Onion Valley to Mt Whitney to Horseshoe Meadows

The High Sierra Trail in 2012 left me wanting more, so this year almost exactly a year later myself and seven friends decided to hike from Onion Valley to Horseshoe Meadow. As a side trip off the PCT we would Summit Mt Whitney then head back down to the PCT instead of heading out the Whitney Portal like I did after the HST. Jim Deshler, his wife Danielle Owczarski, Rhine Hullfish, Nick Elia, Mark Williams, his son Jake Williams, and Myself were all on board for the trip. It was a pleasure to have had this experience with such a great group of people.

Since most or all of this hike is at high elevations we decided to car camp one night at Onion Valley campground, which is around 9,200′. One of our biggest concerns was altitude sickness. By the second day of hiking we had planned to climb the highest pass on the Pacific Crest Trail, Forester Pass at 13,200′.

Day 1

Sunrise from Onion Valley Campground.

Off we go toward Kearsarge Pass.

Passed some nice lakes early in the hike, hard to pass up on some good fishing spots, but it was the first day and we wanted to cover some miles before taking a longer break. Not to mention the many lakes and streams we would encounter along the way.

Heart Lake

Up and up we go.

The backcountry really opened up at the top of Kearsarge Pass.

Many people day hike Kearsarge Pass, so it was a little busy. The people however thin out as you head down the other side. We decided to head to Bullfrog Lake for Lunch, regather our group of seven and also do some swimming & fishing..

Refueled and rested up, we pushed on.

We hiked a little past Viddette Meadow where we found a nice place to camp for the night near Upper Viddette Meadow.

We had a great view of what I think was East Vidette and if I remember correctly it was Bubb’s Creek that was running below camp. We caught a lot of small Golden Trout there.

Jim and Danielle settling in.

Rhine fishing

Some of us made sure to leave room in our packs to have an Epic Ipa the first night.

Some views from around camp.


The next day we had 7 or so miles up to Forester Pass then another 4-5 miles to Tyndall Creek where we would spend the 2nd night.

Met up with this guy on the way.

A quick break spot.

Onward and upward.

At last Forester Pass!

Checking out the other side of the pass where we will continue hiking for the day.

Nick wasn’t far behind so I waited at the Pass for him to complete the last few switchbacks, which is where I started feeling the altitude hit me strong.

Mark and his son Jake were already at the top of the Pass when I arrived. By the time Nick arrived I was feeling a bit off from the elevation and decided to start down some before the others arrived. Got this pic of me and the CA crew before I dropped down.

The trail down the other side of the pass was pretty awesome.

There is a trail down this somewhere. Looks like the moon.

We couldn’t resist the lakes on the other side of the pass, they were really inviting and COLD!

Rhine was the first one in.

Jim and Forester Pass in the background.

Rhine resting in some grass before we head on toward Tyndall Creek.

Leaving the pass behind and dropping some elevation.

Nick Trucking along, and our first sighting of Whitney in the background on the right.

Danielle happy to make it to Tyndall Creek where we could all chill and relax after the long climb that day. We decided it was a good night to finish off the Whiskey.


Day 3

Mission was to hike to Guitar Lake and rest for the night before summiting Mt Whitney on the 4th day.

Pretty sure this was Bighorn Plateau..

When hiking the HST in 2012 we just passed by Guitar Lake on our way to Summit Whitney and didn’t really have time to take it in and enjoy it. This year I was pretty stoked to be spending a night there and not heading out the portal. What an awesome place.

Night night

Day 4

Up early to summit Mt Whitney.

Looking down at Guitar Lake.

Trail Crest

Timed it about right without a lot of traffic on the 1.9 miles from trail crest. This section can be really annoying when there are a lot of hikers on it.

A little under 3 hours and we reached the summit from Guitar Lake. And just like last year we had the summit to ourselves with one other guy who just finished the JMT.

Rhine stoked to be on top of the lower 48.

Amazed to see these up so high.

After getting back to Guitar lake our group split into two. Mark and Jake had to hike out a day earlier then the rest of us so they and Nick all decided to hike 10 more miles to Rock Creek after summiting Whitney. The rest of us aka team VT were not feeling a 20 mile day and decided to hike to Lower Crabtree Meadow, which was yet another sweet place to camp and no one around besides, lots of deer, marmots, and golden trout.

Shots from Lower Crabtree.

Had to cook some fish at least once during this trip. Mmmmmm breakfast.

Day 5

We decided to hike a little past Rock Creek and then take a side trail off the PCT for a few miles where we would climb up to Lower Solider Lake and spend our last night before heading to Horseshoe Meadows.

Nice Fish Jim got at Lower Soldier.

Some shots from our last night at Lower Soldier.

In the a.m.

Day 6

Our last day of hiking with about 10 miles to go. Life on trail is great and its hard to head back to reality, but at the same time we’re looking forward to real food, beer, and beds.

Lots of sandy sections on the part as we head toward Cottonwood Pass.

A quick break at Chicken Spring Lake

From Chicken Spring Lake we headed over Cottonwood Pass and down down down to Horseshoe meadow where we would meet up with Nick at the car.

I’ll miss being on Trail and I look forward to more adventures in the Eastern Sierra Mountains in the Future.

Thanks Guys!


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  1. Darren

    Great photos- looked like an incredible trip!

    Did you need permits?
    Especially for Day 4 to Whitney summit??



    1. Chris

      Thanks Darren,
      We did need permits for the trip, which we got months in advance. I believe we had to add the Whitney Zone to our permit for the day we planned to hike Whitney, which was about $15. I believe there is a lottery however if you are climbing from the Whitney portal side which we avoided and just did the day trip up from Guitar Lake and proceeded on the PCT/JMT.

  2. Scott Luedke

    Frickin LOVE the pictures you posted! BEAUTIFUL and the best shots I’ve seen of this trip!
    Doing it this year at the end of August…..wondering what time of year you went as the weather looked great. Just hoping it’s not too cold the last week of August or the first week of Sept. I know after that you run risk of bad weather.
    Thanks again for the great pics!

    1. Chris

      Thanks Scott, glad you liked the pics. We did that hike first week of August I believe. Had a couple nights around 30 degs, but no snow or any bad weather. Hard to predict the weather up that high, so I always go prepared for snow,rain, or wind. Hope the trip works out, it was beautiful adventure. Cheers -Chris

      1. Scott Luedke

        Hey Chris,
        Having a hard time getting Whitney exit permits so thinking of doing the same route you did down to horseshoe from Whitney. Did Chicken Spring lake a couple of months ago but don’t know the area above n between that n Whitney….which way did you go and is it better to do Army pass n soldier lake way or catch the PCT down n around to chicken spring lake?
        Any opinions would help make a good decision : ) Also, going the way you did, what time did you get back to the trailhead? Enough time to drive home n make it to work the next day? We’d still have to go back n pick up the other car at Onion Valley then back to Thousand Oaks………
        Thanks for the input!

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