I drove up from Torrance on Thursday morning to Lone Pine, stopped at the Ranger station for an update on trail conditions and headed up Horseshoe Meadows Road. I made it to the Cottonwood lakes trailhead about 12:30, six hours total from home, but that was with bad traffic. I slept through my alarm in the morning and didn’t get up till 6:15. I made a quick cup of coffee and bowl of oatmeal, got my stuff together and took off towards Cottonwood Lakes at 6:40. The weather looked good, not a cloud in the sky, and 30F according to my REI zipper thermometer. I had a day pack with 3 liters of water in a camel back, with some snacks, misc. and a water bottle of Cytomax.
My plans were pretty vague. I wanted to make it over either New Army or Old Army Pass for sure, and then decide from there where to go based on how I felt. I got to the trail for New Army Pass in about an hour and decided I would go that way. I hadn’t been up here before and wasn’t sure what to expect, but Cirque seemed doable, and at the very least I wanted to make New Army. Turns out, I was in better shape than I thought. I made the Cottonwood lakes basin in two hours total from the car, about another hour to the base of New Army, and I think it took about an hour up the pass. For sure I was up at the top of the pass by 10:30. I took a little break to figure out where to go from here. I considered crossing to Old Army because I had seen a lot of pictures of it, and wanted to see it for myself. Langley was that way too, but I wanted to be out before dark, and didn’t think I could make it. To be honest, it looked a little intimidating, not technical, just looked like a long slog. I knew Cirque Peak was only two miles so I decided on that. I thought if things looked good, I would go down to Chicken Springs Lake, using the route called Cirque Peak Traverse. I crossed over to Cirque in about an hour, nothing difficult here, just a lot of scrabbling. I made it to the top, but didn’t stay long. I didn’t see the register or the benchmark, although I didn’t look hard (I’ve never actually signed one). Maybe I wasn’t in the right place, but it sure seemed like the top
My watch said 11:15, a little less than five hours from the car. My thermometer said 70F, still not a cloud in a sky that was that intense color of blue you see up high. I looked down towards Chicken Spring Lake and thought about going that way. I decided I didn’t like the idea of the cross country to the trail, or the bit of paved uphill at the very end up to the parking lot. Besides, it was nine miles one way, and I decided to hustle back and try and make it in nine hours or less. I liked the sound of averaging two miles an hour over the eighteen miles. I scrambled back to New Army and took a little break for some beef jerky and carrots. The trip down was a lot easier than going up for sure. I stopped at High Lake to pump a little cold water for another bottle of Cytomax and took off. The closer I got to the parking lot, the more people I saw. Eventually it looked like I might be able to make it in under eight hours, so I sped up a little more, even running the flat parts.
In the end, it was eight hours, five minutes. All in all a great day hike. I was surprised how good I felt, even at the end. The trail is mostly flat (or gently sloped); the only part that required effort was the pass. I had running shoes on and don’t think at any time I needed anything more for these conditions. I took a bunch of pictures, but modern science got me, and I only came back with one really bad self portrait on the top. I think in retrospect, I would add a little distance, maybe heading over and down Old Army Pass and going back that way. Langley via Old Army is only about three miles more (though more elevation gain). Maybe I’ll try that next year.
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