Best of Both Worlds: Scrambling upLangley from Cottonwood Lakes
Class 1...to me and all the aspiring mountaineers reading this route description, a route this easy means a slog to be avoided, if only to limit interaction with various wholesome backpackers, crossfit millennials,and other species of tourist. So when it comes to Mount Langley, we face a dreadful dilemma: either endure the daylong agony of vertical dust in Tuttle Creek to reach some OK rock high on the northeast side of the mountain, or make a quiet exception to our ethic and hike the trail from the gloriously high Horseshoe Meadow trailhead with the aforementioned coterie. If this is how you feel, then I have excellent news for you: there is actually an enjoyable Class 3 route from Cottonwood Lakes to the summit. No, I am not talking about “Navy Pass” – the slight shortcut that only leads to more walking. I am talking about climbing mostly solid ridges all the way to the summit.
Two of the ridges involved are well known: the East Ridge usually approached via a hideous chute from Tuttle Creek, and the Southeast Ridge (sometimes called the South-Southeast Ridge) that can be gained from Cottonwood Lakes by climbing a loose chute to the notch between Peak 12891 and the ridge (see photo). But let me quote one person who climbed the chute, and said“climbing quite simply is abominable: some of the loosest, sandiest gravel and talus I've ever seen, all of it powdery-white, like a bizarre high-altitude beach.” Another said the chute contains “every form of talus the world could create: pea gravel, walnut gravel, barbie heads, baby heads, shoe boxes,microwaves, refrigerators, houses, etc..., all shapes and sizes imaginable, all granite, and every bit of it was loose. It took a couple hours of this to reach the small saddle at the east end of the SSE Ridge.” When you read descriptions like this, Class 1 suddenly seems just fine even for a serious mountaineer such as yourself. The key to the new route is avoiding this chute, and instead traversing the peaklet I humbly call Fin of Granite Goodness.
From Cottonwood Lake #5, walk through friendly forests towards the letters “B.S.” in the photo. The letters stand for “Billary Step” – a slabby obstacle that you surmount fairly early in the climb. It makes you feel good to climb this little formation. But as the name suggests, the Billary Step merely makes you relax and rest on your laurels – the crux of the climb is still ahead.
The crux of the climb is getting down to the notch. As so often happens in the Sierra, the most difficult part of going up is going down. The best beta I can come up with is that you should stick to the crest of the ridge as it descends down to the notch. The second beta photo is a view back from a traverse to the SE Ridge after the notch, with the route marked in red. The crux of the crux is the airy traverse on precarious blocks at the start of the descent
(photo). After that, a simple chimney (photo) leads to easier ground back on the crest of the ridge.
Once you are in the notch, it is a few minutes of walking to the SE Ridge. I do not recommend taking it all the way up because there are some nasty gendarmes towards the top, and it does not really lead to the top of the mountain. Nevertheless, it is fun to take the SE ridge for a few hundred
feet. Once the SE Ridge flattens, it makes sense to traverse right to the East Ridge, and enjoy its golden knobby granite all the way to the top.
Before I got to climb a bunch of Norman Clyde routes, I would have probably rated the route Class 3 on the ridges, and Class 4 at the crux. But if North Guard is Class 4, then the crux of BOBW is Class 3 and the rest of the route is a walk for toddlers.