This trip report is about a proud moment in fatherhood: I got to watch my son become a fourteener!
It should have happened a month ago, but that's another story. Suffice it say, my wife (who always accompanies me when backpacking) at first decided that she didn't want to go hiking, so I invited my son for a three day hike. We set our sights high on Langley's summit. My wife, meanwhile, got jealous. Suddenly she wanted to join the hike in a "support" role. But she hikes really slow and doesn't like high elevation. She was stubborn and insistent, and eventually I gave up. I told my son not to bother taking that Friday off, and instead my wife and I lowered our sights to hiking to the Cottonwood Lakes. And we had a great time, as we always do. But my son still wasn't a fourteener.
So we made new plans for Labor Day Weekend. My wife was not invited. We arrived at the Lone Pine Ranger Station before 8am on Friday morning, drew a low number in the lottery, and opted for a slightly more challenging route to Langley, a roundabout route via Cottonwood Pass, rather than the typical, shorter Cottonwood Lakes route. We would take the PCT north from Cottonwood Pass to Soldier Lake, camp overnight, then take our big packs up the New Army Pass Trail. We would stash the big packs at Old Army Pass, dayhike to Langley's summit, return for our packs, and then descend to the Cottonwood Lakes Basin and find a campsite there. We would exit on Sunday.
Ready to hike at the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead on Horseshoe Meadows Road
Horseshoe Meadows and Trail Peak on the Cottonwood Pass Trail
Looking down at Horseshoe Meadows on the Cottonwood Pass Trail
Looking west from Cottonwood Pass where the trail meets the PCT
We had lunch at the pass, hunkered down out of the cold breeze behind some large boulders. Great views from that pass, but we didn't stay long, as we had ten miles to hike that day.
Chicken Spring Lake on the Pacific Crest Trail. The water level was very low.
Big Whitney Meadow from the Pacific Crest Trail
The Siberian Outpost from the PCT just south of Siberian Pass
Mounts Mallory, Le Conte, Corcoran, and Langley from the Rock Creek Trail
Our camp on the meadow below Soldier Lake
Dawn Reflections on Soldier Lake
Hiking up toward Old Army Pass on the New Army Pass Trail
Looking west toward Mount Anna Mills in Sequoia Park
We stashed our big packs at Old Army Pass in preparation for our dayhike to Mount Langley
Mount Langley lies ahead of us as we ascend along the use trail
Huge stone cairn marking the Mount Langley Trail. They were hard to miss!
Looking down into the Soldier Lakes area where we'd spent the previous night
Polemonium (Sky Pilot) flower at 13,500 feet elevation.
Looking south toward the Cottonwood Lakes Basin and Horseshoe Meadows
Happy Fourteener on the Summit of Mount Langley
Looking for a nice lunch spot on the Summit, someplace out of the wind.
Zoomed-in view of the hut on Mount Whitney from the Summit of Mount Langley, five miles away.
Descending Mount Langley, with a giant cairn, Trail Peak, Olancha Peak, and Old Army Pass
Yes, it had been a long slow slog going uphill in the loose sand, our leg muscles aching and complaining for what seemed like hours, but heading back down more than made up for the pain! We had a blast, taking giant steps, plunging our heels in the deep sand, smiling the whole way. We were telling other climbers not to worry and that they were almost at the top (even though it wasn't true) as we ran past them, laughing.
The fun ended all too soon, and we had to walk the final, flatter section back to our packs. We took a short break and re-packed our big backpacks. It was late afternoon by this time, and we needed to get moving if we were going to get a good spot to set up camp down below.
Panorama looking down at Cottonwood Lakes number 4 and 5 from the top of Old Army Pass.
Descending the the Old Army Pass Trail - panorama shot near the top
There was no snow on the pass. The trail was very easy to find, although it did have one spot near the top where there had been some big rockfall. We just stepped over the boulders like everyone else did. No problems whatsoever.
When we got our permit we told the ranger that we wanted to take Old Army Pass and he cautioned us against it, and strongly promoted New Army Pass. In fact, it appears that the "powers that be" have decided to start using one of their old tricks, by removing/renaming things on maps. They've already removed the Old Army Pass TRAIL from the newer maps, but now it seems that they're going to change the names, and call New Army Pass simply Army Pass, and get rid of the old one entirely. Sneaky.
Panorama of the western shore of Cottonwood Lake Number 4
Looking back at Old Army Pass in the afternoon sun from Cottonwood Lake Number 4
Cottonwood Lake Number 3 shining blue in the shadow of Army Pass Point
Panorama toward Cirque Peak from an unnamed Cottonwood Lake just east of Lake 3
This is where we set up camp. We almost camped at Lake 4, just below the pass, but my son wanted to be able to see Mount Langley from our campsite, so that we could relax and contemplate it in its serene grandeur. And that's why we had to hike yet another long mile in what had been a very long day. But the views were worth the extra effort. And we were on the opposite side of the little lake from the main trail, so we had the place all to ourselves. Very peaceful.
We slept well and soundly, and got up early. We wanted to tour the lakes area on our way out, simply hiking along and exploring everything. The Cottonwood Lakes Basin is truly a beautiful place.
Our tent in the morning
A continuous layer of ice had formed inside our tent from our breath's condensation - we carefully removed the tarp, shook it off vigorously, and the tent stayed dry! This saved me from carrying out a heavy, soggy tent. Excellent! Too bad we had to freeze our butts off first.
Early morning reflections in Muir Lake. This lake was also quite low.
Panorama from the western side of Cottonwood Lake Number 2
Gigantic Moraine Field of talus on the New Army Pass Trail just west of Cottonwood Lake Number 2
Cirque Peak, Long Lake, and New Army Pass
We hiked west on the New Army Pass Trail just far enough to check out Long Lake (the place where we told the too-insistent ranger we'd camp after descending via the so-called "Army Pass"). There were several really nice spots to camp, and the lake itself was deep and clear. We filtered some good-tasting water from that lake, and saw large fish swimming down in the depths. It was so nice it almost made me wish we'd listened to the ranger. Almost. I still liked our other spot better.
Cottonwood Lake Number 1 and Mount Langley. Good-bye Mount Langley!
Back at the car at the Horseshoe Meadows Parking Lot. Time to ditch those stinky hiking boots.
Panorama view of Mount Langley (center) from Horseshoe Meadows Road
We decided to treat ourselves to a post-hike burger, so we drove all the way up to the Whitney Portal Store. I'd never been up there, so seeing the Labor Day Madness was educational, to say the least. And the burgers were quite tasty. Too bad the store doesn't sell Mount Langley T-Shirts, or we would've bought a couple.
Smoke from the Rough Fire drifting over the Owens Valley north of Lone Pine from Whitney Portal Road
Our gps track and topo map
All in all, it had been a great trip. The weather was a bit on the cool and breezy side, but that's fine when you're climbing big mountains. When I got back home my wife wasn't mad that I'd ditched her in favor of my son, and she seemed to be happier simply looking at all the pictures. Maybe she'll even hike with me again sometime! But the best part is that now my son is a fourteener, and can high-five his other fourteener buddies, or smile condescendingly at his other friends who have only climbed mere ten thousand foot peaks. Maybe someday, when they grow up, they, too, could be fourteeners.
LOTS more pictures can be found on my Flickr Page, and I also uploaded the gps tracks and waypoints to a Caltopo Page.
If you've been searching for the best source of information and stimulating discussion related to Spring/Summer/Fall backpacking, hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada...look no further!
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- Topix Newbie
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Thanks for the wonderful trip report and photos and congrats on watching your son become a fourteener. I wonder why the ranger cautioned you against Old Army Pass in September?
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Thanks for the report and great pictures! Enjoyed the playful tone as well. That icy rainfly does not look inviting though!
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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