breathable fabric on top is sufficient to allow sweat out. It is not enough to deal with the condensation of breathing, that still takes heavier fabrics. But paired with a little bit of inexperienced shelter building, I was able to sleep quite comfortably through a bit of rain. The sleeping bag zips onto the bivy so that just one zipper opens up both and helps keep the sleeping bag wrangled inside the bivy. This worked great except that sometime in the over 10 years since I got my sleeping bag, the end of the zipper that fits into the pull has grown so I could only attach the bottom of my bag. It still helped keep things organized.

Renting bear canisters is a headache and a half and I should have just purchased one of the Garcias at REI. Much easier that way.




©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 29 Aug 2012

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