Monday, September 23, 2013

August 5, 2013 - Cottonwood Lakes

August 5, 2013: Cottonwood Lakes

Route: New Army Pass Trail
Peaks Bagged: None!
Highest Point Reached: Near South Fork Lakes (~11,100’)
Mileage: ~12.5 miles
Elevation Gain: ~1500’ (between 10,000 and 11,100’)
Time Taken: 6 hours

For this hike, #2 in acclimating to high elevation, we were supposed to hike to Telescope Peak (11,000’), which is a hike of roughly 14 miles with around 3000’ of elevation gain. However, we noted during our drive through Death Valley 2 days before that the Panamint Valley Road, which leads to the road accessing the Telescope Peak Trailhead near Mahogany Flats (a campground we were initially thinking of spending a night or two at, luckily we dumped those plans!), was closed due to flash flooding issues during the heavy rains a couple weeks before. Thus, we moved what had been day 3’s hike to day 2, and ultimately lengthened it some.

Near Golden Trout Lake

We set out on the New Army Pass Trail, with a simple goal of just getting some exercise at elevation (the trailhead was at 10,000 feet), and finding some nice views. Boy did this hike turn out awesome!

Like the Kearsarge Pass Trail, the New Army Pass Trail is graded for stock and has a very gradual grade. The first couple of miles meander around roughly the same average elevation, with only minor deviations from that elevation, travelling through some beautiful forests. After a few miles, the trail begins climbing to the first in a series of lakes, utilizing switchbacks along the way. Somewhere in here we found what appeared to be a family with a pair of pack horses, hiking in over New Army Pass for a trip. It is really cool that out here in the West you can still bring pack animals along with you, though I imagine there are limits on the number permitted in the area.

The first lake we came to was simply amazing, tucked in at the base of some tall cliffs. Here we ran into a couple on the return leg of a day hike to the lakes that was serving as their acclimation hike prior to a single-day hike attempt at Mount Whitney the following day. Enjoying the views for a while, we decided to continue on to a spur trail that would head to a trail that would connect back to the main trail we had been on, making for a nice and tidy lollipop-type hike. Unfortunately, this trail is not marked (at least that we could find) and there was no clear trailbed, so we just continued up to near another lake (NAME????) along the New Army Pass Trail for lunch before retracing our footsteps. On our way back, we did see many other people cutting along roughly where the map indicated the spur path we missed was, but with no clearly marked trailbed, they were more or less “bushwhacking” through thin brush. While we may not have done the loop as intended, the out-and-back was a terrific hike as well, and the impeccably clear skies made for some stupendous views.

Foxtail Pine

Eventually returning to our car, we drove back down to Lone Pine and grabbed some dinner before returning to our campsite at Onion Valley.

  • For a longer hike, one we didn’t really feel like doing, one can continue further on the New Army Pass Trail to the New Army Pass, which is roughly a 15-16 mile hike with closer to 2500’ of elevation gain.
  • There are a number of side trails in the area of the lakes that one can take to alternative places than the ones we went to.

Click here for more pictures.

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