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I thought my solo trip last weekend up to Weaver Lake would help cure my itch for the Sierras. However, all it did was create a bigger rash for wanting to spend more time in the mountains. So, instead of trying to tackle any personal/daily responsibilities I had, I threw them all out the window and went to Cottonwood Lakes for a two night stay with a summit up Mt. Langley thrown in. 20+ miles of hiking, 4000 feet in elevation gain, numerous alpine lakes and pristine meadows, and a 14,000 ft summit: the Cottonwood Lakes Trail contained some of the biggest payoffs of any trail I've ever hiked. Once again, big thanks to our fellow Trailspace community member, @Speacock, for the suggestion.
We (a group of 4) left Los Angeles at approximately 12:30 pm. After a quick stop at Barbie's Restaurant at the 14/395 junction for some heavy, greasy food, we were able to get to the Lone Pine Ranger Station by 4:30 to obtain our permits. After the drive up the long and twisty Horseshoe Meadow Rd, we reached the trailhead to Cottonwood Lakes. Using the topo map, on our hike in, we decided to stay near the Cottonwood Lakes instead of the South Fork Lakes and found a nice campsite near Cottonwood Lake #4 The hike in, at approximately 5-6 miles, was a little tough since we did not have time to acclimate to the elevation. In addition, some of our hike was at night. However, since most of the hike was level, with a bit of an elevation gain from the South Fork Lakes and Cottonwood Lakes Junction, coupled with a full moon and headlamps (I used a 90 lumen Black Diamond Spot) we were able to reach our desired destination with the same enthusiasm as we had as when we initially started on the trail.
Here was the view in the morning from a nearby meadow:
The morning light allowed for some beautiful reflections from the water:
After some breakfast and water filtration duties, we decided to summit Mt. Langley through the Old Army Pass route. That morning, we struck up a conversation with three hikers who attempted Old Army Pass and they suggested that Old Army Pass was too rugged to traverse. Old Army Pass does look quite intimidating from the bottom:
However, we found out later that for some, Old Army Pass was actually the preferred route to Mt. Langley over New Army Pass. We used the Old Army Pass route and upon arrival at the top, we were greeted with the Sequoia National Park boundary:
The hike up to Mt. Langley was pretty difficult. The ground was very sandy which added to the difficulty to the ascent. Scrambling was required for the final push towards the summit. At approximately 500 ft. to the summit, one of the members of our party suffered a pretty nasty gash while scrambling, leaving him with a substantial cut on his shin. Initially, we all thought he needed stitches. We used a combination of a gauze pad, a bandanna, and duct tape in order to stop the bleeding. We monitored his condition while one of the members of our party completed the summit to Langley on his own. Upon monitoring our injured member's condition, he decided he was able to continue on with the summit. Meanwhile, our other friend, came back down and gave us a recon report, and we all continued to summit Langley together (which means my one buddy actually reached the summit to Langley TWICE. He has also climbed Mt. Whitney at the tender age of 14). However, the views from atop Mt. Langley was a huge payoff for all the hard work:
The views of Mt. Whitney were quite spectacular:
This was the highest peak I had ever reached, at just over 14,000 ft:
Upon our descent, I couldn't help thinking that it felt like we were traversing the moon. It almost reminded me of the recent, historic stage of Mt. Ventoux in the Tour de France. We continued the descent back towards Old Army Pass (enclosed in these next two pictures is our buddy that I had previously mentioned who was able to summit Langley twice that day):
Upon returning to camp, we cleaned our injured buddy's cut and re-bandaged his shin. Thankfully, the bleeding had stopped and the first-aid efforts had worked. We ate a delicious meal that included Bangers and Mash (which is one of my all time backpacking favorites using Boar's Head Dry Sausage) and retired for the evening. The clouds that had formed throughout the day, due to local storms, produced a beautiful early evening sky:
The next morning, we ate breakfast, had our coffee and packed up camp. Packing up camp for the last time on a trip has got to be one of the most depressing things I've ever experienced. Ya, I know.. I should appreciate what I was able to experience. But the notion of having to leave one of the most visually striking and spectacular places on earth is ALWAYS a bummer. But.. as with anything else, all good things must come to an end and we made our way back to the trailhead:
But upon reaching the turnoff to Muir Lake, we had to do at least one last side trip before we returned to our car. Plus, none of us had the opportunity to take a dip in the pristine alpine lakes in the area. We figured the sandy beaches of Muir Lake would be the perfect place to relax and take a dip before having to return to the plasticity of Los Angeles, California:
Thanks John Muir. This place really lives up to your namesake: