4,800 feet of vertical gain
Up New Army Pass/Down Old Army Pass
I was well aware that Mount Langley was an ambitious goal considering my winter/spring ankle injury. I had not seen the other side of twenty miles in quite some time. I was out of high altitude shape and although I had been running and activity-ing A LOT since late May, this type of day, in this mountain range, was sure to be an undertaking. But I wanted to climb a California 14er and I did not want to climb Mount Whitney (too many humans). If Langley is done as a day trip, no permit is required. This was very attractive to me since I hate paperwork.
Ryan and I moved from Onion Valley to the Cottonwood Lakes trail head at the end of Horseshoe Meadow Road. There is a tent only campground but it was completely full. Not a big deal, we both sleep in our cars, however, it being Saturday and all, there was no available parking. After some quick exploration we found a nearby equestrian campground and I put Ryan in the pen and told him to give me his best horse impression as the campground host made rounds. She said, “you will need to move if horse campers come through.” And I said, “oh no no, my horse The Rollins is right there. He is a two time Kentucky Derby champion.” With plenty of open equestrian spots there was no need to panic. We organized food and gear, ate dinner, made friends with our neighbors (also horseless), and turned in with a totally reasonable 3 a.m. wake up call.
This was Ryan’s first 14 thousand foot peak and I was very excited to share the experience with him. We started up Cottonwood Lakes trail around 4 a.m. Be sure to take Cottonwood LAKES trail and not Cottonwood Pass trail. I am sure it is equally as beautiful but if you want to climb Mount Langley head north towards a bunch of lakes. There are a web of trails in the area but if you can remember north on Cottonwood Lakes and west on New Army Pass, it’s a breeze. Because we had so much to talk about, time passed quickly. Before I knew it we arrived at lake No. 1. For real, that is it’s name, No. 1.
Next we hiked past No. 2, Long Lake, and High Lake until we arrived at the base of New Army Pass. The terrain is nothing like any Colorado 14er I have ever climbed. It is a wicked hot high alpine desert. Now I know we call Colorado terrain, “high alpine desert,” but no I’m sorry, it’s cool and well forested. It was at No. 2 where I discovered I packed my other pair of glasses instead of my sunglasses. I also did not have a brimmed hat or anything to protect myself from the blazing rays of fiery star burning my eyeballs out of my skull. I put both pairs of regular glasses on hoping that would help and simultaneously make me look crazy.
Getting up New Army Pass was our kind of fun and landed us on the surface of planet Langley.
We stopped to eat and I adjusted my high pony, because priorities.
It wasn’t long before alien life emerged looking for a free meal.
Now, what goes up must go down and New Army Pass is no exception to the rule. It is very easy to descend your way right over the west side to Soldier Lakes, so pay attention. The landscape is a vast ray of nothingness covered in sand. Speaking of sand, gators would have been helpful. I ended up with an entire beach in my trail runners. It is best to descend New Army Pass by hugging just below the west side of Langley’s south ridge and heading north.
Mostly all the vertical gain comes in the last 1.5 miles. The last 800 feet or so are nauseatingly steep and loose. Follow the gigantic cairns!! They will generate the illusion that you are going the wrong way but the big giant cairns lead to the summit, while the ridge leads to well, no where.
I was feeling amazing as I boulder hopped the last bit to the summit. Ryan was a bit behind me as he experienced oxygen deficiency for the first time. There was a group of dude men at the summit who had day tripped from San Diego. The first thing we talked about was mountain poops as another two men with a jet boil made soup. The views were unlike any I have seen. I saluted Mount Whitney and high-fived Ryan as he stepped onto the summit block. A married couple celebrating their wedding anniversary soon joined. They had made both aforementioned mistakes; descending New Army Pass too far west and not following the big cairns.
It was a very fun summit and everyone exchanged instagram handles. I still follow the adventures of the summit strangers.
Now, Old Army Pass is a thing. I knew that it is incredibly dangerous with snow if one does not wield the proper gear. We definitely did not have snow gear. New Army Pass was constructed because hikers were dying on Old Army Pass (it holds snow year round). I suggested going down Old Army because it would not only shave off some mileage but we would get to see a new group of mountain lakes. Ryan agreed. I said we could turn around if at any point it became unmanageable. We hit the permanent snow field and yes, it was a bit terrifying but ultimately short. A slip would have meant a 2,000 foot ride down a sheer granite face. Once we safely crossed we enjoyed the view of Lake No. 4.
As we made our way down, like an old pro Ryan started talking about everything he was going to eat once back at his car. If you talk about food for ten miles it really does make it taste better.
We skirted between Lake No. 4 and No. 5 only stopping to eat a gel and dump thirty pounds of sand from our shoes.
There are a few ways back to the trail head but we ended up on a trail to the east of No. 1. It was an amazing hike out.
About 3 miles from the trail head we caught up with the man dudes who were riding the 24 miles in a day pain train. It was great meeting Ryan and being able to share this peak with him. I absolutely love the Sierras and have every intention of adding another California 14er to my list next summer.
That’s a wrap on DAY 6. As I write about each adventure it is crazy how much I did in just six days and how much more there is to come (over six weeks more).
Stay tuned because next I take you to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park where I wrestle a giant bear.
”The joy of life comes from encounters with new experiences.”