Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mount Langley

Mount Langley, at 14,027 feet, is the ninth highest peak in California. It is the first fourteener (peak 14,000 feet or taller) I climbed. I have been to the top of it three time, using three different routes. I will give a summary of each of the three different trips.

Via New Army Pass (August 11, 1993):

Monday, August 9, 1993, I slept at Horeshoe Meadow with my brother, Matt, my brother-in-law, David Kenison, and my nephew, Rick DeLong. This was my first experience in the Sierras. I was awoken Tuesday morning about 5:00 a.m. by a bear going through the garbage cans. Dave and I left about 6:30 a.m. to drive my car, a Subaru station wagon, to Whitney Portal, about 33 miles away. From Whitney Portal, we hitchhiked 10 miles down to the Horeshoe Meadow Road where we were picked up by Mark Richey on his way to Horeshoe Meadow in his van.

Mark was scoutmaster of Troop 331 in Redlands and had some scouts, as well as a number of his family members. This was the beginning of one of my favorite outdoor outings ever. Below, our group starting out Tuesday morning from Horseshoe Meadow on the Cottonwood Lakes Trail. Joe Richey (Mark's father), Rick DeLong, Dave (a friend of Joe), Mark Richey, Dave Kenison, Brad Martinsen, James Richey and Dave Richey (Mark's brothers), me, Peter Walker, Brian Lehnhof, Kirk Thompson, Jeremiah Brice and Matt Cannon.

I recall Jeremiah Brice lying down on the trail, about a hundred yards in, saying he couldn't go any further. The shock of the initial weight of the pack. He got back up and was ultimately one of the strongest hikers. Rick DeLong entering the John Muir Wilderness. This year, 16 years later, Rick is doing a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. As I write this, Rick has just finished the entire State of California and is in to Oregon.

Below, Rick crossing Cottonwood Creek. The large group eventually settled into sub-groups of hikers walking at a similar pace. Rick was my hiking companion for much of the trip in to New Army Pass. My brother, Matt, at Cottonwood Lake #1 with Mount Langley behind him.

The only difference between the New Army Pass route to Langley and the Army Pass route is a few miles, each going up a separate pass very close to each other. New Army Pass, at about 12,160 feet, is about 300 feet higher than Army Pass. However, the trail over it is maintained and it tends to be free of snow earlier in the year than Army Pass. It is also a little bit longer. Below, Long Lake with New Army Pass visible to the upper left. High Lake, not visible, is located in the depression in the upper center. Mark Richey and his group camped at Long Lake Tuesday night. They did not intend to do Langley, but were focusing on Mount Whitney.

My group, including Dave, Matt and Rick, camped at the top of New Army Pass. Below, Dave sitting at New Army Pass, with High Lake, Long Lake and a couple of Cottonwood Lakes visible behind him.

Rick and Matt at the top of New Army Pass with Mount Langley visible behind them. Our route the next day followed the bottom of the top ridge

We settled in for a cold sleep Tuesday night as the wind was howling.

From New Army Pass, you go down 300 feet to the saddle where Army Pass is, then follow an obvious trail to the Langley summit block. From there, tracks go all over the place. There is a small ridge of rocks that has to be climbed to get to the summit. The route with the least exposure is to address the ridge by hitting it straight on, staying to the left as you get to the summit block. On this trip, we stayed under the ridge, hiking up the loose rock and sand. As you get higher, the ridge gets higher and steeper until you reach a canyon on the other side. From there, we went up the summit blocks, an easy class 3 climb, with some exposure, but less than the ridge leading up to that point.

From there, you walk until you find the high point. The view is spectacular. Mount Whitney is visible as the high point in the center of the picture below.

Dave, Matt and Rick at the summit.

The beautiful treeless Miter Basin is visible as well. Following my third trip to Langley, last year, we visited Sky-Blue Lake which is left of center in the picture below.

On our way back down the mountain, headed toward Soldier Lake, we followed a different route, aiming for the easiest ridge rock at the bottom of the summit block. We got a beautiful view of the Cottonwood Lakes below.
Dave and Rick, barely visible in the center of the picture, among the jumble of rocks on the way down.

Via Cottonwood Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail (August 3, 2007):

Permits over Cottonwood Pass are generally easier to obtain than permits into the Cottonwood Lakes (for New Army or Army Passes). Cottonwood Pass is also easier than New Army and Army Passes. Below, Steve Mapes, Craig Wright, Brent Wright, Ryan Richey, Mark Richey and myself at the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead in August 2007. The trailheads are only about a mile apart.

Below, the Horeshoe Meadows are visible as we get close to Cottonwood Pass.

At the top of Cottonwood Pass (11,160 feet), 2.9 miles from the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead in Horseshoe Meadow, you connect with the Pacific Crest Trail. In .6 miles, at 11,225 feet, you come to the short side-trail for Chicken Spring Lake. Here we took a rest break. This is the only sure water until the stream down the other side of Army Pass, just east of Soldier Lake.

I had been to Chicken Spring Lake one time before, in August 1997, with Sam and Andrew. We had just climbed Mount Whitney from Whitney Portal and were going to do Mount Langley via this route. When we arrived at Chicken Spring Lake and were setting up camp, I realized I had forgotten my contact lense case and solution. So we had to re-pack and get back out to the trailhead that evening, in the dark, and decided to go home. See Chicken Spring Lake, below.

The route from Chicken Spring Lake on is quite sandy and can be tiring. However, it is also relatively level. On this trip, we caught a significant afternoon thundershower which cooled things off and the moisture firmed up the loose sand and actually made it easier for us to hike. Steve Mapes, below, in his rain gear.

After 4.5 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, we came to a junction. To the left, the PCT continued on to Rock Creek. We took the right fork, which continued on to Soldier Lake and the Army Pass Trail (from the backside). While at the trail fork, we encountered two rangers assisting an injured hiker who was having a difficult time walking. They moved lower into a meadow below us where a helicopter flew in to pick up the hiker. Brent and Ryan followed them to the meadow to get a closer look at the helicopter. The ranger indicated that the helicopter is a $3,000 ride. About that same time, I heard what I thought was the bellowing of a bear. It turned out to be Steve, heaving up the contents of his stomach. We camped that night at Army Creek, just short of Soldier Lake.

The next morning, August 3, 2007, we set out on the trail to the backside of Army Pass. It follows a steady trail up a canyon, then switchbacks up a ridge. Below, looking back down the trail up toward Army Pass, near the beginning.

Because of his altitude sickness, Steve continued on over Army Pass to the Cottonwood Lakes below. At the saddle at the top of Army Pass, Craig, Brent, Mark, Ryan and I followed the trail up to Mount Langley. We followed the same route to the summit I took 14 years earlier. The Cottonwood Lakes are visible below. These pictures were taken by Mark. I didn't have a camera with me.

Ryan below the top ridge. You can see that the ridge at this point is much more difficult than if attempted earlier on or later.

The picture below was taken at the edge of the canyon where we went up the class 3 summit blocks. Mark has a real fear of heights. As I got on the final boulder climb, I recommended that he not attempt it. I had forgotten that there was some exposure there. Ryan stayed with him. They were rewarded by seeing a bighorn sheep nearby.

They took a picture of me at the top of the boulders, barely visible in the center. This is not the summit. The summit is still a further hike, but up easy rock.

A closer up picture of me on the boulders. I was very happy to see Craig and Brent emerge from the boulders and we summited. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of us there.

A picture Mark took on the way back down, near the edge of the mountain over the Cottonwood Lakes. The Owens Valley is visible in the distance.

Ryan at the top of Army Pass with a Cottonwood Lake below him.

We had talked to some hikers who came up Army Pass and they indicated it was very doable. The Army Pass Trail is not maintained. But most of the snow was gone and other than a short section of trail that has been wiped out by a rock slide (which we were easily able to negotiate around), it was a nice trail to the bottom, much easier than the New Army Pass Trail. Below, reflection in one of the Cottonwood Lakes.

That evening, we camped on the small strip of land between lakes 4 and 5 and then headed out to the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead the next morning. Ryan and Mark pose on a boulder with Langley behind them.

Ryan follows the trail through the trees.

This route is longer than both New Army and Army Passes, but is a nice alternative if permits are not available for the Cottonwood Lakes or if you want to do a round trip that is covering the same ground. I hiked from the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead to the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead to get the car. It was not too bad of a hike.

Via Old Army Pass (July 29, 2008):

The next year I helped to plan a Redlands Stake High Adventure backpacking trip to Mount Whitney. We had five groups going to Mount Whitney from different directions. Mark Richey was assigned the group to go in over New Army Pass that would then go around the backside of Mount Whitney and out Whitney Portal. Then Mark had some medical problems and decided he could not do it and I took over the leadership of the New Army Pass group. At the last minute, Mark decided he could do it and accompanied us. So he was with me on each of my three Mount Langley trips, although he chose not to summit the mountain. His son Ryan was also with us and did summit on this trip.

We had 16 people, one too many for our permit. So I obtained a separate permit for myself. We decided to do Old Army Pass, instead of New Army Pass, as we'd found that the snow conditions were good and it was passable. It was a shorter and easier route to the saddle. Some of the group wanted to do Mount Langley, and some of the group decided to hike directly to Soldier Lake. I led the group up Langley and Mark and Dave Haimsen led the group over to Soldier Lake. Because of the separate permit, I camped at the top of Army Pass while the rest of the group camped at Cottonwood Lake #5. My yellow bivvy bag below.

The morning of July 29, 2008, at the top of Army Pass, we met and decided who was going to go up Langley and who was going to continue on to Soldier Lake. Those doing Langley would do a cross-country trip down to upper Soldier Lake and then down to Lower Soldier Lake where we would reconnect late that afternoon.

Below, Josh Zollinger and Ryan Richey watch while I hike to catch up to them. These pictures were taken by my son, Andrew, who was able to join us for the trip.

Below, Big Whitney Meadow is seen in the distance. The Pacific Crest Trail from Cottonwood Pass follows a route around the mountain above Big Whitney Meadow. Later, after summiting Langley, we went down the canyon to the right to Upper Soldier Lake. This trip, we went directly up the ridge rather than following the trail below the ridge. This is a much better route for anyone afraid of heights as the exposure is much reduced. In some respects it is a more difficult hike, because there is much more boulder hopping, whereas the other route is just boulders at the very end.

Andrew Palmer at the summit of Langley, looking over the edge.

Andrew and I at the summit of Langley. It was wonderful to have him on the trip. Unfortunately, I can't access the cd of pictures taken by other people to show the rest of the group at the summit, which included Jeff Newton, Greg Newton, Ryan Richey, Josh Zollinger, Andrew Palmer and Brian Hartman.

I think the view from Mount Langley is as nice as that from Whitney. In some respects I like this hike more as there are many fewer people doing it, while Whitney can be a traffic jam. It also is a little less straight-forward, because the trail at the end is one you make yourself. It is a wonderful destination.

1 comment:

  1. I like the first hike best. It was pre-purple pants. You have on that horrendous item of clothing on the other hikes.