RCPS to Mammoth Via Horse Heaven

Trip Details

Duration:6 days

Group size: 4-12 participants

Trip Rating: Moderate

Price: $1440 per person

Date: August 18-23, 2019

  5. MAPS
Trip Overview:

Experience the beauty of countless granite peaks, streams, lakes and meadows carpeted with wildflowers. The route crosses Mono, Silver and Duck passes before dropping into the Mammoth Basin. You will have the opportunity for trout fishing mornings, evenings and on the layover day.

Hikers should be able to walk nine miles, 2,500’ elevation gain/loss. You should acclimate to 8,000’ to 10,000’ for 1-3 days prior to the trip.

Distance: 40.9 miles, 8,450’ total gain and 9,650’ loss on moving days
Elevation Profile:

Day 1: Mosquito Flat Trailhead to Third Recess
8.1 miles, 1,900’ gain, 2,550’ loss

You will be driven one mile to the Mosquito Flat Trailhead. The trail climbs gently beside Rock Creek before ascending a rocky section to the Little Lakes Valley Trail junction in ½ mile. Turn right toward Mono Pass and then left in 1/10 mile at an unsigned junction. The path climbs steadily through forest, opening to beautiful views of the lakes and glaciated peaks of Little Lakes Valley. A junction at mile 1.8 offers a Ό mile side trip to Ruby Lake, surrounded by towering granite walls. The Mono Pass Trail leaves the trees, ascending long, sandy switchbacks up the southern flank of Mt. Starr to cross 12,075’ Mono Pass at mile 3.5. The trail descends easily through the barren landscape past Summit Lake to unrestricted views of the peaks surrounding Pioneer and Hopkins Basins. The path continues past Trail Lakes, skirting meadows and dwarf forests, to an easy stream crossing at Golden Creek before dropping down through dense forest to the valley. A few more stream crossings bring us to our camp under towering Mono Rock near the confluence of Third Recess and Mono Creeks.

Day 2: Layover

This could be a day of relaxation, but the Mono Creek area is a destination in itself and the beauty of the lake basins should be explored. There are many excellent day hike options to choose from.
Option 2A: Pioneer Basin
4.4-9 miles round trip, 900’-1,600’ gain and loss

Pioneer Basin is one of those hikes you will think of when people ask you about your favorite places in the Sierra. The mix of flowered meadows, glacier scoured granite, pristine lakes, expansive views, and towering peaks make this a special place. Follow the Mono Creek Trail back toward Mono Pass for 1.3 miles to the junction to Pioneer Basin. Turn left and follow the trail 0.9 miles to Pioneer Lake #1, also called Mud Lake. The lake is surrounded by meadow and there is a beautiful view into the Fourth Recess basin. Mud Lake could be a goal in itself, but much more is to be discovered by walking further into the basin using one of two trails. The eastern trail follows Pioneer Basin Creek, which flows into and out of Mud Lake. The path climbs through flower dotted meadows eventually reaching a junction with Lake #4 to the right and Lake #3 to the left. The other option is the trail that leaves Mud Lake WNW toward the outlet of Lake #2 and then follows the eastern shore of #2, #2A, and #3. Lake #5 offers stunning views and is worth the climb. The ideal walk is to follow the streams and meadows to Lake #4, cross country over to Lake #5 and circle the basin following the eastern shores of Lake #3, Lake #2A, and Lake #2, before dropping back to Mud Lake.
Option 2B: Hopkins Lakes
5.8-11 miles round trip, 1,300’-2,500’ gain and loss

The Lower Hopkins Lake is a charming pocket lake surrounded by meadows. From camp, follow the Mono Creek Trail 0.9 miles down to the Hopkins Lake junction. Turn right and switchback up 1.3 miles to the junction to Lower Hopkins Lake. Follow the trail to the left 0.7 miles to the lake. Return the 0.7 miles to the Hopkins Creek Trail. Turn left to continue up 2.5 miles to the Upper Hopkins Lake on a use trail or turn right to drop back down to the Mono Creek Trail where you will turn left to return to camp.
Option 2C: Third Recess Lake
3.6 miles round trip, 950’ gain and loss

The Third Recess Lake is a pretty lake in a glacial cirque. Cross Mono Creek and follow the east side of the Third Recess stream up almost two miles to the lake. This is an unmaintained trail in fairly good condition.
Option 2D: Fourth Recess Lake
3.6 miles round trip, 600’ gain and loss

Fourth Recess Lake is a beautiful lake nestled in a deep glacial trough. Follow the Mono Creek Trail back toward Mono Pass for 1.3 miles to the junction to Fourth Recess Lake. Follow the forested path to the right for ½ mile to the lake.

Day 3: Third Recess to Silver Pass Meadow
9.3 miles, 1,750’ gain, 1,700’ loss

The trail follows rushing Mono Creek for seven miles as the conifer forest eventually gives way to quaking aspen. Be prepared for several stream crossings, which can usually be crossed on rocks. The easy descent through the steep-walled valley is eventually blocked as the creek rounds a 400’ granite knob that we must climb over to meet the John Muir Trail. The path now follows the east bank of the North Fork of Mono Creek for 1.4 miles up through Pocket Meadow to the junction to Mott Lake. Crossing the creek, the trail steepens on forested switchbacks beneath tumbling falls. Camp is in a sheltered meadow with a winding creek that abruptly ends at the granite cliffs overlooking Pocket Meadow and panoramic views of the mountains to the south.

Day 4 : Silver Pass Meadow over Silver Pass to Horse Heaven
8.8 miles, 2,100; gain, 2,000’ loss

The trail follows Silver Pass Creek for ½ mile turning to switchbacks to Silver Pass Lake. The trail steepens to reach 10,779’ Silver Pass at mile 3.1. Plan to spend some time at Silver Pass, as the vista is absolutely stunning. With views as far south as Bear Creek and Seldon Pass and the magnificent Ritter Range to the northwest, the Sierra shows off its beauty. The trail descends through alpine lakes surrounded by granite cirques and meadows peppered across the stone slabs, eventually dropping through thick forest to the Cascade Valley Junction at mile 4.2. The trail follows cascading Fish Creek to Tully Hole and the junction to McGee Pass. Turn right onto the McGee Pass trail, following Fish Creek one mile up to camp at the edge of the lush meadows of Horse Heaven.

Day 5 : Horse Heaven to Purple Lake
5.3 miles, 1,200’ gain, 1,150’ loss

Retrace your steps back to Tully Hole and then climb 900’ in two miles up exposed switchbacks to Lake Virginia. The wonderful views south provide an excellent excuse to catch your breath. This is a short day, so plan to spend some time at this beautiful lake, before climbing a low ridge and then dropping down to Purple Lake, another beautiful lake, particularly in evening light. Leave the John Muir Trail at the outlet of Purple Lake to follow the Purple Creek Trail down a quarter mile to camp along side the creek.

Day 6: Purple Lake to Coldwater Trailhead, Mammoth Lakes
9.4 miles, 1,500’ gain, 2,150’ loss

Follow the Purple Lake Trail up to the junction with the John Muir Trail. Follow the path to the left. The trail climbs 500’ out of the lake basin before dropping 200’ to the Duck Lake junction at mile 2.6. Turn right to ascend 300’ to the outlet of rocky Duck Lake and then parallel the west shoreline as you climb up to 10,797’ Duck Pass, mile 4.8. The views from the pass are spectacular, with the Sierra Crest to the southeast, the Silver Divide to the south, and the Mammoth Crest and Ritter Range to the northwest. Drop down on switchbacks into the Mammoth Creek drainage, passing Barney, Red, and Skelton Lakes. Turn right at the poorly signed trail junction near the outlet of Skelton Lakes, mile 7.6, to pass the Arrowhead Lake junction at mile 8.1. Descend on easy switchbacks to the Coldwater Trailhead. Rock Creek Pack Station will be there by 2:00 to transport you and your gear back to the pack station.

Mosquito Flat Trailhead 0.0 10,250
Little Lakes Valley/Mono Pass Junction0.5 10,520
Junction to Stock Trail for RCPS0.6 10,550
Ruby Lake Junction 1.8 11,040
Mono Pass 3.5 12,075
Golden Lake Junction 6.3 10,440
Pioneer Basin Junction 6.8 10,060
Third Recess Junction8.18.1 9,610
Hopkins Lakes Junction9.0 9,340
Laurel Creek Junction 11.3 8,800
Second Recess Junction 11.7 8,560
JMT Junction 15.2 8,360
Mott Lake Junction 16.6 8,985
Silver Pass Meadow 9.3 17.4 9,650
Silver Pass 20.5 10,745
Indian Lakes Junction 21.4 10,545
Cascade Valley Trail Junction 24.1 9,200
Horse Heaven Junction 25.2 9,520
Horse Heaven Camp 8.8 26.2 9,700
Horse Heaven Junction 27.2 9,520
Lake Virginia Inlet 29.2 10,366
JMT at Purple Lake Junction 31.2 9,930
Camp Below Purple Lake 5.3 31.5 9,700
JMT at Purple Lake Junction 31.8 9,930
Duck Lake Junction 34.1 10,150
Duck Lake Outlet 34.9 10,480
Trail to Duck Lake Shoreline 36.2 10,730
Duck Pass 36.3 10,797
Emerald Lake Junction 39.1 9,900
Arrowhead Lake Junction 39.6 9,775
Duck Pass Trailhead 9.4 40.9 9,120
Please note that this represents the planned itinerary. Weather or other factors may affect the choice of campsites and daily travel. All decisions are made by the Head Packer with attention to the safety and comfort of guests and stock.

Expected Campsite Locations
Day To Elevation Latitude N Longitude W Miles Gain Loss
1 Third Recess 9600 37.443 118.807 8.1 1,900 2,550
2Silver Pass Meadow9,65037.442118.9149.3 1,750 1,700
3 Horse Heaven 9,700 37.497 118.912 8.8 2,100 2,050
4 Purple Lake 9,700 37.524 118.952 5.3 1,200 1,200
5 Cold Water Trail Head 9,120 37.592 118.990 9.4 1,500 2,100
Total 40.9 8,450 9,650
*Mileage, gain, and loss based on Guthook’s PCT Guide.

sierra orchid
packer and saddle
What you need to know…for hikers on pack stock supported trips

Dunnage limit is 30 lbs. per person (this includes sleeping bags, fishing equipment, liquor, etc.)

You may bring your own tent up to 10 pounds that is in addition. The PCT 28 day trip allows 35 pounds of duffel.


Bring belongings in stout canvas or nylon duffels; side zipper recommended, ideal size approximately 14" x 32". It is a good idea to use a large plastic bag INSIDE of the duffle to protect contents from external moisture.

Sleeping bags can be in separate duffels --again, line the inside of the duffle against rain. Place all cosmetics, soaps, medications, etc into small plastic containers with close-fitting caps, THEN into sturdy resealable plastic storage bags. If anything breaks or bursts from altitude changes, the plastic bag contains the spill. When possible, it is a good idea to transfer alcoholic beverages to sturdy plastic bottles with well fitting caps - it will save weight and protect against breakage.


  • Footwear. For this trips a medium-weight pair of hiking boots. We do not recommend lightweight hikers or tennies since they give little ankle support and the soles are often thin.
  • Camp Shoes. A lightweight pair of tennies or Tevas to wear in camp. This will reduce vegetation damage at our campsites.
  • A day pack. It should be large enough to take water, extra clothing, rainwear, camera, etc during the days.
  • Sleeping Bag. Most summer trips are warm and a bag rated to about 25°F will be plenty warm enough. We much prefer down bags, and good quality ones at that. Your bag should weigh in around 3 pounds.
  • Sleeping pad. A 3/4 or full length closed cell foam or Thermarest. If you bring a Thermarest also bring a repair kit to fix pesky holes!
  • Coffee mug (plastic for camp)


  • 2 pair synthetic liner socks.
  • 2 pair heavier synthetic or wool blend socks.
  • Long underwear top. Capilene, some other synthetic or the new pure Merino wool types.
  • Long underwear bottom.
  • Warm pants. Tights or Expedition Weight Capilene.
  • Warm shirt. Synchilla or R2 weight works well.
  • Another fuzzy sweater top or pile jacket of some sort
  • GoreTex Jacket and Pants. A lightweight set is sufficient and heavy bulky clothing is unnecessary. Side zips on the pants should be long enough to slide over boots. Jacket must have a hood. Do not skimp on your rain gear. Nylon ponchos are not acceptable.
  • Shorts for on the trail
  • Tee shirt for on the trail
  • Lightweight capilene or similar gloves.
  • Warm hat. Synthetic or wool.
  • Sunhat


  • Sun glasses.
  • Water Bottles. Two quart (1 liter) wide mouth bottles and/or a hydration system holding up to 50oz. (2 liters). Don’t bring bike bottles or any bottle that doesn’t have a wide opening.
  • Headlamp. --and a spare set of batteries!
  • Pocket knife. Swiss army style.
  • Personal toiletries. It is not necessary to smell like a rose each day so do not over do it.
  • Ear plugs are great to have in a noisy tent.
  • Personal Medical Kit. The guide will carry a large kit so yours will predominately consist of foot repair items, mild pain killer such as Advil and bandaids.
  • Sunscreen and lip screen. SPF 30+. A 1oz. bottle will be enough. Make sure the lip stuff actually contains a sunscreen.
  • Bug repellent.
  • Camera. A spare battery and card are good backups
  • Ski/trekking poles. These are not essential, but can be handy on the trail. It is your choice, but they do save wear on the knees.
  • Plastic trash bag. Handy for keeping gear in outside the tent should it rain.
  • Optional reading material, etc.


We provide the all meals on scheduled trips. You can bring your favorite "on-the-trail" snacks.


  • Small notepad and pencil
  • Collapsible plastic wash basin (optional)
  • Solar shower (optional)
  • Water filtering pump (optional)
  • Liquor (be sure to check in with the packers to see that your liquor is packed safely)
  • Fishing equipment (optional)
  • Rod/reel/line (a rod that breaks down into 3 or more pieces is recommended)
  • Compact metal rod case to carry on saddle
  • Canvas creel (no tackle boxes)
  • Leader material (1-3 lb.)
  • Flies: black gnat, mosquito, grey hackle, brown hackle, & royal coachman (No. 12-14 hooks)
  • Bait: worms & Pautzke red eggs
  • Egg hooks, worm hooks (No. 10-14)
  • Split shot
  • Lures (personal choice)
  • Pliers

Click on the map for a larger image. Thanks for Tom Harrison Maps for the use of this image!

You can purchase quality topo maps at TOM HARRISON MAPS.