Mt. Langley in a day
After reading a few other day trip reports of Mt. Langley, myself and 2 others decided to have a go at it and it turned out to be a great decision. I should note that we rationalized the day trip by seeing car-to-car reports of 12-15 hours and that time frame seemed manageable for us. We did not read that the round trip mileage tops out at 22 miles until we were driving to the mountain. I think the prospect of hiking 22miles with a 14ner thrown in there would have turned me away initially and I'm glad I based my decision on the time frame.
Horseshoe Meadows Rd. out of Lone Pine is quite steep and I recommend making sure your radiator and brakes are in good working order before you try and summit this in your car. Also if using Google Maps the Cottonwood Lakes trail head doesn't show up, it's labeled Last Chance Meadow Research Natural Area and just head for the campground on the right.
We arrived around 9pm and staged our gear for the next day. We laid out under the stars at 10pm and suffered through 5hrs of pre-hike sleep at elevation. 3am time to do work.
The trail is very easy to navigate in the dark and having no prior trips out of the trailhead we had no problem finding our way with headlamps. Maybe it was because it was 3am, dark and we were fresh and excited but I don't remember the first couple miles being downhill. We flew down this section and started the gradual uphill to the meadow as the sunrise hit us. I should also mention we were packing double boots, crampons and an ice axe in anticipation of snow/ice on Old Army Pass and this accounted for at least 1/3 of the weight in our packs. We reached the meadow and were greeted by amazing views of New and Old Army Pass along with Mt. Langley in the distance.
Reaching the meadow for Cottonwood Lakes May '13
Also greeting us was a frigid blast of wind that would continue to be the theme of the day. When we reached the trail split for Muir Lake we made a decision to abandon our boots and crampons because from what we could see (which was not actually Old Army Pass) there was so little snow that we could manage without them, we kept the axes. Hiking across the meadows we finally laid eyes on Old Army Pass and had began to question our motives to lighten our packs. However, a few things worked in our favor. First, Old Army Pass is not as steep as it looks from a distance and if you've spent time talus hiking in the Sierra then you'll have no problems here. Second, the snow was soft enough for us to cut steps into and maneuver over in hiking boots. Third, it was too late to turn back and we were motivated.
Head right around the lake, then up Old Army pass May '13
Heading right around the last lake before the pass we were able to pick out a few faint trails up the talus slope that led to the prominent bench leading to the top. We cut steps through the first 2 snow sections and crossed without incident. The third snow bank we headed straight up which gained us the top of the pass. The most technical section of the ascent was done, now it's time to drop your head and march.
Steep but safe enough May '13
Get ready for the long slog uphill May '13
From the top of Old Army Pass the trail is exposed and the winds were blowing us sideways. The soft gravel/sand trail leads upward and crests a few false summits along the way. At one point the trail dies out and there is a 2/3 class chute to the left that is easy to climb. From here you can finally see the summit plateau. We reached the summit in 7hrs 20min. The summit register was under a large rock with a few rock wind barriers guarding it. It was so windy at the top we were afraid to stand near the edge because gusts were knocking us around like rag dolls. 15min on the summit and it was time to head down, so long #9 it was a pleasure standing on your summit.
Ok, look like you're stoked to be up here! Summit - May '13
We blazed down the trail, boot skiing the soft sand all the way to the top of Old Army Pass. Reversing the snow slope was my least favorite part of the day but it was quickly over. The snow had softened up enough for us to start postholing in the steps we cut earlier making the crossing even safer. We shortened the descent by glissading a small portion of the pass near the bottom and lets be honest, who can pass up opportunities to glissade. Back through the meadow and to our lovely boots and crampons, we had made excellent time descending. At this point we really starting feeling the lack of sleep and exhaustion of the day but we pressed on. Continuing downhill for a bit with a few stretches of flat we came upon the first section of uphill on our way back. We knew there was some uphill on the return hike but none of us remember it being a few miles long. One trip report said their GPS had a total elevation gain of appx 5300' for the day, meaning the return hike has quite a bit of climbing. I swear I was on a dirt treadmill going uphill. We made it back to the car in 5hrs 2min. Car-to-car it took us 12hrs 36min. Back down the road and into Bishop we were enjoying a victory meal at Whisky Creek by 7pm.
Don't let the 22 miles scare you away from a day trip. I had never done that many miles hiking in a day let alone to 14k. Start early, be on the trail by 4am. You don't want to be exhausted tired trying to drive down that hill in the dark. Unless there is still a ton of visible snow in the Sierra you wont need crampons for either New or Old Army Pass BUT I do suggest an ice axe. And be ready for some fierce winds! Having summited Mt. Williamson #2, White Mountain #3 and Mount Shasta #5 I can say that Mount Langley is just barely more technical then White Mountain (which is class 1). Old Army Pass proved to be less technical then the class 2 chute up Williamson, if there had been enough snow there is a direct chute up Old Army that looked similar to the chutes through Red Banks on Shasta. While not easy, Mt. Langley is definitely technically mellow.