Trail Peak (11,605') is the 3rd highest peak in the Southern Sierra (behind Olancha Peak and Kern Peak) and has unobstructed, amazing views all around. The access is fairly short from the Horseshoe Meadow located at around 10,000 feet. The quickest route is via Trail Pass and east slope, which is described here. You can also rech the summit via Cottonwood Pass and PCT from the west. The final ascent from the PCT to the summit is cross-country and in parts class 2.
From the Cottonwood/Trail Pass trailhead (9,940’), take the Cottonwood Pass Trail west entering the Golden Trout Wilderness. After about 0.3 miles you will reach a junction (9,940’) with the Trail Pass Trail heading south towards Horseshoe Meadow. The trail junctions are all well marked with signs posted on the trees. After leaving the forest you have an open view of Trail Peak across the meadow. Trail Pass can be seen also as the low saddle to the left of Trail Peak. You can cross the small creek on a log and head on a sandy path towards the forest. At the time of this writing (June 2010), there were many small trout in that creek.
Trail Peak from the Horseshoe Meadow
After you enter the woods, the trail contours around the west side of Round Valley. The slope is very gentle at this point. Eventually, after about 1.6 miles the trail crosses a small creek in the forest and then makes a sharp turn (10,100’) to the right (south). At this point, there is a now unmaintained trail leading north towards the meadow and will eventually connect with the unmaintained Mulkey Pass Trail. The trail you are on is not marked on many TOPO maps. In fact on many maps there is a trail on the west side of the creek leading to the pass. That trail cannot be seen anymore. The current and well maintained trail now is steeper and leads in many switchbacks to the Trail Pass (2.4 miles; 10,500’).
Trail Pass Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail traverses the pass and leads east to Mulkey Pass or west around the north slope of Trail Peak to Cottonwood Pass. From the Trail Pass you can continue further south and downhill towards Mulkey Meadow. To reach the summit of Trail Peak you take the Pacific Crest Trail west for a short time and then climb the east slope of Trail Peak cross-country. Luckily, there was no use-trail visible when I climbed the slope, so you have to choose whatever path seems reasonable to you. The east slope is fairly steep (1,000 feet in about 1 mile) and you will make your way up among gorgeous foxtail pines and around boulders. Eventually, the boulders become too numerous, so you have to climb over them. If you stay directly on the ridge, you will have to climb over three false summits. You can avoid that by staying lower, north of the ridgeline.
Trail Peak East Slope
Trail Peak East Slope
At ~11,300’ you will leave the woods and enter the open, boulder-strewn summit area. From here you can see the summit with the summit pole. There are still about 300 feet to climb though. You can pick the path of your choice to reach the highpoint (11,605’). At the summit there is a small summit boulder that requires a quick and easy class 3 move to reach the true highpoint. The benchmark is on the boulder. The summit register is located inside a SPS metal box, which was perched under the summit boulder. The views from the top are outstanding and unobstructed, from the forested peaks and meadows of the Southern Sierra to the south, the Great Western Divide to the west, the High Sierra to the north, and the Owens Valley and Desert Landscape to the east. After enjoying the views you can retrace your steps. Or you can descend more directly the north slope of Trail Peak until you intersect the PCT. From there you can go east to Trail Pass or west to Cottonwood Pass for a very nice but much longer loop trip.
Trail Peak Summit
View North from Trail Peak
Overall, the route from Cottonwood/Trail Pass trailhead to the summit of Trail Peak via Trail Pass and back is about 7 miles with a little less than 2,000 feet of elevation gain. However, you will be basically all the time above 10,000 feet, so that will make it slower for most people.
From Lone Pine turn west onto Whitney Portal Road (mile 0). You will enter immediately the Alabama Hills Recreation Area. At about 3 miles make a left turn onto paved Horseshoe Meadows Road. At 4.7 miles the road crosses Tuttle Creek and at 5.3 miles Lubken Creek (you can take narrow, paved Lubken Road to bypass Lone Pine from or to Highway 395). You pass a gate at Carroll Creek and after that the road climbs steeply in many switchbacks the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada. At 18.3 miles, you pass “Walt’s Point”, a popular launch site for hang gliders. At 19.5 miles the road levels off and descends as it crosses Cottonwood Canyon. At 22.2 miles you reach the parking area for the Golden Trout Wilderness trailhead. Horseshoe Meadow is just beyond the trees.
None required. Bring plenty of water as it can get really hot in the summer. Also, be aware that you will be over 10,000 feet of elevation basically all the time, so acclimatize accordingly.