I spent a day acclimating to elevation by hiking a ten mile loop out of Horseshoe Meadows. I began by climbing up to Trail Pass, then hiked along the Pacific Crest Trail to Cottonwood Pass, and then descended to the trailhead, completing the loop.
Of course, it all started at 2am, when I left San Diego for the five hour drive to Lone Pine. My plan was to pick up a wilderness permit for the next day. I got there for the opening permit lottery and discovered that they don’t issue permits for the following day until 11am. So I had three hours to kill. I drove to Whitney Portal and discovered that the store’s kitchen didn’t open for lunch until 11:15, so I then headed back to the Ranger Station and waited around. It just wasn’t my day. At 11am I got my permit, then, finally, was able to drive all the way up the big hill to Horseshoe Meadows. I picked a spot in the Backpackers Camp and set up my tent. I was set for the night, and by morning I would be at least partially acclimated.
It was time to hike! Too bad it was already 2pm! What a waste. I had planned to spend the entire day hiking a very long ten-mile loop, but starting this late on a big hike seemed a bit unwise. So I lowered my expectations and decided to hike up to Trail Pass and back. I had never been there before, and and even a short hike is better than no hike. So I grabbed some gear (not my full ten essentials, as that was in my big backpack) and stuffed it into my daypack. Then I drove around the corner to the trailhead and started hiking.
I hung a left onto the Trail Pass Trail and crossed Horseshoe Meadows. The creek was flowing and everything was green and vibrant. Soon enough, the trail entered the forest and began climbing in earnest. As I climbed I discovered places where there were views of the surrounding area, north to Mount Langley and down into Horseshoe Meadows where there was some Spring flooding going on. That area looked like “Mosquito Central” and I was glad I was way up here in the breezy forest.
I was feeling good and hiking strong. I built up quite a sweat. It was a great workout. Even though I was up near 11,000 feet I wasn’t noticing any signs of altitude sickness. I was breathing deep but that was normal when hiking hard and my body felt great.
And the Sierra Nevada was beautiful, as always.
Video of the creek and log bridge on the Trail Pass Trail as it crosses Horseshoe Meadows
When I reached Trail Pass, I checked the time and it had taken me less than an hour! It was only 3pm or so, and I was still feeling great. So I pulled out the map and contemplated what to do next. Going back to camp was easy enough, and since it was downhill I surely would be there before four. But sunset wasn’t until 8:30 or so. The next section of PCT appeared to stay relatively level for five miles, and then there were three more miles of downhill on the Cottonwood Pass Trail before I made it back to the car. Could I do it? Should I do it? True, I was feeling great right now, but would it last? I decided to give it a shot anyway. As a PCT Section Hiker, it was nearly impossible for me to turn down a chance to hike an as-yet-unhiked section of the trail. I knew that I’d be kicking myself later if I wimped out now. So on I went.
And the PCT was beautiful, as always. Plenty of tall trees and lots of great views.
For more photos and videos see my Flickr Page
For an interactive topographic map showing my GPS Track see my CalTopo Page