This is the Sierra high country. You will “day hike” to the top of Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, climb over seven passes, and walk down the famous golden staircase. Travelling above tree line much of time affords you expansive views of the glacier sculpted granite peaks and canyons of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The varied landscape rewards you with trout-filled lakes and streams, cascades and waterfalls, dense forests, and serene meadows.
You will enter the wilderness from Horseshoe Meadow and follow the Pacific Crest Trail for three days to stage for the ascent of Mount Whitney from Guitar Lake. The top of Mount Whitney begins the start of a 72-mile trek along the southern third of the John Muir Trail before exiting over Bishop Pass to South Lake.
Rock Creek Pack Station enriches your backcountry experience, freeing you from a heavy backpack by carrying all your gear, preparing gourmet food, and setting up a comfortable camp each night. The camp will include chairs, a privy, and even a warm shower on layover days.
Hikers should be able to walk 12 miles, 3,000’ elevation gain/loss. You should acclimate to at least 8,000’ to 10,000’ for 1-3 days prior to the trip.
Day 1: Horseshoe Meadow over Cottonwood Pass to Chicken Spring Lake
4.5 miles, 1,400’ gain, 100’ loss
The day will start with a 6:00 breakfast at 245 Rocking K Road, Bishop, and then the two-hour ride to the Horseshoe Meadow trailhead. The walk begins as a gentle ascent beside the meadow for a mile before entering open forest to climb steadily to 11,160’ Cottonwood Pass by mile 3.8. We will turn north onto the Pacific Crest Trail, walking another half mile before leaving the trail to follow the creek a short distance up to Chicken Spring Lake.
There is no reliable water beyond Horseshoe Meadow until Chicken Spring Lake.
Day 2: Chicken Spring Lake to Rock Creek
9.8 miles, 600’ gain, 2,300’ loss
Returning to the Pacific Crest Trail, the path climbs briefly, gaining 300’ in the first mile and then undulates along the side of the mountain with good views of Big Whitney Meadow to the left. The trail enters Sequoia National Park in three miles, dropping steadily through open forest the rest of the day, passing the Siberian Pass junction at mile four and the Upper Rock Creek Trail junction at mile 8.5. The path will finally cross Rock Creek and then leave to follow a use path down the north side of the creek to our camp alongside a beautiful meadow edged by the creek. The creek crossing might be tricky if there has been recent rain.
Most of the seasonal streams in this area will be dry with no reliable water until we approach Rock Creek at the end of the day. Be sure to leave Chicken Spring Lake with plenty of water.
Day 3: Rock Creek to Guitar Lake
9.7 miles, 3,050’ gain, 1,050’ loss
The day starts with a steady climb out of the Rock Creek drainage to Guyot Pass, 1,400’ in 2.5 miles. Dropping down from the pass, the path traverses the hillside on a sandy trail. Twisted foxtail pines frame views of Red Spur across the Kern Canyon. There is a brief climb into the Whitney Creek drainage, before the trail drops 400’ to the Whitney junction near the creek, which is about six miles from our camp. Turn onto the trail to Whitney, following Whitney Creek and passing the ranger station before joining the John Muir Trail in 1.1 miles. Turn up the canyon toward Mount Whitney, passing out of the trees at Timberline Lake and finally stopping at our camp above Guitar Lake. Mount Whitney towers 3,000’ above us to the east.
There is fairly reliable water about a mile out of camp, with the next reliable water at Whitney Creek, 6 miles from the Rock Creek camp.
Day 4: Mount Whitney
9.2 miles, 3,100’ gain, 3,100’ loss
Mount Whitney provides several hours of shade after sunrise making the long climb to the top in the treeless landscape less daunting, so plan to leave camp at dawn. The trail starts off to the southeast for about a mile before starting to climb the steep wall on long switchbacks. Look across Hitchcock Lakes to Mount Hitchcock to gage your progress up the mountain, as Trail Junction, at 13,484 feet, is only 300’ above Mount Hitchcock. Go left at the junction to follow the fairly narrow trail cut into the rock on the west side of the pinnacles. There are several “windows” providing stunning views to the east. Another 1.9 miles and 1,000’ elevation gain takes you to the top. Enjoy your time at 14,496.81 feet before leaving the crowd at the top and returning to your wilderness camp at Guitar Lake.
There is no reliable water between Guitar Lake and the top of Mount Whitney.
Day 5: Guitar Lake to Tyndall Creek Frog Ponds
10.5 miles, 1,700’ gain, 2,200’ loss
The path returns 2.6 miles down the trail past Timberline Lake to the junction at Lower Crabtree Meadow, but this time follows the John Muir Trail to the right for 0.8 miles to merge with the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail soon skirts the east side of Sandy Meadow with views to the west of Red Spur, then climbs a low ridge before dropping down to Wallace Creek, which can usually be crossed on rocks. The creek runs through an open meadow surrounded by pines and the crossing is a pleasant lunch spot at 6.8 miles. Continue north past the Kern River junction to climb up a ridge to meadows of Wright Creek with stunning views to the east of the Sierra Crest including Mount Whitney. The 1,000’ ascent out of Wallace Creek tops out at the treeless Bighorn Plateau with views of the Kaweah Range and the Kern River Basin to the west before dropping down to our camp at the frog ponds near Tyndall Creek.
There is reliable water at Wallace Creek and Wright Creek.
Day 6: Tyndall Creek Frog Ponds over Forester Pass to Bubbs Creek
11.9 miles, 2,300’ gain, 3,350’ loss
The trail drops ½ mile down through open forest to the Tyndall Creek crossing and then starts the 2,300’ climb over 4.4 miles to the top of 13,180’ Forester Pass, the highest pass on the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails. The path begins through alternating forest and meadows. The landscape becomes more austere as the trail approaches and is cut from the headwall of the Kings Kern Divide. The last mile switchbacks up the right side of the pass before crossing over to the left side with tight switchbacks over the final grade. One is rewarded at the top with spectacular views of the Great Western Divide, the Kaweah Range, and the tall peaks north of Mount Whitney. Turning north, the trail enters Kings Canyon National Park, dropping down steep switchbacks. The rocky terrain gives way to forest with the final few miles a pleasant walk along Bubbs Creek to Vidette Meadow.
Day 7: Bubbs Creek to Charlotte Lake (or Vidette Meadows?)
4.2 miles, 1,250’ gain, 800’ loss
The trail continues to follow Bubbs Creek to the lower meadow before turning north to climb 1,200’ in almost two miles to the Charlotte Lake Junction. Turn off the John Muir Trail to drop 1.3 miles to a comfortable camp near the outlet of Charlotte Lake.
Day 8: Layover at Charlotte Lake(or Vidette Meadows?)
The layover day provides time to fish and swim in the lake, do a bit of laundry, and rest your legs after a week of hiking.
Day 9: Out to Onion Valley
8.1 to 8.5 miles, approx. 2,638’ loss
The pack station drivers will arrive by 2:30 to shuttle you back to Bishop. RCPS drivers will meet hikers at Onion Valley Trailhead.
|Location ||Daily |
|Horseshoe Meadow ||0.0 ||9,940|
|AP Junction ||0.3 ||9,940|
|Golden Trout Lakes Junction ||1.0 ||9,990|
|Cottonwood Pass ||3.8 ||11,131
|Chicken Spring Lake Junction ||4.4 ||11,219|
|Chicken Spring Lake Campsite ||4.5 ||4.5 ||11,266|
|Chicken Spring Lake Junction || 4.7 ||11,219|
|Enter Sequoia National Park || 7.8 ||11,365|
|Siberian Pass Trail Junction || 8.7 ||11,085|
|Army Pass Trail Junction || 13.1 ||9,949|
|Lower Rock Creek Meadows Campsite ||9.8|| 14.3 ||9,535|
|Guyot Pass ||16.8 ||10,942
|Crabtree Meadow Junction || 20.2 ||10,332|
|John Muir Trail Junction || 21.4 ||10,708|
|Guitar Lake Campsite ||9.7 ||24.0 ||11,484|
|Trail Crest ||26.7 ||13,432|
|Mount Whitney ||28.6 ||14,504|
|Trail Crest ||30.5 ||13,432|
|Guitar Lake Campsite ||9.2 ||33.2 ||11,484|
|Crabtree Meadow Trail Junction|| 35.8 ||10,708|
|Pacific Crest Trail Junction || 36.6 ||10,774|
|High Sierra Trail Junction || 39.9 ||10,410|
|Tyndall Creek/Frog Ponds Campsite|| 10.5|| 43.7 ||11,041|
|Tyndall Creek Junction || 44.2 ||10,921|
|Upper Kern Cut-Off ||44.5 ||11,050|
|Forester Pass ||49.0 ||13,152|
|Upper Bubbs Creek Campsite ||11.9 ||55.6|| 9,989|
|Lower Vidette Meadow Junction|| 56.9 ||9,554|
|Bullfrog Lake Junction ||58.1 ||10,526|
|Charlotte Lake Junction ||58.5 ||10,747|
|Charlotte Lake Campsite ||4.2 ||59.8 ||10,370|
|Charlotte Lake Junction || 61.1 ||10,747|
|Kearsarge Pass Junction || 61.3 ||10,771|
|Onion Valley Trailhead ||~8.5||69.8 || 9,185|
*Distances based on Guthook’s PCT Guide
Please note that this represents the planned itinerary. Weather or other factors may affect the choice of campsites and daily travel. All decisions are made by the Head Packer with attention to the safety and comfort of guests and stock.
Expected Campsite Locations
|Day ||To ||Elevation ||Latitude N ||Longitude W ||Miles ||Gain ||Loss
|1 ||Chicken Spring Lake ||11,250 ||36.456 ||118.226 ||4.5 ||1,400 ||100
|2 ||Lower Rock Creek ||9,550 ||36.496 ||118.338 ||9.8 ||600 ||2,300
|3 ||Guitar Lake ||11,550 ||36.572 ||118.313 ||9.7 ||3,050 ||1,050
|4 ||Guitar Lake ||11,550 ||36.572 ||118.313 ||9.2 ||3,100 || 3,100
|5|| Tyndall Frog Ponds ||11,050 ||36.636 ||118.385 ||10.5 ||1,700 ||2,200
|6 ||Upper Vidette ||10,000 ||36.753 ||118.393 ||11.9 ||2,300 ||3,350
|7/8 ||Charlotte Lake ||10,450 ||36.778 ||118.428 ||4.2 ||1,250 || 800
*Mileage, gain, and loss based on Guthook’s PCT Guide.
What you need to know…for hikers on pack stock supported trips
Dunnage limit is 30 lbs. per person (this includes sleeping bags, fishing equipment, liquor, etc.)
You may bring your own tent up to 10 pounds that is in addition. The PCT 28-30 day trips allow 35 pounds of duffel.
PERSONAL CHECK LIST
Bring belongings in stout canvas or nylon duffels; side zipper recommended, ideal size approximately 14" x 32". It is a good idea to use a large plastic bag INSIDE of the duffle to protect contents from external moisture.
Sleeping bags can be in separate duffels --again, line the inside of the duffle against rain.
Place all cosmetics, soaps, medications, etc into small plastic containers with close-fitting caps, THEN into sturdy resealable plastic storage bags. If anything breaks or bursts from altitude changes, the plastic bag contains the spill.
When possible, it is a good idea to transfer alcoholic beverages to sturdy plastic bottles with well fitting caps - it will save weight and protect against breakage.
- Footwear. For this trips a medium-weight pair of hiking boots. We
do not recommend lightweight hikers or tennies since they give
little ankle support and the soles are often thin.
- Camp Shoes. A lightweight pair of tennies or Tevas to wear in
camp. This will reduce vegetation damage at our campsites.
- A day pack. It should be large enough to take water, extra clothing, rainwear,
camera, etc during the days.
- Sleeping Bag. Most summer trips are warm and a bag rated to
about 25°F will be plenty warm enough. We much prefer down
bags, and good quality ones at that. Your bag should weigh in
around 3 pounds.
- Sleeping pad. A 3/4 or full length closed cell foam or Thermarest.
If you bring a Thermarest also bring a repair kit to fix pesky holes!
- Coffee mug (plastic for camp)
- 2 pair synthetic liner socks.
- 2 pair heavier synthetic or wool blend socks.
- Long underwear top. Capilene, some other synthetic or the new
pure Merino wool types.
- Long underwear bottom.
- Warm pants. Tights or Expedition Weight Capilene.
- Warm shirt. Synchilla or R2 weight works well.
- Another fuzzy sweater top or pile jacket of some sort
- GoreTex Jacket and Pants. A lightweight set is sufficient and heavy
bulky clothing is unnecessary. Side zips on the pants should be
long enough to slide over boots. Jacket must have a hood. Do not
skimp on your rain gear. Nylon ponchos are not acceptable.
- Shorts for on the trail
- Tee shirt for on the trail
- Lightweight capilene or similar gloves.
- Warm hat. Synthetic or wool.
- Sun glasses.
- Water Bottles. Two quart (1 liter) wide mouth bottles and/or a hydration
system holding up to 50oz. (2 liters). Don’t bring bike bottles or
any bottle that doesn’t have a wide opening.
- Headlamp. --and a spare set of batteries!
- Pocket knife. Swiss army style.
- Personal toiletries. It is not necessary to smell like a rose each day
so do not over do it.
- Ear plugs are great to have in a noisy tent.
- Personal Medical Kit. The guide will carry a large kit so yours will
predominately consist of foot repair items, mild pain killer such as
Advil and bandaids.
- Sunscreen and lip screen. SPF 30+. A 1oz. bottle will be enough.
Make sure the lip stuff actually contains a sunscreen.
- Bug repellent.
- Camera. A spare battery and card are good backups
- Ski/trekking poles. These are not essential, but can be handy on
the trail. It is your choice, but they do save wear on the knees.
- Plastic trash bag. Handy for keeping gear in outside the tent
should it rain.
- Optional reading material, etc.
We provide the all meals on scheduled trips. You can bring
your favorite "on-the-trail" snacks.
- Small notepad and pencil
- Collapsible plastic wash basin (optional)
- Solar shower (optional)
- Water filtering pump (optional)
- Liquor (be sure to check in with the packers to see that your liquor is packed safely)
- Fishing equipment (optional)
- Rod/reel/line (a rod that breaks down into 3 or more pieces is recommended)
- Compact metal rod case to carry on saddle
- Canvas creel (no tackle boxes)
- Leader material (1-3 lb.)
- Flies: black gnat, mosquito, grey hackle, brown hackle, & royal coachman (No. 12-14 hooks)
- Bait: worms & Pautzke red eggs
- Egg hooks, worm hooks (No. 10-14)
- Split shot
- Lures (personal choice)
You can purchase quality topo maps at TOM HARRISON MAPS.
Tom Harrison Maps (some can also be downloaded onto a tablet or smart phone):
• John Muir Trail and Mt. Whitney High Country
• Mt. Whitney High Country, Kings Canyon High Country, Bishop Pass
National Geographic Maps: John Muir Trail
Halfmile PCT Maps California Sections G (Pages 13-16) and H (Pages 1-11A). Download free from https://www.pctmap.net
Apps for Smartphone/Tablet:
• Guthook’s Hiking Guides, PCT Hiker
• National Geographic National Park Maps, download HD map
• Gaia GPS, download area we will cover