Mt. Langley - New Route
by Alois Smrz
MOUNT LANGLEY, 14.040’, 4.274m.
New route on the North Arete: "Rest and Be Thankful", IV+ or V, 5.9 or 5.10, 15 pitches
September 5-6, 1999, Miguel Carmona, Alois Smrz.
"It has been said that Mount Langley is an uninteresting peak, with little or no mountaineering possibilities. The statement could not be further from the truth. Mount Langley, perhaps more than any other peak in the Sierra Nevada, offers the ambitious mountaineer some of the biggest untouched high-altitude walls in the range. The northern side of the mountain, with a relief exceeding 2000 feet, offers an incredible selection of sharp aretes, buttresses and knife-blade ridges." "Climbing California’s Fourteeners", S.Porcella, C.Burns.
In January 1983, twenty year old Bill Krause and I bivied at the road’s end to StoneHouse, an abandoned religious retreat high in Tuttle Creek canyon. Next morning, while getting ready to approach Winter Route on Lone Pine Peak, I was absolutely awestruck by the right hand skyline of a peak south of Lone Pine. The peak was high, and the skyline was awesome. Bill, who knew almost everything about the Sierra, told me the skyline was the North Arete of Mount Langley. He told me, he scouted the line and that it might be a long grade IV or V. Bill, who today works as an Emergency Room physician in Vermont, never attempted the line, although we talked about it several times. Over the years, this arete, plainly visible from Highway 395 at Lone Pine, became topic of many conversations Miguel Carmona and I had, trying to kill time and keep from falling asleep, while driving to other Sierra destinations.
In July 1998, when Miguel and I awoke at the top of our new line on Lone Pine Peak’s South Face, (Czech Pillar, Ref. Cliff Notes #130, RJ Secor’s Sierra Guide, 2nd Ed.), we saw this impressive arete in early morning light. Right there we promised each other, we would explore it next. Unfortunately, Miguel’s post operative back problems continued, making it difficult to walk, let alone attempt a long, technical line on a 14,000-foot peak. For over a year, Miguel has been resting his back, not climbing, hiking or even walking much. But at the end of July, he was ready for a test.
So we decided to hike up the south fork of Tuttle Creek, check the approach, view the line with binoculars, to get better idea about gear and the scope of the adventure. Certainly, the line was remote. With minimal weight in our packs, the approach took 6 hours from the StoneHouse. We lost the trail in the vicinity of the Keyhole Wall. Most of the hiking from there on consisted of boulder hopping up talus fields on the left, south side of the creek.
The canyon above Keyhole Wall is really rugged and remote. But our selected line up the first and most obvious rib of the North Face looked great. Several large towers formed the skyline and the arete continued all the way to the summit. The lowest part of the arete featured a huge, possibly detached tower. Since this tower didn’t look like it might connect with the rest, we scrambled up to the notch. Bellow and east of the notch, we narrowly escaped serious injuries or worse. From high on the hill, a large rockslide swept the slopes a short time after we scrambled across them. Future parties beware! There was a gap of several hundred feet between the initial tower and the rest of the arete. Our climb had to start at this notch.
Above it, the arete with its many towers loomed skyward and looked long and steep. Some of the climbing did not look easy. We decided to attempt the climb with minimal gear, and to climb as much of the arete as possible, without bolt kit and hammer. Our weight had to be kept to minimum. If we got stopped, we would rappel and come back later with more equipment. Over Labor Day weekend, we climbed this line in 15 pitches, with a planned bivouac 4 pitches from the top.
The three crux pitches (5.10?) were almost at 14,000’ and that made them strenuous. Memories of Joshua Tree classics such as the Tax Man, Tinker Toys, and Cake Walk went through our heads. On two of the pitches, we actually hauled the pack.
We bivied at the end of the 11th pitch on a nice ledge. During the night, water in our bottle, left in the open, froze solid. But thanks to Miguel’s light weight (2 pounds) sleeping system for two, we even slept a little. In the morning 4 pitches of low fifth, mixed with moves up to 5.8 deposited us on the summit block.
Reflecting on the effort, we named the climb after the 1907 Scottish Mountain Speed Climbing Championships which were nicknamed by the participants "Rest and be Thankful". The climb is a tribute to Miguel’s never ending will to fight the serious back problems and the willingness to explore the Sierra high country despite his handicap. It is the first technical line on the heavily convoluted North Face of Mount Langley. It is also our first new line on a 14,000’ peak in the Sierra Nevada. Due to its remoteness and length, it must be rated at least a Grade IV+.
The descent down the 2,500 feet long scree slope to the east, took almost 3 hours. Future climbing parties should take the slope into consideration, as it’s unlikely, that it could be safely descended in the dark. Both Miguel and I are happy not only with the quality of the line, but also with the way we climbed it. We pared essential equipment to minimum and carried no extra gear. We managed to climb the route by (what I would call) fair means and that is very satisfying to both of us. Now if only Miguel’s back would cooperate…
P.S. For those of you, interested in what we brought on the climb, here is the equipment we carried: 1-Wild Things Andinista pack, 2- two liter bottles of water, 2-8.8 mm, 50m ropes, set of SLCDs (Friends), set of wired Stoppers, 10 single and 2 double length slings, 15 extra ultralight biners, 2-Petzl Tiblocs (thank you Gerry Cox), BD Alpine BOD harness each, rock shoes each (no approach shoes), cleaning tool each, belaying/rappelling device each, two descender "O" rings, l Marmot Gore-Tex sleeping bag w/nylon coupler (2 lbs. sleep system for two), knife, sun lotion, lip balm, 6 granola bars each, 1 small roll of TP, headlamp each, ultralight rain jacket each, light pile jacket each, helmet each, camera and 2 rolls of film.