John and I went up to Cottonwood Pass with the intent to climb a few 13ers. We left early in the morning and arrived at the Horseshoe Meadow trailhead around noon.
We started hiking right away towards Cottonwood Pass where we joined the PCT northbound. We made it to within about a mile of the Lower Rock Creek Crossing to a little stream with some nice campsites. After setting up and dinner we went into our tents and straight to sleep.
Hike stats: 13 miles / 21 km, 2070 ft/630 m elevation gain
After breakfast and packing up we continued to Rock Creek Crossing where we encountered many camped PCT hikers. On the north side we had a fairly steep 800 ft/ 244 m climb, followed by more gentle terrain and then the climb up to Guyot Pass. There we took a break, had some snacks, and chatted with some PCT hikers before continuing to Crabtree Meadow.
The Crabtree Meadow camp area right at Whitney Creek was very busy. This is the closest PCT hikers are allowed to camp to Mt. Whitney and it looked like most of them wanted to give Whitney a try. We found a nice camp spot and setup. Around noon we set out to climb Mt Hitchcock (13,186 ft / 4019 m). It is located west of the meadow. We opted for the route going up the west ridge. Part way up John decided to stop since he kept getting winded in the thin air. Something was off. He encouraged me to continue by myself. I was a bit overly optimistic in my estimate of needing 3h for the round trip of the remaining 1,700 ft / 518 m elevation to the peak. It took me close to 3h 40min since portions of the summit ridge and the final 200 ft / 61 m of climbing were over suitcase-size talus. I should have expected that. On top I found the standard Sierra peak register and then enjoyed the view on a perfectly clear day. Since I didn’t want to let John wait too long I kept my summit time brief and returned the way I had come and we then returned to camp.
Word at camp was that some weather was supposed to move in sometime in the late morning the next day.
Since it was another strenuous day we again ended up in our tents early.
Hike stats: (1) 7.06 miles / 11.36 km, 1739 ft / 530 m elevation gain
(2) 6.69 miles / 10.77 km, 3018 ft / 920 m elevation gain
At 5 am I woke up to the sound of distant thunder and heard some rain drops hitting my tent. The weather was moving faster than forecast! We were able to have breakfast outside at first light, but by 6 am it started raining in earnest and did not let up until about 14:30. During that period it got colder and some big, wet snowflakes were mixed in with the rain. They accumulated on my tent and I had to knock them off periodically. Not expecting heavy rain I had not taken precautions and dug a trench around my tent. That was a mistake and during a heavy period of rain, water started to get under my tent. I tried to divert it as best I could while inside the tent by digging a little trench and making a dam on the side from where the water came. It happened to be on the side with the door and I could use my trowel for the work.
After about 9h in the tent, it finally stopped raining. Thank goodness for bringing the Kindle! The mountains around us were white, we were about 800 ft / 244 m below the snow level. Everywhere around us, people came out of their tents. There were 15-20 tents in the area. We spent the afternoon chatting with different people. I spent a lot of time with one hiker particularly. He was not a thru-hiker, but someone with vast experience in the Sierra. He will be spending over 3 months hiking around in the Sierra this year alone. I got some good tips from him on areas unfamiliar to me ( like most of the Sierra ;), but was also able to provide him with some information about approaches to some of the peaks I had climbed. We spent the last hour of daylight sitting on a big rock outcropping talking and enjoying the evening light. When I went to bed around 21:00 there was not a cloud in the sky, like nothing ever happened.
It had been a cold night. John discovered that his sleeping bag was not up to the task at all. He wore all the clothes he had and was still very cold all night. I also reached the limit of what my lighter sleeping bag could handle. Things improved as soon as the sun made it over the mountains at 6:45. Our tents and tent footprints were completely wet, so we spread them out on some rocks in the sun. All around us people were doing the same thing. The meadow had frost on it and some deer were grazing there. What a peaceful atmosphere after a tumultuous day. By 9 am our gear was mostly dry and we started our hike back south. Attempting one of the other peaks in the area that I had my eyes on was out of the question with too much snow above 12,000 ft / 3650 m.
Now hiking against PCT traffic we met many hikers and their first question was “How is the trail up Whitney?” We couldn’t really help other than telling them that Whitney looked very white and to seek information at the backcountry ranger station about a mile east of the camp area. We also exchanged stories of snow, rain, and being cold. Since a lot of the thru-hikers opt for ultra-light gear they had had an even more miserable time than we did.
On Guyot Pass we stashed our big packs behind some rocks and climbed up to the peak of Mt. Guyot. It was an easy climb of 1300 ft / 396 m with just some small snowfields to bypass and some big talus to negotiate. The view from the top was great despite some clouds. After snacks and photos, we went down, collected our packs, and continued south on the PCT.
Rather than camping in the same spot at the busy PCT I decided to go about 2.5 miles further up Rock Creek Canyon to Rock Creek Lake. I had been there in October 2019 and really liked the spot. It did not disappoint. We had it all to ourselves now that we were off the PCT “freeway”. The view over the meadow and lake of Mt. Langely and the impressive peaks north of it (Mt. LeConte, Mt. Corcoran, etc.) was spectacular.
Hike stats: 11.99 miles / 19.29 km, 3445 ft / 1050 m elevation gain
After another cold night, we warmed ourselves up with coffee and in the sun as soon as it cleared the mountains. Time to pack up, hike to the truck and drive home. We followed the trail that connects Rock Creek to the PCT and the PCT to the pass. I don’t particularly like ~4 miles / 6.4km of PCT to the ridge above Chicken Spring lake. There are some climbs and dips and some very sandy sections in this stretch. So John and I each put our heads down and just got it done at our own pace. We made it back to the truck before 13:00. Cleaned up a bit and started driving home taking our customary stops: Subway at Pearsonville, gas and driver change at Kramer Junctions (always cheaper than at the coast). We encountered some traffic and arrived home around 19:00 and 19:30 respectively.
Hike stats: 10.86 miles / 17.48 km, 1519 ft / 463 m elevation gain.
Total hike stats: 49.63 miles / 79.87 km (80% with heavy packs), 11,789 ft / 3593 m elevation gain.
(click on any image to enlarge/start slideshow)