Desert Survivors
Miter Basin and Crabtree Canyon Backpack
August 22, 2014

“Think we can get down this ledge?”
“We could but we shouldn’t”…

This backpack trip started from the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead at Cottonwood Campground. The dramatic road to this campground zigzags the eastern escarpment of the Sierras near Mount Whitney going up from under 4,000 feet at Lone Pine to more than 10,000 feet.

This trip was a four night out exploration of the High Sierras on the west side of the Whitney Crest starting from Cottonwood Pass Campground at 10,000 feet and crossing three passes over 12,000 feet. Part of the hike was on trails including sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. Some of it was crosscountry though expansive quiet meadows, along rapid flowing mountain streams, and crossing steep mountain passes.

We saw many small trout in streams. There were many Sierra marmots, a few pikas, dozens of golden-mantled ground squirrels, and many California mule deer. There was a pika that was collecting long stalks of green grass then returning with dry grass and heading toward a burrow. When it discovered that we were close to the burrow it would take the dry grass back but continue to harvest green grass and put it out to dry. We saw a red tailed hawk across meadow soaring from low to the ground to out of sight without flapping its wings.

On the Pacific Crest Trail we met a young woman with a small pack in a colorful short sleeve shirt and a short skirt who wanted to know how far it was to her destination and which trail to take to get there. Then there was a string of overweight fishermen with big heavy packs that were going where they had heard the big ones were.

At the start of the New Army Pass Trail we met two young women employed by the USGS to collect data for an ongoing national tree mortality study. Over the last 3 years in this area there has been a few percent increase in tree mortality. For the past 25 years the national study for all areas found a small increased mortality that is similar in all areas.

The most interesting part of the trip was Crabtree Pass going from Miter Basin to Crabtree Canyon. There was no trail. There were several rock cairns which helped find a reasonable route. Going down the north side we encountered steep slabs and ledges requiring searching for a safe way. One ledge proved to be difficult. We looked at several options, considering one route several times. We decided that we could do it but it would best be done without packs. So we continued searching. A boulder at first seemed to block passage but we then found we could get around it. From there we were able to continue down safely to the highest Crabtree Lake.

We arrived back at Cottonwood Campground on the fifth day at mid-day. From there it was down the switchbacks to Lone Pine, Subway sandwiches, and then a soak in one of the Whitmore Road hot spring tubs.