Mount Cotter is in Kings Canyon National Park, located between 60 Lakes and Gardiner Basins. While it is easily climbed from Gardiner Basin with a class 2-3 slope from the largest lake, a few more difficult routes are found on its north and east side. It has a large class 4-5 summit block, and amazing views from the summit. This isn't the highest peak in the region, but it definitely packs a punch. The peak has two peaks, the southern of which is the high point.
To reach the south highest peak, the southeast, south, and southwest slopes are all relatively class 2-3 consisting of slopes that very from steep sand to large talus, much of which has firm footing. The north ridge is reported to have only a short class 4 section. On the north peak, Secor describes a 5.9 route up the east face, and the northeast buttress is rated class 4-5. If you have climbed these routes and have additional information you can PM me and I will include it on this page with proper credit. Nearby peaks of interest to also climb include Mt. Clarence King
and Mt Gardiner
Mt. Cotter can be reached from the west or east side of the Sierra Nevada, either option providing multiple ways to reach the base of the peak. Neither approach to this peak is easy, but coming from the east is much easier and shorter.
From the west, drive east on highway 180 to 'roads end'. Take the Bubbs Creek trail and hike this trail until it reaches the John Muir Trail, approximately 11 miles. The Bubbs Creek trail can be very hot in mid-summer, and rattlesnakes are often seen along its length below 8000 feet. Turn north on the John Muir Trail where you will climb up toward Charlotte Lake. Continue North on the John Muir Trail over Glen Pass to Rae Lakes, approximately 4 miles. At Rae Lakes, the trail splits, the John Muir Trail continuing north to the right and to the left is a trail over a small pass to 60 Lakes Basin. Take the left fork into Sixty Lakes Basin.
From the east, drive west up the Onion Valley Road from the town of Independence to the Kearsarge Pass trailhead. Begin hiking on the Kearsarge Pass trail over Kearsarge Pass until the trail intersects the John Muir Trail, approximately 8 miles. Turn right and follow the trail north over Glen Pass to Rae Lakes. At Rae Lakes, the trail splits, the John Muir Trail continuing north to the right and to the left is a trail over a small pass to 60 Lakes Basin. Take the left fork into Sixty Lakes Basin.
Once in 60 Lakes Basin the use trail that led you into the basin will begin to fade. Pass the first few lakes and Mt. Cotter to the west will come into view. The harder class 4-5 routes begin at the base of the peak in 60 Lakes Basin. To approach the easier routes to the summit from Gardiner Basin, branch off the use trail and head southwest toward lake 3304 (USGS 7.5' map). Continue on this course toward a low saddle (60 Lakes Col) to the west. Head over the class 1-2 saddle west into Gardiner Basin.
The entry into this area is long and should be done as an overnight backpacking trip. It can take as little as a day to several days to reach 60 Lakes Basin and/or Gardiner Basin, depending upon the strength of the party.
Wilderness permits are required for overnight stays entering from either the east or west. Permits can be obtained for east entry from the US Forest Service office in Lone Pine or for west entry from the Road's End National Park office found at the end of highway 180 (in early spring and late fall this ranger station is closed and permits must be obtained from the Visitors Center in Grant Grove - it is always best to stop at the Visitors Center upon entry into the park to check if the office at Road's End is open).
From the west, a $20 entrance fee into Kings Canyon National Park is required, and a $15 fee is required for a backcountry wilderness permit.
From the east no fees are necessary, but a wilderness permit is required from the Inyo National Forest (these can be obtained at any one of the offices, the closest being the offices along highway 395 in Bishop or Lone Pine).
Bear Canisters for food storage are required for overnight stays within the areas mentioned in the Getting There section.
Camping is allowed in most places along the approach to Mt Cotter. Restriction to note: Kearsarge Lakes, Charlotte Lake, and Rae Lakes all have a maximum 2 nights stay, and Bullfrog Lake along the Kearsarge Pass Trail is closed to camping. Bear Canisters are required for overnight stays.