Just the facts, ma'amThis is a failed attempt to link the California 14ers from Langley to Tyndall as a dayhike. I gave up after Russell, but had to "bail" back to Shepherd Pass to meet my ride, making for a long day -- 19h40.
Route: I took a "shortcut" to Langley, then dropped into Rock Creek, climbed to Crabtree Pass, and traversed to Trail Crest to pick up the main Whitney trail. I bagged Muir and Whitney from the trail, then dropped down Whitney's north slope and up Russell's SW chute (left branch). From there, I descended the north ridge, then followed Wallace Creek to the JMT to Shepherd Pass.
Conclusions: Old Army Pass is probably the best way to do Langley at night. With moonlight, the descent to Rock Creek would not be bad in the dark, even without having done it before. The traverse from Crabtree Pass to Trail Crest is slow, but probably faster/easier than the alternatives. Wallace Creek and the JMT are very fast going if you jog, but probably too far out of the way. Adding either Tyndall or Williamson in a day seems doable, but adding both would be extremely tough.
Epic, failThe efficient peak-bagger typically climbs the Sierra 14ers in six outings (listed from north to south): Thunderbolt through Sill, Middle Palisade, Split, Williamson and Tyndall (usually separately or as an overnight), Russell through Muir, and Langley. However, the peaks naturally divide into two groups, Thunderbolt through Split and Tyndall through Langley, and speed climbers have climbed each group as a single, mostrous outing. Since the trailheads for Split and Tyndall (Red Lake and Shepherd Pass, respectively) are much lower than those for Thunderbolt and Langley (South Lake and Horseshoe Meadows), the groups are climbed north-to-south and south-to-north.
I was feeling a bit cocky after my last (successful) epic, and had managed to repress memories of the worst parts, so I thought it was time to try something similar in the Sierra. Thunderbolt to Split would be treacherous this time of year, but Langley to Tyndall fit the bill. My plan was to summit Langley near first light and Tyndall at dusk, making the most of the short day to navigate unfamiliar and/or difficult parts of the route. If I could summit Langley around 6:00 and Tyndall around 7:00 or 7:30, the whole thing would be roughly 20 hours.
I was fortunate enough to arrange a pick-up at the Shepherd Pass trailhead Wednesday night, so on Tuesday I drove up to Horseshoe Meadow, packed, and settled in under a sleeping bag and blanket for a few hours' cold sleep in the nearly-empty parking lot. My attempt was almost prematurely doomed when my cell phone alarm did not go off at 1:45, but fortunately my watch gave a few pathetic chirps at 2:00 before its battery died. I forced down an early breakfast, and was on the familiar trail by 2:15.
Doug had sketched out a shortcut to the right of Old Army Pass (my original route), which would cut out part of the normal sand slog. Taking my bearings from the Cirque-Langley ridge's moonlit silhouette, I headed to Muir lake, then aimed for the next valley to the right of Old Army Pass. While I eventually found a few semi-random ducks and bits of a faint use trail, I probably strayed too far to the left. I endured some nighttime boulder-hopping and bushwhacking, and had a brief scare when I nearly soaked my foot in a partially-frozen bog, but eventually reached the lake at the base of the valley.
The bottom was mostly smooth and stable, and I was pleased with my progress despite earlier setbacks. As the lefthand side steepened and the valley appeared to cliff out, I climbed the looser slope to the left ridge, where things got "interesting." Instead of the expected sand-and-rocks of Langley's south slope, I found a complicated and surprisingly long class 3-4 ridge -- exactly what I was hoping to avoid in the dark. The best approach seemed to be to stay on the ridge or just to its right. At one point I wasted 15 minutes trying to drop down around the right side of a steep-looking gendarme, which I eventually had to climb, descending some unlikely class 4-ish cracks on its left side.
The ridge from here to Trail Crest was slower than I expected; the top was blocky, and the rocks on the east side were covered with hoarfrost. I eventually made my way carefully to the main trail, and passed a few hikers struggling up the last switchback. I cruised along the trail and scrambled up the short slope to Muir, arriving at 10:45.
Only slightly discouraged, I dropped back to the trail and trudged on toward Whitney. I had never climbed Whitney by the trail, and just as when I passed the hikers near the top of the switchbacks, I was struck by how long the climb feels this way. The summit is visible for hours as you struggle up the slope to trail crest, then along the endless ridge, finally turning left and coming at the hut from the west. I finally arrived at the hut around 11:30 feeling slow and tired, and had some pop tarts, hoping they would revive me. Unless I recovered, it seemed unlikely I could complete the traverse, so I tried to take advantage of the cell phone reception to arrange an early pick-up at the portal. Unfortunately I could not connect, so after resting a bit and studying the Wallace Creek drainage and Barnard's south side, I headed for Whitney's north slope.
Rest, conversation, and some jerky-based trail food mix donated by one of Kurt's clients gave me new strength. I scrambled quickly down the unfrosted north ridge, then made my across the talus to Wallace Creek for fresh water.
While struggling with my camera near the sign, I was surprised by my phone, which I had forgotten to turn off, telling me I had voice mail. I quickly called my ride, who miraculously had reception at the trailhead, and told her (optimistically) that I should be down around 10:00. Having set the bar for myself, I donned my headphones and set off down the pass at a shuffling 5-6 MPH jog. The upper section was in surprisingly good shape, and other than the rocky section in the pothole, I was able to jog most of the trail down to the evil sand hill. The moon rose spitefully as I climbed, silhouetting first the false saddle, then the real one.
I resumed my jog at the saddle, determined to be back by 10:00. With my mind entirely focused on relaxing, maintaining the pace, and not tripping, I actually enjoyed the late-night jog. At least, my total focus kept me from thinking about how long it was taking to reach the creek, and kept me awake. When I tried walking some stretches, my mind began to wander. Maybe it was just the late season, or maybe someone had done some work, but the creek crossings were easier than I expected. I jogged into the parking lot at a respectable speed at 9:52 PM, too pleased at my time down the pass to be tired. I had failed, but it was still a good epic. I eagerly consumed the sandwich and beer -- not trail mix! -- then immediately passed out in the car.
Could I have done the whole link-up? Given warmer weather and more sunlight (and maybe better nutrition), I feel confident that I could add Tyndall in at most 2 more hours. However, I would need to take some cross-country shortcuts and significantly improve my pace on existing sections to add Williamson in under 24 hours.