Summer was coming to a close and I still hadn’t gotten a backpacking trip in with my brother-in-law, Matt Griebel. I’d hoped to make something happen since a spring break trip to Big Sur was rained out. We agreed to an upcoming weekend, and I convinced him that we needed to summit something… I haven’t really had that “standing on top of the world” feeling very often lately, as most of my time is spend reading, writing, and programming, and this trip was just the chance before winter severely limited the options. We opted for a hike from Cottonwood Lakes trailhead, as it is the highest trailhead in Southern California (i.e.- less climbing for us), was equidistant from San Diego and SLO, and is the farthest south (read: closest) portal into the really tall Sierras. We decided to climb Mt. Langley (peak pictured at left) because it is tall (14,042ft), permits are available, and it is the furthest south of California’s “fourteeners” (making it both an accomplishment and less driving). The photo below shows the southern Sierras as seen from Lone Pine, with the names and heights of the most prominant peaks (click the image to see it larger):
Langley is all the way to the left (south), and is pretty imposing. Also notice that from the top of Langley we would have a good view to the North of Mt. Whitney.
We met on a Thursday night in Ridgecrest, CA and drove north looking for Fossil Falls, where we hoped to camp. We however totally missed it, and didn’t realize it until we were just as close to Lone Pine. Rather than turn back, we headed on to Lone Pine and thankfully found a great little campground right outside town.
The next morning (Friday) we went to the Lone Pine Ranger station for permits and a bear canister. This late in the year, the quota was non-binding (at least on a Friday), so we had no issues and were soon on our way to Cottonwood Lakes trailhead at around 9,500 feet elevation. We packed up and set out on our way!
The hike in was rather pleasant (only ~1,200 ft of elevation gain) though it was quite windy and hailed and snowed on us a little. We reached the Cottonwood Lakes Basin in the early afternoon just as the sun was coming out for good. I snapped the picture below of Griebs resting just after we crested into the Basin:
We set up camp in some trees next to Cottonwood Lake #3 explored the basin, and made some awesome “camp pizzas” for dinner using the JetBoil, english muffins, parmesan cheese, tomato sauce, salami, and sun dried tomatoes (this was all thanks to Matt by the way, and was an awesome idea!)… we also had a jalepeno, but it proved WAY hotter than either of us were up for.
We were both struggling with headaches from the altitude (we had both come from sea level the day before and slept at ~4,000 ft, and were now over 10,000ft) So we read our books (both of us were reading books in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series) and went to bed in preparation for an early start the next morning for our summit push!
Saturday dawned sunny (woohoo!) and we did the ~3,500 ft climb over 3-4 miles without too much difficulty. We had pretty crazy wind and some threats of rain, but overall things went really smoothly, and we made the top around noon, signed the log book, took some pics, and then found a place out of the wind to eat our lunch. The hike down and our last night camping and our hike out were all enjoyable (and beautiful), but unremarkable. Below are a collection of pictures, as always, click on them to see them larger: