Cottonwood to Shepherd Hike

Want to hike a part of the JMT, climb Whitney along the way and not have to retrace your steps back the way you started.

If so then this is the hike for you.

For many years we have climbed Mount Whitney via Cottonwood but we added this program to give the option of a trip the same length, a point to point rather than a loop and self supported, not using pack stock.

We do up the pace of the trip later in the trip but by then the packs are light and most of the distance is downhill.

Special Notes

For maps look at the Mt. Whitney, Mt. Langley and Cirque Peak 7.5 minute maps.

We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000’) just prior to the trip. 80% of our unsuccessful attempts fail due to problems with altitude. (And the balance due to weather). We suggest camping at the Cottonwood campground the night before the trip. This is at nearly 10,000 feet of elevation and definitely gives you an edge on acclimatization and in letting the body adapt to the elevation. Cottonwood Lakes offers a walk-in campground (100’ from your car) and reservations are not necessary here.

Bears are a problem at the Cottonwood Trailhead. Do not leave food, scented items (deodorant, soap etc.) in your vehicle. There is limited food locker storage so do not bring extra items with you to the trailhead. Clean up all trash prior to your trip. Failure to take precautions can cause the vehicle to be ripped apart by a bear and the added insult of a fine from the Forest Service. If possible, please car pool up to the trailhead, leaving unnecessary vehicles at the Forest Service Offices in Lone Pine.


Day Out Destination Mileage Elevation Gain Hiking Time
Day 1 Chicken Springs Lake 5.3 miles 1405 4 hours
Day 2 Rock Creek Crossing 10.5 miles 620 7 hours
Day 3 Guitar Lake 10.3 miles 2985 8 hours
Day 4 Mount Whitney then back to Guitar Lake 8.8 miles 3278 8
Day 5 Tyndall Creek 10.08 miles 1906 7 hours
Day 6 To Shepherd Trailhead 12.25 miles 2035 8 hours

The Hike

Day 1

We meet early in the morning at the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead, do intorductions, divide up group gear and food, do a full pack check and then hike from the roadhead up and over Cottonwood Pass and descend a little over about a half mile to Chicken Springs Lake, our first night’s camp. This day is about 4 miles long with about 1400 feet of elevation gain and makes for a great break-in day further improving your acclimatization to the elevation. There will be plenty of time in camp to relax and enjoy the surroundings.

Day 2

We leave camp and, after a short initial climb, much of the day is relatively flat or downhill. We contour above Big Whitney Meadow with views towards the Kaweah’s. After entering Sequoia Kings National Park, we continue to the lower crossing of Rock Creek. This is about a 10 mile day.

Day 3

Our day starts with a climb over Guyot Pass and into the wide open spaces of Guyot Flat. Staying near treeline, we climb and contour around into Crabtree Meadows. We now turn towards Mt. Whitney and steadily climb to camp overlooking Guitar Lake (11,460’).

Day 4

We allow all day for the ascent to the summit and the return to camp. Today we ditch the big packs and travel with a light day pack leaving camp set up for our return.There are numerous switchbacks up to Trail Crest (13,550’), where we meet others coming up the east side trail. The summit comes into view but the thin air limits our ability to move speedily. With slow but steadily progress, before long we will be on top and enjoying the views in all directions. After summit photos and maybe even relaxing on top, we retrace our steps down the mountain to Guitar Lake.

Day 5

Heading north we follow the JMT over several small passes past Wallace and Wright Lakes, curve around Tawney Point and camp in Tyndall Creek for the night.

Day 6

This is a big day so be prepared for an early start. We follow up Tyndall Creek into its headwaters high above treeline and then gain Shepherd Pass at 12,000 feet. The views to the Owens Valley far below are stunning as we start our long descent of 6200 feet to the trailhead. Here we have a shuttle arranged to take you back to the vehicles at Cottonwood. From there head to Lone Pine for a well deserved dinner and shower.

Program Prerequisites:

Prior overnight backpacking experience helpful, but not necessary. The days are long with up to 12 miles a day. Good physical condition is required.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, packstock support, permits, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.

Private programs can be undertaken with either pack support of self contained. Local accommodation is not included.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Itinerary/Equipment List
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.