It’s possible to knock off a whole slew of peaks southwest of Whitney as a big traverse: Joe Devel, Pickering, Newcomb, Chamberlin, and Guyot. Some parts of the traverse are even supposedly fun class 3. After an attempt from the Whitney side via Arc Pass that ended with no energy and a long nap at Consultation Lake — not the worst place in the world for such a thing — I took another shot from Horseshoe Meadows. Secor suggests doing the traverse counterclockwise, from Joe Devel to Guyot, so I figured I would do that. Big mistake.
The first problem is how to get to Rock Creek at the base of Joe Devel’s south slope. The options are either to go around via Cottonwood Pass or over one of the Army Passes. I chose the former on the way out, because it requires less elevation gain and may be slightly shorter. I was outraged to see an entire herd of cattle grazing below Cottonwood Pass. I know this is Forest Service “multiple abuse” land, but this was my first time seeing this form of water-contaminating abuse in the high Sierra.
Past the pass, it is a long but mostly pleasant hike along the west side of the crest, with good views of the Kaweahs and the peaks around Mineral King. The extended sections of deep sand for which the trail is known are mostly downhill. Moving at a fast walk, it was about 3 hours to where the route crosses Rock Creek at 10,500′ for the 3000 foot climb up Joe Devel.
This climb turned out to be the kind of thing that makes you wonder why you’re out there. At least 2000 feet of the climb is loose “kitty litter” sand, which feels slow even when it is not, while the rest is mostly big talus. This is topped off by a series of false summits. The views of the Kaweahs to the west and the rugged Corcoran ridge to the east are fine, but the climb had sapped much of my enthusiasm. This peak doesn’t see much traffic, and I can see why.
After some loose side-hilling on the northwest side of Joe Devel, the traverse from to Pickering is just more big talus. After reaching this much more popular summit, I decided to call it a day, dropping south to Lake Erin and from there to Rock Creek. Not wanting to take the long sand traverse in the uphill direction, I chose the extra elevation gain and distance of Army Pass. I had never been on this side of the pass, and was pleasantly surprised to find a moderate climb on mostly well-compacted sand. I thought of heading down New Army Pass, but the absurdity of climbing an extra couple hundred feet quickly drove me down Old Army Pass. This last in the season the pass is completely snow-free, but the walk out to the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead is as long as always.
If you do the traverse, do not start up Joe Devel. Most of the southwest slope, a slog going up would be a fast boot-ski on the way down. Also, expect a long day, particularly if you do tack on Guyot.