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.
28 thoughts on “Hiking To The 14,026ft Summit of Mt. Langley via Cottonwood Lakes”
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.
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!
Thanks, Sara! I use a Sony a6000 and Sony 10-18mm lens.
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.
Oh, no need to trouble yourself. I guess we can bet that some soldiers once made the pass? haha
Looks like another great hike!
It was a fun one! It’s starting to get cold though!
That’s amaaazinnnggg!! and I love your photography! where exactly is cottonwood ans what challenge is this! love it! loveee it!!
Thanks! The road to the trail head leads up from Lone Pine on the 395 her in CA.
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.
Applying ice to swollen areas and taking anti-inflammatory medications may relieve some of the
pain. Flat feet have various degrees of arch degradation when the body’s
weight is on them. When insurance companies stress preventive health, they always emphasize doctor exams over
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.
Thanks! I’m glad it helped!
How long did it take as a day hike? Thanks!
The total round-trip hike was about 10 hours.
Was this a day hike for you? I saw that you left at 4:45 am but didn’t see if you spent the night on the trail or if you were able to make it back the same day. Thank you!
Hello Cody. Yes, I usually do this hike as a day hike. I’ll drive up and spend the night at the trailhead parking lot. There is a campsite there, but I just sleep in my 4Runner. The key is to get an early start and time sunrise to hit when you reach the lakes.
Great report and equally great photos! I was able to do this hike this past November and really enjoyed it! Here’s a report of my hike: http://adventuretramp.com/2019/12/18/mt-langley/
Awesome. Thanks for sharing.
Beautiful photographs and great trail report! Would you say that the Old Army Pass is visible and easy to follow? I’ve read reports that say that you pretty much have to “scramble your way.”
Thanks for the information you have taken the trouble to share.