Day 1: Friday, October 24, 2008
Us and the peak
We had been planning this trip for a few months and finally the days approached. Morning of, we cooked up a great breakfast of eggs and toast and headed out to the 15fwy and on the 395 towards Lone Pine. It typically takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes to get up there, but this time took a bit longer. Once we got to Johannesburg there was major construction and lanes were only being let through one at a time. Set us back about 30 minutes and we were to the ranger station by 11:15am. After getting permits all squared away we grab a quick sandwich at the small deli inside the Chevron down the road, and head up towards Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead, about a 30minute drive up steep switchbacks.
We were all packed and heading down the trail by 1:00pm. Let me now warn you, it’s a good 5 – 6 miles to get to Cottonwood Basin and it’s all in a relatively thick forest. Walking down a trail in a thick forest can drive you nuts. About three hours later we were up at Lake 3 setting up a camp. There are pretty good camping spots near Lake 3, 4 and 5. After getting situated we cooked up some good mac-n-cheeze, replenished up the water, and headed to bed by 6pm. A few times I woke up and checked out the stars. I think I counted 5 or 6 between all the times I got up and the next morning. If you’ve never seen a shooting star in the Sierras, you haven’t been to the Sierras.
Day 2: Saturday, October 25, 2008
Desending the ridge Switchbacks in Army Pass
We had the alarm set for 4:24am, but didn’t really role out of bed until 5am. It was quite windy in the morning before dawn but we got the stove going boiling some water and cooking some eggs and bacon in a bag. After a sluggish start we were on the trail as soon as there was enough light to somewhat see what and where we were going. As always, the benefit of sleeping at 11,000+ feet, when climbing a 14er is that the next day YOU FEEL GREAT! We made some good time getting up to lake 4 and to the base of Old Army Pass. From a ways away you can’t really see where Old Army Pass goes. It’s very steep and you can’t see the trail from the far end of lake 4. Once you get closer up, you sort of see how it winds back and forth to the top of the pass. We hauled up the pass and made it from base of the pass to the top in about 45 minuets. Once you reach the top and take a few steps you are now in Sequoia National Park. The views westward are amazing. On a clear day, like this day, we could see for miles across Sequoia NP and Northward to Kings Canyon NP. After a short break on top of the pass, we started around the first ridge and could finally see the summit blocks of Langley. From here across this wide and vast ridge there were hundreds of Big Horn Sheep. As they notice you, they will disappear into thin air. One minute you see them all, the next they’re gone.
The next part of this hike is a nightmare. It’s a loose sandy walk, very gradual elevation gain and you basically go straight at the summit. It takes a long time and also took a lot out of us. Contrary to what people told us to go around left and go up the back side, we went straight to the summit blocks and had a nice 4th class scramble to the top of Langley. It’s a couple hundred feed of scattering and there are lots of ways to get up. We kind of went right up the middle of it. It was steep and FUN! Finally around 11am we were on the summit! What a beautiful sight, looking northward to see Mt. Muir, Whitney, Russel and the Palacide region was in the distance. It was perfect on the summit, just a light breeze.
After a few photos and snacking on some almonds, we started heading back down. We weren’t up for the 4th class down climb so we went west and around the normal way up. We ran into a couple of guys heading up once we got to the base of the blocks. These were the first guys we’d seen all day, before that the mountain was all ours. After quickly chatting with them and pointing them in the direction we went up, we sped down as fast as we could. It was more like walking on snow in the soft sand. We were gliding. At the top of Army Pass we took another break. It was getting quite warm by this point, especially since it got down to freezing at night. We ran down the pass and got back to camp at lake three. We were down to ½ a liter for both of us to share for the last 6 miles out. Oh great, back to the never ending forest again! It’s a lot worse on the way back, TRUST ME! A couple hours later we were back to the car and very happy. It took us a little longer than expected so our ladies were a little worried about us. Total time from starting at 6:30am and getting back at 5pm was 10 ½ hours.
Cottonwood basin is a beautiful area and I highly recommend anyone to head up there. Langley is one of the easiest 14ers, at least that’s what they say, and I agree. It’s a good intro hike for anyone looking to get into more higher altitude things. Even if you don’t summit Langley, spend a day or two in the basin exploring all the lakes. It looked like some fish were chillin in there!
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