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TR: Horseshoe Meadows, Trail Pass, PCT, Cottonwood Pass Loop

Posted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 8:28 pm
by jfr
I spent a day acclimating to elevation by day-hiking a ten mile loop out of Horseshoe Meadows. I began by climbing up to Trail Pass, hiked along the Pacific Crest Trail to Cottonwood Pass, and then descended to the trailhead, completing the loop. The weather was perfect and there was only a small amount of snow, so it was a fun hike.

I spent the morning at the Lone Pine Ranger Station getting a wilderness permit for the long 4th of July weekend. The rest of my party weren't due to arrive until the next day so I drove up the big switchbacks to Horseshoe Meadows. My plan was to camp in the backpacker's campground and spend the night at elevation, so I'd have the jump on my son and his buddy tomorrow. I knew that I could use any advantage I could get.

Lone Pine Peak from Horseshoe Meadows Road. Time to get acclimated!

I set up camp first, and then got hiking. Sadly, I didn't get started until 2PM, so I knew I needed to hike at a good pace if I was going to get this 10.6 mile loop finished before dark. In fact, I even drove my car around the corner from the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead to the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead parking lot, just to save a bit of time. Laziness had nothing to do with it! :D

I decided to head up to Trail Pass first, as I had never been there before. If I had to bail out early at least I would see some new views.

Log bridge on the Trail Pass Trail as it crosses Horseshoe Meadows with Trailmaster and Cirque Peaks in the distance

Zoomed-in shot of Mount Langley

The Trail Pass Trail steadily ascends through an open pine forest

Trail Pass, where the Trail Pass Trail intersects the Pacific Crest Trail

I made it to Trail Pass in an hour or so, which was faster than I expected. I only met two people with horses coming down the trail. It was nice having the wilderness to myself. But I figured that this would change once I reached the PCT and started seeing all of the Through Hikers. But that would be OK, too. When you're hiking alone it's fun to talk to people you meet, and backpackers are nearly always good folks.

So I turned right and headed north. Five miles of relatively level hiking and I'd be at Cottonwood Pass. I figured that I could whip that out in no time, provided there wasn't much snow. And I did, because there wasn't.

Round Valley (part of Horseshoe Meadows) was flooded in this wet spring of 2017

Looking north toward Mount Langley and down into Horseshoe Meadows from the PCT

Trailmaster Peak across a meadow from the Pacific Crest Trail

Cottonwood Pass is just ahead

I stopped for a break at the Pass. It was 5PM and I still had over three miles left to hike, and luckily most of it was downhill. I was a bit tired, but that was OK. I met a young couple at the pass. They were heading to Chicken Spring Lake for an overnighter. I told them that there was no snow on the PCT all the way to Trail Pass, and that it was almost flat and a really pretty hike. They decided that they would head back that way tomorrow.

These were the only other people I saw that whole day. I hadn't seen a soul on the PCT. I realized that almost all of the PCT Through Hikers had wisely given up on hiking the High Sierra for the next month or so. There was a lot of snow (and melting snow) not much further north from here. They'd be back later this year, but in the meantime I got to enjoy a quiet hike in the forest.

The only snow of the loop hike was here at Cottonwood Pass. Earlier this Spring there must have been a mighty cornice of snow hanging over the east side of the pass. But now, in late June, it had melted down to a long, rounded berm of dirty snow. The trail walked up and over it for about thirty feet. Super easy.

And then it was time to hike down the switchbacks and make it back to the car.

Horseshoe Meadows can be seen far below under cloud-shadows, as viewed from the snow berm on Cottonwood Pass

The trail goes under water as the small creek was running strong with meltwater

Close-up of an evening mosquito hoping to bite me through my denim jeans

Trail Peak from the Cottonwood Pass Trail near Horseshoe Meadows

I made it to the trailhead by 7PM, with plenty of daylight left. Five hours for a 10.6 mile hike wasn't too bad at all, by my standards. I hadn't really noticed the elevation either, at least not while hiking. Later on, in camp, I didn't have much appetite for dinner, so maybe I was feeling it a bit. I decided that a good night's rest would go a long way toward getting my blood ready for the next day's backpack into Humphrey's Basin. Maybe I'd even be able to keep up with my son!

You can find a longer Trip Report on My Website, or lots more Photos and Videos on my Flickr Album, or a Topo Map and GPS Track on my CalTopo Page.

Happy Hiking!

Re: TR: Horseshoe Meadows, Trail Pass, PCT, Cottonwood Pass

Posted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 10:35 pm
by Ska-T
Thanks for the trip report, jfr! I enjoyed your writing style and nice clear photos. You made the familiar, fresh. Although I've backpacked out of Horseshoe Meadow many times, I have not done that particular route as a day hike. I'll have to arrive early and do that some day.

Re: TR: Horseshoe Meadows, Trail Pass, PCT, Cottonwood Pass Loop

Posted: Wed Jul 10, 2019 1:20 am
by Jono
This is great and super helpful. I am looking to scout backpacking routes and campsites to hit with my children later in the summer - and plan on day hikes like this. Thanks.

Re: TR: Horseshoe Meadows, Trail Pass, PCT, Cottonwood Pass Loop

Posted: Wed Jul 10, 2019 8:08 pm
Thanks for the report and updates. Getting hopeful for a trip this coming ideas for trippin for a few days.