My friend The Ass (long and irrelevant story) and I are planning to climb Mt Whitney's historic East Face route in August. Our trip up Mt Langley was to be an altitude test (as we both live at sea level), and to tick off our first 14r. The Ass arrived Friday morning at about 9:45 to drop off his car at my office in Long Beach. From there we took my truck up to Lone Pine. The drive up was fast and uneventful. We got to the visitors center around 3pm, grabbed our permit and took an F150 powered rocket ride up to the cottonwood lakes trailhead (I love that road).We arrived at the trailhead at about 3:30, greeted by blue skies and 72 degrees. After peeling the Ass' white knuckles from the OH MY GOD handles, we threw on our packs and hit the trail by 4pm.
The walk into the Cottonwood Lakes basin is a very cool one. Shaded almost the whole way and very mellow grade, the trail crosses a few streams and contours several nice open meadows as it meanders up into the basin, cautiously keeping the prize views a secret until the very last second then slaps you in the face with the beautifully contrasting vistas of the lush green and crystal blue Cottonwood Lakes basin up against miles of sheer High Sierra granite under bluebird skies…I love this place.
Not long after we started up the trail we met a couple of fellows carrying shovels. They told us they had just finished clearing the snow from the upper part of New Army Pass. Good news for us as that was our planned descent. We made quick work of the 6 miles to where we camped, by the north end of lake 3. While the weather was terrific, the mosquitoes were absolutely relentless! Luckily for us, I bought the 98 some percent DEET insect spray (that or some alternate insect repellant is highly recommended). We set up camp, made dinner (I could write a long report on that alone) Read some, and then hit the hay. I don’t think it got any colder than 50F the whole night. Very nice.
After an absolutely horrendous night of sleep we got up around 6:30 and leisurely made breakfast. We left camp at about 8:00 and headed for Lake 6. This is where the fun begins. The last gully on the east side of the basin, before the south wall begins is our target. Now I have climbed talus slopes and scree slopes before but this 45 degree concoction of scree, mixed talus and sand was easily the most exciting part of the scramble to the top. The larger scree in the center offers some safety, but only for a while. Further up, the mixed "scrallus" (as we called it) offered no safe haven. I would not recommend this route to less experienced folks. After reaching the window at the top of the gully and taking in broad views of the Owens valley below, we moved on. From here we had two choices: go up a small talus field to the left (which an earlier survey revealed to be an iffy choice), or traverse right to the ridge proper. We chose the latter, proving to be mostly 2nd and some 3rd class to the Southeast ridge. Once on the Southeast ridge the easy route to the East Ridge and promises of glorious views down into the Tuttle Creek watershed proved too much of a draw to stay on our planned course up the Southeast Ridge to the south rib and up to the summit. So we hiked over to the East ridge. Along the way we saw a lone Bighorn…very cool. The upper part of the ridge is very fun 2nd or 3rd class scrambling, your choice! At last we reached the snowfield atop the NE collier, crossed the sun buckets and hit a false summit. I was elated to see what I assumed was the real thing only a few hundred feet away. I was right. A few minutes later we were on the summit. It was 1:30pm. We snacked, took pictures, chatted with the other summiteers and made a few phone calls to mom and the wife. At 2pm we started down. As I said before we planned on hiking to New Army Pass to get back down into the basin. But after tramping down the upper south wall we took a look at the first gully on the west side of the south wall. It looked like it would go. Climbing down this gully was tenuous 3rd class and slow, but safe, with the added treat of a few hundred feet of glissading down the snow field at the bottom which put us just above Lake 6.
We walked back towards Lake 3 and made camp at 6pm. Our pace throughout the day was fairly slow, and we took lots of breaks to take in the views and just enjoy the novelty of the terrain. This route can be covered much more quickly. And as a day trip from the basin, it is fairly moderate. Settling back into camp we were joined by a couple from Los Alamitos who were looking for “safety in numbers”. I thought it kind of odd that one would hike 6 miles into the mountains to look for other people to camp next to (doesn’t that kinda defeat the purpose?), but we welcomed them none the less.
Although I was really in the mood for a Double Western Cheeseburger from CJ’s, I had to settle for dehydrated rice and beans. Another night of slup (yes slup, definitely not sleep) and we were outy. We made the trailhead by 12:30p on Sunday and headed down the hill (just as fun as going up). We took a left up Granite View Dr. and drove up to the Tuttle Creek trailhead to recon for some unplanned future excursion. A fun little side trip. Back down to Lone Pine, we took care of our Cravings Jr., dropped my life savings on a tank of gas and headed Home. I dropped of Ass in the LBC and pulled into Homeington (Huntington) Beach at 7pm. My wife was very happy to see me home safe. I needed a shower. I climbed my 1st 14r.
Thanks for reading.
p.s. we didnt take any pics until we hit the summit, but there are some decent shots of the first part of the route we took at sierradescents.com
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