Cottonwood Lakes and Mt. Langley

6:37 p.m. on July 22, 2013 (EDT)
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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:


7:56 p.m. on July 22, 2013 (EDT)
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Here are some additional photos taken by my buddy, Ryan Lopez, who is pictured in the above post.  He is a professional photographer that took this shot of us making our ascent of Mt. Langley prior to the scramble to the top:


As well as waking up in the morning at Cottonwood Lakes:


10:37 p.m. on July 22, 2013 (EDT)
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Great Pict's..Iam sure your planning another trip soon by what you said. Never been to the Sierras so I get a view through your trips..

11:43 p.m. on July 22, 2013 (EDT)
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Looks like a great trip!

I've had Langley in the back of my mind for years...I need to get around to doing it.

12:01 a.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks Denis Daly and Lambertiana!  The Sierras truly are magical. 

My buddy has more pics if any of you are interested at:

Check it out.  His pictures are much better than my amateur pictures with a smartphone.  I have to credit him with my profile pic as well, during our summit up Mt. San Jacinto a couple of months back.

12:25 p.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Great TR, looks like a fantastic weekend. Love the views from the summit. Excellent photos.

1:37 p.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Sorry.. the above link got moved.  If you'd like to check out more pictures use this link:

1:39 p.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks in2snow!  Appreciate the comments!

2:01 p.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Thank you for sharing! I love seeing any report from the Sierras. Your pictures are really great! I see on the sign that it is a Big Horn Sheep habitat. Have you ever seen any there?

5:08 p.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks for the comments Ashleigh!  No bighorn sheep.. but definitely lots of marmots!!

My buddy post some more pics up in addition to the pics from the above link that can be found at:

10:13 a.m. on July 24, 2013 (EDT)
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Those pictures are great as well. I am glad to see you all are fans of the Mammoth Brewing Company too! 

3:05 p.m. on July 27, 2013 (EDT)
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good trip report...wish I could have gone!

1:50 p.m. on July 28, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks for the post, Danny. 8 of us are going to do the same trip in 2 weeks. Your info is greatly appreciated.

Couple of questions. I'm pretty sure we're going to use Old Army Pass. Just how treacherous is it? Any snow still there?

Also, how were the mosquitos. I was thinking that since it was a very dry winter, they might not be too bad, but I'd love to hear from your experience.

Did anybody get altitude sickness?


5:30 p.m. on July 28, 2013 (EDT)
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Hey USCRX1977:

Old Army Pass is tough.. but I wouldn't say it's necessarily treacherous given the current conditions.  You do have to scramble a little in a few sections.. but compared to the ascent of Langley, the scrambling is nothing.  There's no real snow up there.. or none that really inhibit the trail at any way.  It looks pretty imposing from the bottom.. but there were others who used Old Army Pass as well. 

Mosquitos weren't too bad.. and I only used minimal amounts of deet and hardly got bitten.  

We did feel some effects of altitude on our hike in, as we didn't use any time to acclimate and hiked right in to Cottonwood Lakes #4... partially in the dark.  I think it all depends.  Some people feel severe effects including headaches, nausea, etc., while we just felt alright after taking a couple of ibuprofen.  For sure take it easy whatever you do on the first day though, as Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead is around 10,000 ft up.

This is all of course based on my one experience up there, so, I'd take my advice with a grain of salt.  That being said, WOW.. is it an amazing hike.  All the lakes up there are beautiful and the views from Langley are amazing.  Have fun!

6:07 p.m. on July 30, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks for the info! Do you think it's doable to have a 'base camp' at Muir Lake, and then summit Mt. Langley from there? Any camp spot recommendations at Muir Lake?

What would you say is the length of time, from a base camp in the Cottonwood Lakes basin, to summit Langley and make it back?


5:53 p.m. on August 8, 2013 (EDT)
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Hey!  Sorry for the late reply but actually just came back from another trip.  Muir Lake's great for swimming and we saw some nice spots with views of the lake.  Really, you can't go wrong camping with any of the lakes.. but if I were to do Old Army Pass again, I'd camp on the sites closest to the Pass (I believe Lake 5?).  It took a good 7 hours for us to do the hike.. but we also took an hour break when my buddy cut his leg.  But then again, these times were mainly estimations.  I think we were all so enthralled by the beauty of the surroundings that I hardly checked the time.  Once again.. have fun out there!  If you can.. post a trip report!

10:21 a.m. on August 16, 2013 (EDT)
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Looks like a wonderful day. Nice photos!

11:33 a.m. on August 16, 2013 (EDT)
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As a mid-westerner, I always assume Sequoia National Park was full of giant trees. Thanks for correcting my ignorance!

6:21 p.m. on August 16, 2013 (EDT)
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@Peter1955 @Goose  Thanks guys!  Appreciate the comments.  I always feel really lucky to be living within driving distance to the Sierras.  Now if I can somehow swing more vacation time at work...

11:54 a.m. on August 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Well, we finished our trip to Langley (8/12 - 8/14). Here are some quick thoughts: * Beautiful approach hike. The Cottonwood Lakes basin is gorgeous. We ended up camping at Lake 5, as per Danny's recommendation, and it was a good recommendation. * Our summit hike took over 8 hours. This was primarily due to 2 things. One of our group got altitude sickness, so we all slowed to encourage him. He ended up stopping at over 13,000 feet, and waited for us. The second reason was the brutal last stretch - not a clear trail, the sandy conditions, altitude, etc. I hadn't realized what this would be like. * The photo is of our group at the top. The views were outstanding. Could've stayed there a long time. * My two major concerns about the hike never materialized. The weather was perfect. Sunny skies the whole time. And we didn't encounter one mosquito! All in all, a great hike!

11:44 p.m. on August 17, 2013 (EDT)
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@USCRX1977 Nice!  You guys made it!  That view of Mt. Whitney in the background is beautiful.  What a great view up there, huh?

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