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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.