Cirque Peak Eastern Sierras

Cirque Peak can be reached from either Cottonwood Pass Trail or Cottonwood Lakes Trail. The mountain rises between the two, straddling the divide of the Golden Trout and John Muir Wildernesses. The summit boasts an excellent panorama with a good look at Mount Langley to the north, the Cottonwood Lakes to the east, and the sprawling Sierra to the west.

By far the easiest approach to Cirque Peak is from New Army Pass. The pass is 7.5-miles from Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead and at 12,300 feet, the pass is just 600 feet beneath the summit. The toughest part of this route is the series of switchbacks beneath New Army Pass. From the pass, it is little more than a walk to the top.

Head west from the pass across a trail-less landscape of rock and sand. Follow the ridgeline as it turns south toward the peak. staying west of the crest to avoid the larger rocks. Continue beneath a series of false peaks and save your ascent for true summit. Cirque Peak is about two miles from the pass and will not put up much of a challenge to anyone who has made it this far into the Sierra.

Mount Langley
Mount Langley and New Army Pass from Cirque Peak
Cottonwood Basin
Looking down on Cottonwood Basin

Two other approaches are worth noting:
Hikers can make the ascent from Cirque Lake or Chicken Spring Lake. Both options require about two miles of off-trail trekking and some Class 2 scrambling. These routes meet up at the saddle south of Cirque Peak and take the summit from there.

From Cirque Lake at the end of Old Cottonwood Creek Trail, cross a short but tiresome boulder field to get to the base of the mountain. Look up and choose a path. Loose gravel and rocks can add a little extra effort to the climb to the saddle. Descending this slope is much easier.

Cirque Peak
Descending the southern side of Cirque Peak

Those who ascend Cirque Peak by hiking Cottonwood Lakes Trail to New Army Pass may wish to return to Horseshoe Meadow by dropping down to Cirque Lake and Old Cottonwood Creek Trail. This is the shortest route between the trailhead and the peak.

Old Cottonwood Creek Trail fizzles out on the hillside north of Cirque Lake, so picking it up is a little tricky. If you descend from Cirque Peak, circle to the north side of the lake. About eighty yards from the east end, turn left and head up the hillside. Once you find the trail, it is easy to follow down to South Fork Lake and out to Horseshoe Meadow.

Cirque Peak Trail Map
A topo map of the off-trail hike across Cirque Peak

To get to Cirque Peak: Make your way to Horseshoe Meadow and set out on either Cottonwood Pass Trail, Old Cottonwood Creek Trail, or Cottonwood Lakes Trail.

Trailhead address: Horseshoe Meadows Road, Inyo National Forest, Lone Pine, CA 93545
Trailhead coordinates: 36.4532, -118.1699 (36° 27′ 11.5″N 118° 10′ 11.6″W)

Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.
Trail Map

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These photos were taken in July of 2009. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
sierra hiking trail Old Cottonwood Creek Trail
This 8 to 9-mile day hike follows a secluded trail through mountain meadows to the South Fork Lakes and Cirque Lake.
sierra hiking trail Cottonwood Lakes
This trail through lake-filled Cottonwood Basin provides a 10-mile round trip day hike to Long Lake and a 7.5-miles one-way trek to New Army Pass a 12,300-foot gateway to the Eastern Sierra including nearby Mount Langley.
sierra hiking trail Mount Langley
This 22-mile trek travels past Cottonwood Lakes Trail over New Army Pass to a 14,042-foot summit with towering views of the Sierra.
Mount Pickering Mount Pickering
This 13,485-foot summit west of Mount Langley offers more excellent sierra views.
sierra hiking trail Chicken Spring Lake
This 8.2-mile round trip hike continues past Cottonwood Pass to an alpine lake that makes a nice day hike destination or a good first camp for backpackers.
sierra hiking trail Cottonwood Pass
This 7-mile round trip trail ascends 1,200 feet to an 11,200-foot pass and a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, with access to Golden Trout Wilderness and Sequoia National Park.
sierra hike Lower Soldier Lake
This 19.2-mile loop crosses Cottonwood Pass and New Army Pass to visit a beautiful lake that is an ideal camping spot for backpackers heading higher and deeper into the Sierra.
hiking trails sequoia More trails in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Explore other destinations in Sequoia National Park and the rest of the range.
sierra hiking trail Horseshoe Meadow Campgrounds
This pair of campgrounds offer 40 sites and serve as a great base for the Cottonwood Pass and Cottonwood Lakes trails.
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Tagged with · Backpacking · Free Trails · Golden Trout Wilderness · John Muir Wilderness · Lone Pine · Off Trail · Summits
Distance: 19 miles · Elevation change: 2900 feet

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