3 nights Cottonwood Pass Backpack for Peakbagging

With Jack still on the John Muir Trail and Kevin heading up to the Sierra for a weekend of technical climbing on some peaks I could not stand the thought of missing out 🙂

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I could not find anyone else to join me for a long weekend in the Sierra, so I went by myself. On Friday I drove up to Lone Pine, got my permit for Cottonwood Pass, and headed up to Horseshoe Meadow. By 2pm I was hiking. It was nice and cool with perfectly clear skies. My main goal for this trip was to climb Joe Devel Peak and Mount Chamberlain, both over 4000m high (Go Metric! ;)).

Camp 1

On that first afternoon I made it to the upper Rock Creek crossing with 1h day light left. I found a perfect spot and set up. By the time I had camp setup, water filtered, and dinner cooked the sun had set and it got cold! So I crawled into my tent for a first night with my new winter sleeping bag. After a little bit of reading I went to sleep. When I got up with first light in the morning it was just -3 C (27F) in my tent, a little colder outside. I was perfectly comfortable in my sleeping bag and had to push myself to get out. There was lots of frost on the grass along the stream and some on my tent.

After a quick breakfast of creamy mashed potatoes and breaking up camp I was on the trail at 8 am. I only had a little over a mile to go down the creek to a meadow with a nice lake. This was my starting point for scrambling up Joe Devel Peak. By this time the sun was up high enough to make it comfortable. I found a camp site to setup my tent for it to dry while I was gone. This was a frequently used spot that even had one of those back country bear lockers. They don’t put these up for no reason, so I stored my bear canister in it after transferring snacks for the climb to my little day pack.

Starting to climb towards Joe Devel

I traversed with slight elevation gain along the cliffs behind the camp until I could get around the cliff. Apparently someone else had done this before since I found cairns. I loosely followed them not knowing if they would actually lead me to where I wanted to go. That’s always the question with these randomly cairned routes, one can’t trust them. The National Park Service discourages putting up cairns. After the cliff I had to cross a section of huge boulders before reaching a sandy slope leading up. I stayed to the edge of that slope to get as much solid footing on rocks as I could. Once reaching the top ridge I followed it to the peak. Up here the slope was gentler and it was easy to find a route through all the boulders and talus. Once on the peak I had spectacular views of the Sierra crest to my east. Langely, Whitney, Williamson, Tyndal – all 14ers – where right there.

On the way down I essentially followed the route I had come up but enjoyed the fast descent in the sand. Back at my tent I packed up and hiked about 4 miles down to lower Rock Creek crossing where I again set up camp. The night here at 9,600 ft was a bit warmer and temps did not drop below freezing.

The next day I started my climb up to Chamberlain right after breakfast. I followed the PCT north for about 2.5 miles before heading straight for the peak. At first I was in some forest on a very gentle slope without a view of the peak. At 3500m it got steep and I was picking my way through rocks and talus all the way up. It quickly became apparent that what I could see was not the top and the maps agreed, at 3900m there is a big plateau one has to follow to the actual peak. Again, views were great. Initially I couldn’t find the peak register, but that was because someone had put it on a ledge right by the bottomless cliff to the east side of the mountain. I spent about 45 min up there just enjoying the views, the relative remoteness, the quietness. According to the register this peak does not see much traffic, only 6 entries for 2018 and I was the the 5th this year.

Sunset dinner

By 2pm I was back at my camp and decided to start hiking towards Cottonwood Pass as this would give me a chance to bag a couple of little humps at the pass. I cooked a lunch and packed up to get on my way by 3pm with the intention to hike till 1h before sunset. This got me to a nice spot 2.5 miles from the pass with great views to the west for a nice sunset dinner. All day I only saw 3 people, all of them during the last hour of hiking.

On Monday I again got up with first light and was on my way by 7am and an hour later at Chicken Springs Lake where I filtered some water. I left my big pack at the bottom of the western slope of Trailmaster behind some trees and started up towards a little saddle on the south side. The maps showed the eastern slope of the mountain to be less steep than the west and I was heading for that. The climb was very straight forward and only at the very to did I have to deal with big rocks. In less than 2h I was back at my pack and decided that I now had enough time to also go up Peak 11600 on the south side of the Pass which entailed only half the elevation gain. By 12pm I was done and heading down towards my truck for the drive home.

3 nights, 3 days of hiking (1st, last where half days), 45 miles (72 km), 12,000 ft (3657 m) total elevation gain

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