Hiking Trails

Hiking To The 14,026ft Summit of Mt. Langley via Cottonwood Lakes

Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows

This Saturday I finished hike number 49/52 for the 52 Hike Challenge in 2015. For this 20 mile round trip hike, I made my way back up to Lone Pine and the Eastern Sierra. The amazing thing about hiking to Mt. Langley from Horseshoe Meadows, is that the trailhead sits at 10,000ft! From there, the trail climbs to the summit of Langley at 14,026ft. I drove up on Friday night, and slept in my car in order to start at 4:45 AM.



I woke up at 4:00 on Saturday, and the temperature gauge in my car read 36 degrees. Even though it was supposed to be a warm day at sea level, the temperatures above 10,000ft are rarely warm without the sun. I hit the trail around 4:45, and was thankful that the first 3 miles of this hike are on level ground. My body began to warm up around mile 4, which coincided with the sun rising just before I reached the first of five Cottonwood Lakes.

Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Looking Back At The Rising Sun
Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Mt. Langley In View

As I reached Cottonwood Lake No. 2, I was reminded of the cold when I saw it’s frozen banks. This is one of my favorite stretches of trail anywhere. The path cuts through a beautiful swath of pristine lakes, with towering mountains in every direction.

Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Frozen
Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Sunrise

The trail continues on to Cottonwood Lake No. 3, which is the most popular location for overnight backpackers. I counted at least 6 tents in the area, but only a few were awake. One gentleman was standing on the banks getting ready to reel in some trout for a protein packed breakfast. I quietly walked up beside him to get a shot of the mountain reflections on the still glassy surface of the lake.

Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Cottonwood Lake No. 3
Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Still Adjusting To The Morning

After Cottonwood Lake no. 3, the trail does a little climbing up to Cottonwood Lakes no. 4 and 5. There was only one person camped out here, and it was easy to see why. Although the area is gorgeous, it was also really frigid and a little windy. The sun was just starting to climb high enough for me to feel it’s warmth, but I kept my jacket on as I progressed towards the shaded Old Army Pass.

Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Cottonwood Lake No. 4 With Old Army Pass In View
Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Cottonwood Lake No. 5

The trail wraps around Cottonwood Lake no. 4 before beginning a talus laden climb to Old Army Pass. Having felt the warmth of the sun at Lakes 4 and 5, I was back to feeling the bite of the cold in the shade before the pass. It was a fair trade for the beautiful views I was starting to earn from high above.

Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Almost to Old Army Pass
Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
I Made It.

Leaving the lush beauty of Cottonwood Lakes behind, I was greeted by the desolate, moon like landscape that leads to the summit of Mt. Langley. It’s also a real treat when the views east into Sequoia National Park open up on the horizon.

Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Towards Langley
Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Barren Views

As the trail climbs above 13,000ft, the grade starts to pick up. There are section where you feel like you’re climbing straight up a wall. The trail is not maintained up here, but there are a lot of large cairns that guide the way to the summit.

Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Follow The Cairn
Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Almost There

After hiking for 10 miles, I reached the summit and took in the beautiful views towards Lone Pine. This is one of the best spots for peak gazing in the Eastern Sierra, as you get a premier 360 degree view with nothing but amazement in sight.

Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
At The Summit
Mt. Langley Cottonwood Lakes Old Army Pass Horseshoe Meadows
Mt. Whitney

After taking some time to eat, drink, and enjoy the views, I made my way back down the trail. The sun was in full view now, and it’s warmth was much appreciated. Some trails can feel a bit drab when having to cover the same ground twice, but not when you have the Cottonwood Lakes. The lakes change with every hour based on the sunlight, and it was just as much fun to pass them at lunchtime, as it was to pass them at sunrise. This is one of my favorite spots in the Eastern Sierra, and I’m glad I was able to make it back up before the first snowfall.


I'm Drew, creator of Trail to Peak. Trail to Peak brings content to life on the web through breath-taking photography and captivating video. I launched Trail to Peak in 2014 with a goal to inspire readers to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. I have traveled to 19 countries, walked Camino de Santiago, hiked the John Muir Trail, trekked through the Andes of Peru, and am constantly seeking new adventures in my home state of California. Joining me on my weekly adventures is my partner, Julia, our son, Owen, and our two goldendoodles, Isla and Lilly.

22 comments on “Hiking To The 14,026ft Summit of Mt. Langley via Cottonwood Lakes

  1. I’ve only attempted to hike Old Army Pass once, and it appeared too risky with the snow/ice. So we took New Army Pass instead. Do you prefer Old Army Pass? Why did you choose this route up? I’m just curious.
    p.s. love the pictures. You made me miss this trail! Now I want to do it again.

    • It’s definitely a more difficult climb. New Army is a wider trail that is less steep, but it adds a little to the overall distance of the hike. I like Old Army because it’s more difficult, and offers great views of Cottonwood Lakes 4 and 5.

  2. What type of camera do you use!? I’m always so impressed with the shots you get!! You have a great talent of really capturing the moment!

  3. Pingback: Hiking To The 14,026ft Summit of Mt. Langley via Cottonwood Lakes | City To Country Magazine

  4. Another very enjoyable photo essay. Curious about the history of the name, Old Army Pass…

    • Thanks, Shellie! I’ll try to find some info on it. There is a newer route called New Army Pass that is a lot safer, wider, and easier on the legs. Old Army is a little more treacherous, as it gets very little sun, and the ice and snow can get slick.

  5. Looks like another great hike!

  6. That’s amaaazinnnggg!! and I love your photography! where exactly is cottonwood ans what challenge is this! love it! loveee it!!

  7. Another great post! Did you need a permit for this hike?

    • Thanks! No permit needed for day access. You only need one for overnight adventures.

      • Drew – Do you need a permit to camp overnight at Horseshoe Meadows? How is the parking at the trailhead (assuming peak months like July/Aug)?

      • You do need a permit in the wilderness area, but can also stay overnight at the trailhead if no permits are available to camp (http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/inyo/recreation/recarea/?recid=20692&actid=29). Parking can be crowded as there is also an equestrian area for horses with trailers. I’ve never been there when it’s full, so I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that. I usually just sleep in my car when I drive up there so I can get an early start on the trail.

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  9. Cool hike! Thanks for posting this. I was searching Google for photos of Langley in anticipation of hiking it and I stumbled on your site.

  10. How long did it take as a day hike? Thanks!

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