While there are many routes up Mt Whitney, what sets the Dreaded Sandhill apart is the ability to find relative solitude on a non-technical route. Without maintained trails, the steep, loose, cross-country travel keeps the hordes away. This route includes no special technical challenges, is not exposed, and offers very straightforward route finding. From the uppermost lake in Crabtree basin one simply slogs up some 1500 vertical feet of sand, decomposed granite and block to finally reach Discovery Pinnacle and meet up with Trail Crest and all the masses coming up from Whitney Portal or Guitar Lake. Upper Crabtree basin is reached as part of a multi-day backpacking trip. Another advantage of this route is that wilderness permits are someone easier to obtain if leaving from the Cottonwood Lakes or Cottonwood Pass trailheads compared to many other Mt Whitney region-trailheads. This route can also be combined with several other Cottonwood Lakes regions routes to make a loop. A reasonable option is to do this route as a long day trip from a base camp in Miter Basin such as Sky Blue Lake.
From Cottonwood Lakes or Cottonwood Pass trail-heads (Horseshoe Meadows), take any of the standard routes (New Army Pass, Army Pass, or Cottonwood Pass) into the Miter Basin or Crabtree Basin.
I will describe the route as if coming from Sky Blue Lake in Miter Basin. One might also approach through Crabtree basin. From Sky Blue Lake, this route is roughly 13 miles and 5,400 vertical feet of climbing/descent round-trip with a minimum elevation of 11,552 feet.
Starting from Sky Blue Lake, follow the use trails and contour around the west side of the Lake. From here you will work your way up and west to wrap around the cliff band that contains the large visible waterfall coming from Lake 12,136 just below Crabtree Pass. The use trail continues up to Crabtree Pass at elevation 12,600.
From Crabtree Pass the actual Dreaded Sandhill will be clearly visible strait ahead on the other side of the uppermost lake in Crabtree Basin (Lake 12,119). The standard route from here is to descend from Crabtree Pass to Lake 12,119 and then climb the Dreaded Sandhill.
Others also report working East/North from Crabtree Pass, working hard to not to lose elevation and skirting around the flanks of Mt McAdie. This maneuver will save roughly 450 feet of elevation loss which you would have to reclimb on the Dreaded Sandhill but will require staying on route to avoid anything more than class III climbing.
If descending to Lake 12,119, one then continues around the north side of the lake. You may climb the Dreaded Sandhill at any point. The goal is the reach Discovery Pinnacle (elevation 13,720) on Whitney Ridge. The maintained Trail Crest trail will pass just North of Discovery Pinnacle. The further west you move, the shorter the “sandhill portion” but the more time you will have to spend working your way back east along the Hitchcock Ridge to reach Discovery Pinnacle. Working East and North along Hitchcock Ridge does produce great views of the Hitchcock Lakes.
Regardless of how you get up the Dreaded Sandhill, it will be steep loose sand and decomposed granite intermixed with scree and larger granite blocks. There is no real fall risk here, more of take a step up and slide back 6 inches.
Average groups report the climb from Lake 12,119 to Discovery Pinnacle at 13,720 taking 2-4 hours. Your acclimatization to these elevations will play a big role in how long this section will require.
Once at Discovery Pinnacle, simple join the main Trail Crest routes and continue on to Mount Whitney. From Discovery Pinnacle to the Whitney summit is roughly 2 miles and another 800 vertical feet of climbing.
Descending the Dreaded Sandhill is not difficult even with a full pack (the climb up with a full pack is another story). To descend, simply work your way west through the less steep upper portions of the Sandhill until a cliff-free route (generally moving west) all the way down to Lake 12,119 is clearly visible.
No special gear required. Gaiters will be nice to keep rock out of your footwear (although my son did this route in Tevas). Remember that any trip into the Whitney Zone (including this route) requires a permit. As described above (a multi-day trip from Cottonwood Lakes/Pass) this trip would require a back country camping permit, cross-country travel permit and Mt Whitney Zone permit.
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