Last Thursday, Jim W., Jim M. and Jamie M. drove from San Diego to the Horseshoe Meadow TH, spent the night and hiked in to the easternmost of the South Fork Lakes Friday morning.
On Friday afternoon, two of us climbed Cirque Peak – Class 3 direct route up the scree and benches from Cirque Lake - then traversed north and returned to our camp via New Army Pass. We were the only ones camped at our South Fork Lake.
On Saturday (not a particularly early start), we three hiked over to join the Cottonwood Lakes trail to New Army Pass, and proceeded up and over New Army Pass to the large plateau that slopes up to the Langley summit approx. 2½ miles to the north. We followed one of several footstep trails up through the sand and scree, to the right of a large snow field, then to the left side of the wall of boulders protecting the summit plateau. If you go slightly lower than we did (take the lowest and farthest west of the footstep trails), you can find a series of sandy benches bypassing the boulders and walk up to the summit plateau. We were higher, and headed towards the most apparently easy way through the boulders, and scrambled through them and a couple of patches of snow to reach the summit plateau. Then, it was just up-up east-northeast to the summit. It took the three of us about 5 hours and 20 minutes from our camp to summit. On our way, we three had hooked up with two “solos” - Vince from Pt. Mugu and Ken from China Lake - who had started that morning from the parking lot. It was nice to meet and talk with Vince and Ken - compare our recent trip experiences - and etc. The five of us summited plus-or-minus 1:30 PM.
One of our friends also did Langley on Saturday. Bill P. started from the parking lot at 6:00 AM and we ran into him returning from the summit sometime around 11:00 above the pass while we were still on the ascent. I should say Bill ran into us. He was running down the sandy trail - that's our friend Bill P. all right!
We returned via Old Army Pass, closer to the Langley summit and lower than New Army Pass by some 500' elevation. There is some snow in Old Army Pass, most of which is easily passable. However, we experienced several steps (20-25’) of exposure in the snow field at the very top of Old Army Pass. We had not brought ice axes or crampons with us. There are deep steps in the snow here from the traffic and we safely made our way. However, if I had brought an ice axe with me, I would have unpacked and used it here. After viewing the exposure, Vince and Ken, both of whom were wearing trail running shoes, opted to traverse on to New Army Pass for their return. This spot of snowy exposure could be gone within the next few weeks.
The weather: Each day, the skies were completely clear in the morning, with clouding beginning about mid-day, and raining in the Kern River basin to the west by mid-afternoon. The storm and rain seemed to be moving north and east, but generally stayed a few miles west and/or north of us. Friday afternoon, Jim and I experienced a few snow flurries on the summit of Cirque Peak, and the storm appeared to encompass the summit of Mt. Whitney. It was pretty much the same during our Saturday trek to the summit of Langley. Early in the afternoon, the skies darkened with clouds and rain in the Kern River basin (a spectacular view from our vantage), and the edge of the storm seemed again to be moving in a northeasterly direction. But again, the rain this day did not reach Mt. Langley or into the Cottonwood Lakes basin. Never once were we alerted by lightening, or near or distant thunder.