Mt Langley via New Army Pass

Mt Langley via New Army Pass

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Oct 21, 2015

Date: October 21, 2015

Mountains climbed: Mt Langley (14,042′)

Summit: Yes

Difficulty: Class 1 or 2, via New Army Pass Trail

Total climbing time: 13.29hrs (incl rest stops & an unplanned 2hr long ‘detour’ on the approach!)

Total elevation gain/loss: Approx. 8,100’

Total mileage: 23.2 miles car-to-car

Gear: Wenzel 25L daypack; 3L Platypus Hoser reservoir; 1-32 oz bottle of H2O; 2 GU gels; meal bar; chewing gum; Salomon Quest 4D II GTX; Darn Tough socks; Columbia convertible cargo pants; Patagonia Capilene tee; LL Bean 1/4 zip fleece; wool gloves; North Face fleece coat; Ray-Ban Wayfarers; Garmin Forerunner 310XT; Shiseido SPF50; Panjshir Pakol (wool hat); Black Diamond headlight; REI trek poles.

Weather outlook: 20-50F, partly cloudy skies, light NE wind, no precipitation.

Trip Reflections

This was the fourth peak in the Climbing CA for Syrian Refugees series.

I resumed my solo assault on the mountains, driving up the day before and sleeping in my car at Tuttle Creek Trailhead, just west of Lone Pine. Snow was falling at the trailhead earlier in the evening, when I went on a short 3 mile long acclimation hike. The white stuff and ominous grey skies made me think better of camping up high. Down at Tuttle though it was incredibly windy, and in the dark I could make out vast cloud formations resting above the Whitney range.

I was slightly uneasy…would the weather let up, and permit my summit push?

The next morning after driving back up the pass, I set out at 5am from the Cottonwood Trailhead (which rests at 10,000’+). Overnight the clouds had vanished, and there was no wind. Temperature was 34 degrees.

I proceeded in the dawn light towards New Army Pass…or so I thought. Somehow the sign directing hikers at a key junction had fallen over (verified on my return – I fixed it), and naturally I continued happily along the main trail, oblivious. When I found myself at Cirque Lake (?!) 45mins later, this verified on my paper topo map, I realized I’d gone off course. Thus, I next spent 15mins taking a break, and deciding how to proceed. Map and compass in hand, I decided I’d gone too far west and needed to traverse from the cirque I was in, roughly northward, into the next cirque. No retreat! From there, I reckoned I’d be able to regain New Army Pass Trail. The topo gave some elevation info, but I was basically winging it. This worked in the end, but in all it took an extra 2hrs and 1.5+ miles of hiking/route finding off trail, over icy rocks. Not the start I’d hoped for!

A few hours later, after passing by stunning lakes (Cirque Lake, too!), meadows and rock formations, I made it to the top of New Army and the summit plateau. It reminds me of the southeast slope of Mt Shasta; it’s simply a vast area. If you don’t do well in big lonely places, Langley here might be off-putting. I didn’t see another human the entire 13+hr hike literally. Still, the views here, like the bulk of the trip up the Pass, were captivating. Off west down in the valley ran the 238 mile long Muir Trail, and hundreds of miles westward beyond that, the Pacific Ocean. For a moment I thought of surfing big autumn swells, the kelp, cool water.

In any case, from the top of the pass where I stood chomping on a meal bar, I calculated at least 2 miles to the summit. It was about 10am, and I was on schedule to beat my 1pm turnaround time (sunset 6pm). With no time to waste or dilly dally, I set off, noting as I went the abundant wildlife tracks freshly laid down in the snow (bear, deer, and possibly bighorn sheep). I didn’t see any marmots this trip. I’m sure I’d get my fill of marmots in a couple weeks on Mt Whitney (or the next time I saw The Big Lebowski).

The other frequently used trail to the Langley summit is Old Army Pass. Not maintained like New Army, it was nevertheless a shorter route to the summit, saving at least 1mile. But in snow season, it could be dodgy, to say the least. I paused by the cirque summit where Old Army expels, and it looked a bit treacherous: steep unmarked snow trending down the wrong side of a 200+’ drop off, and no trail visible beyond the initial 10yds onto the side of the mountain. Without crampons and more importantly, any first-hand knowledge of the route, definitely not something I wanted to tackle; admittedly, later on the descent, after feeling knee pain courtesy of post-holing in a rare deep snow patch, I briefly entertained the idea.

There were sporadic cairns laid out by the forest service across the summit, but these seemed so haphazardly strewn and following no discernible trajectory (at least not with the snow pack I was walking across), that I basically picked my own line of least resistance and followed it to the base of the south-facing rock ridge. This is the crux of the climbing on Langley, at least from my SE approach (there are significant class 4 and higher routes, i.e. from the east and north).

I opted to not stray left around the ridge, where a dull class 1 walk-up over an extra 1/8th of a mile awaits. Instead, I scaled up straight from the summit base. This route offered some agreeable class 2 scrambling, with one or two instances of fun class 3 work. I saw another pyramid cairn as I approached what I thought was the top. I realized the true summit was up ahead, maybe 75yds. At this point it was all a mostly gentle slope, and I helped myself to a salty watermelon energy gel as I strolled the last few feet.

Not previously mentioned but the consolidated snow from atop the ridge all the way up to the summit was a real pleasure. My Salomon’s achieved excellent purchase in the snow; and with the trekking poles (my first time ever), I found I didn’t need to throw on the micro spikes.

The view from the summit was immense – azure blue skies, low lying clouds. The absence of wind, after my encounter with a virtual hurricane on Shasta, was astounding. I collected fotos from all directions, even managing a few timed selfies. I located the USGS marker, but there was heaps of snow on the rocks beneath it, and I didn’t feel like rooting around for the register. I paused to eat half a turkey sandwich and drink water (surprisingly I’d only consumed 1/2 of my 3L platypus reservoir). Mostly I sat there alone, making dhikr in the consuming silence. Just then a high altitude airliner soaring by overhead quickly made me realize it’s hard these days to really get away from it all. Ten minutes later, packed up, I was descending.

The balance of the down-hike was pleasant, if uneventful. My knee, which I hyperextended early in the summit descent, had me taking my time, even ambling down awkwardly over the more egregious rock steps along the trail. Over time the pain waned (thanks Advil) and I settled into a serviceable 3+mph pace the balance of the return.

Back at my car (and this suspicion naturally occurred to me a mile into the trip), I realized I’d left the passenger window rolled down some four inches. Thankfully, I’d stored all my food in the bear containers at the trailhead. I saw no signs that furry critters saw fit to climb in for a rest or wreck my rig seeking dinner. Cars plied with aromatic foodstuffs have been totaled by bears at trailheads, so it’s no joke.

A successful solo summit, and a great tune up for Mt Whitney and Mt Muir in a few weeks.



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