Day 2 Backpacking to Mount Whitney – The Back Route!

Mount Whitney Hike to Guitar Lake from Lower Soldier Lake
Mount Whitney Hike to Guitar Lake from Lower Soldier Lake

Mount Whitney Hike, Day 2 to Guitar Lake

Whichever way you go, the Mount Whitney hike is one not to be missed! If you’re following my adventure from day 1, day 2 of our incredible adventure continues below!

If you’re new – welcome! You’ll want to start with day 1 hiking from Horseshoe Meadows campground, and then come on back and continue here to day 2 of 4.

In this article:
Hiking from Lower Soldier Lake to Crabtree Meadows
Hiking from Crabtree Meadows to Guitar Lake
Camping at Guitar Lake

Mount Whitney Hike Day 2
Mount Whitney Hike Day 2

Mount Whitney Hike: Lower Soldier Lake to Crabtree Meadows

Day 2 of our Mount Whitney Hike was quite a tough one. We had spent day 1 of the Mount Whitney hike from Horseshoe Meadows hiking about 10 miles with a ton of elevation gain (and loss). It was made extra exhausting by the fact that we had to traverse snow and a scree instead of a “cozy” trail. And now, here we were, ready to do it all again.

Today we would be hiking about 13 or 14 miles from Lower Soldier Lake to Guitar Lake starting around 11,000 feet of elevation, dropping just under 10,000, and then ending up around 11,500. OY!!! I was already exhausted from the day before and had no idea how my legs were going to carry me all that way. But…I sure as hell wasn’t going back the way we came. So, on we hiked!

Mount Whitney Hike Day 2: Lower Soldier Lake to Guitar Lake
Mount Whitney Hike Day 2: Lower Soldier Lake to Guitar Lake
Mount Whitney Hike Day 2 - Lower Soldier Lake to Guitar Lake
Mount Whitney Hike Day 2 – Lower Soldier Lake to Guitar Lake

The Mount Whitney hike from Horseshoe Meadows to Lower Soldier Lake is beautiful, but with all the snow, it was rough. Today’s hike was rough in a completely different way from the day before. Rough enough that we barely took any photos on our first trip. All I can imagine is that we were just far too tired to care. I’ve supplemented with photos of a more recent trip of the same route.

We were lucky enough not to run into any snow on the trail this day, but the trail was very long and arduous. Lot of uphill and downhill, with incredible views and barely anyone around us. Because of the high snow levels, the rivers and streams were flowing and deep as we waded through the very cold water. Annoyingly, even though the water was frosty, the mosquitoes didn’t mind. Some in our group brought the more organic types of bug spray, but in the end, we were all reaching for the deet. I get it, deet is scary, but mosquitoes love me, and I detest them.

In terms of the actual Mount Whitney hike, you start day 2 from Lower Soldier Lake along Rock Creek until you meet up with the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail starts out flat along Rock Creek and a small lake and then heads downhill for a bit. This sounds great, but it actually sucks because you know you’re just going to have to make up for it with a lot more uphill.

You’ll come to a wooden fence that looks like you’re not supposed to pass, but we do. Then you’ll pass a Ranger Station which is a great spot for a snack. Eventually, you make it to the uphill part which consists of a series of switchbacks over a pass near Mount Guyot. The uphill is relentless for a while and feels like it will never end. There is a stream at the top of the pass (might be dry in late season) where you can fill your water. Check with Rangers before your trip.

On the other side of the pass, you head downhill briefly into a meadow that you follow along for a bit. This section is relatively flat which is a nice break, but don’t let it fool you – you still have another pass to go before hitting Crabtree Meadows.


Mount Whitney Hike: Crabtree Meadows to Guitar Lake

In heavy snow seasons, you’ll have a creek crossing before Crabtree Meadows – I believe it’s Crabtree Creek but I’m not certain. The mosquitos here are brutal. From there, you’ll head along the creek until you get to Crabtree Meadows, a popular camping area for through hikers.

Crabtree Meadows is a great place to stop and camp for the night unless you’re a glutton for punishment like me. By now you’ve already gone about 10 miles along the Mount Whitney trail. From Crabtree Meadows to Guitar Lake is about another 3 miles. And it’s uphill. Heading to a higher elevation. And it’s tough, and you’re tired, and it’s late.

If I were going to do this route of the Mount Whitney hike again, I would plan to spend the night at Crabtree Meadows and make it a 5 day trip instead of 4. Yes, it’s “only” another 3 miles to Guitar Lake, but after a long, long day, those 3 miles are death. Both times I’ve done this route we’ve gotten to Guitar Lake just before sun down and with every step we convince ourselves we’re “almost there” until we get over the next hill and realize we’re not even close.

We always start the Mount Whitney hike relatively early, knowing we have a lot of ground to cover, but as the sun starts to go down, we are always l left looking for Guitar Lake. You know you’re close as you hike along, but it’s hard to tell just how close. Then, just as you’re about to give up hope – there it is. The beautiful Guitar Lake!

On this trip in 2011, since it was July and there was still a good amount of snow on the ground throughout the Sierras, there was only one couple in a tent way down by the lake. Otherwise, it was completely empty which was lovely! When I did this hike again in August 2016, Guitar Lake was littered with backpackers and it was much more difficult to find a campsite this late in the day.


Camping at Guitar Lake

We set up camp, put on some layers, made dinner, and quickly settled in for the night. Completely exhausted, social time was kept short at night, especially knowing we had to get up the next morning and shoot for the summit of Mount Whitney! Both times I’ve been to Guitar Lake – July 2011 and August 2016 – it was freezing. Probably some of the coldest camping I’ve done. So, layer up!

The mistake we made in 2016 was that we were so tired, we didn’t make our proper dinners. We instead opted for a breakfast meal which would cook faster. This affected us the next day since we hadn’t had enough calories to keep our bodies functioning at full capacity. And that’s a big part of why I would recommend staying the night in Crabtree Meadows and having a short 3-mile day to rest the next day.

Although day 2 of the Mount Whitney hike had been excruciatingly long and tiring, it was also incredibly beautiful. We also ran into far fewer people than we would along the Whitney Portal route, which is nice. In rainy seasons, the river crossings are deep and cold, but a fun experience, and the hills are extremely tough, but in the end….I did it. And that’s what mattered!!

The next day of our Mount Whitney hike was setup to be another very long day. We’d be hiking from Guitar Lake to the Mount Whitney summit, and then the plan was to hike all the way down to Outpost Camp. There is one campsite closer to the summit – Trail Camp – but we were determined to get as far down as we could to make day 4 as easy as possible.

Read more of my Mount Whitney hike and adventure:


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