I have an awesome job. However, with any job, there are those moments where one’s skin starts to wear thin and a break is necessary. It’s been a long time since I had a vacation and I needed to just get away for a day. Therefore, my friend Victor and I met up in at a Northern LA park-n-ride and drove up to the Sierras for a dayhike.
The Sierras have such a calming effect on me every time. The air is crisp, the birdsongs have a different rhythm, and the adventure is less predictable. There is something that happens to my soul when I go up there. John Muir was absolutely nuts but totally spot on with so much of what he wrote.
After 4+ hours of driving, Victor and I made our way to the top of Horseshoe Meadows Road. We hopped out of the car, threw our smellies into the bear box, and jovially began our high elevation hike.
The hike begins easily enough. It’s flat, albeit on very loose sand and at 10,000,’ but a flat hike is still a flat hike. We followed the trail through the maps and visuals – across the aforementioned meadow, and turned left at the fork to follow the Trail Pass trail.
The trail began to ascend at a very easy grade (remember though, over 10,000′). After a couple miles and about 700′ of gain, we joined up with the PCT and turned right to follow the east flank of Trail Peak north to Cottonwood Pass.
The views of Mount Langley and Cirque Peak in the distance were breathtaking. This is absolutely one of the most gorgeous and underrated places I’ve ever been. We continued on the PCT for about 5 miles, across gentle ups and gentle downs. Aside from a small group of rangers doing maintenance, we only came across 2 hikers on this part of the trail. A very nice way to recuperate from tougher times at work. A beautiful spring about halfway between Trail and Cottonwood Pass. Looking up at Cirque Peak, a sub 13-er but a legit peak in its own right.
This is the approach up to Cottonwood Pass. It tops out around 11,200′ and has views that pictures cannot begin to express. Seriously, go here. We turned right once again and followed the trail a couple miles back down to the flat meadow. The real tease of this trail is that once you’re done descending, you still have to hike in sand for another couple miles. Nonetheless, even with the sand nonsense, this hike was an extraordinary high elevation loop around the Southern Sierras. P.S. There was no snow anywhere or even any signs of it. Super dry.
Time: 7 hours
Mileage: 11.6 miles for the loop
Water consumed: 2L
Temps: 75-80 degrees
Factors to consider: This is an elevation hike, between 10’and 11,2′ the whole time. Make sure to pace yourself, watch the HR (I kept mine in the 70-80% zone the whole time), and super hydrate. I’m prone to elevation sickness and was careful to down TONS of electrolytes the day before and the day of, along with diamox, niacin, nitric oxide, and a full meal before leaving Lone Pine. This was by far the best I’ve ever felt above 10,000′ and I believe diet was a major reason.
Also, given all of the sand, low gators are highly recommended. I had a ton of sand in my shoes because I didn’t think of this beforehand. Lessons learned. On the upshot, my new Brooks Cascadia trail running shoes were outstanding, just dusty.
Finally, don’t forget chapstick. High altitude air is drier than sea level air and my lips dried out quickly. Chapped lips suck.