In usual tradition for any Sierra trip, a buddy Mark and I headed out after work on a Friday to drive the 9 hour trek to the trail head where we would try to sleep for a few hours before the alarm sounding signaling the encroaching daybreak was imminent and the start to our Journey up a 14er would begin. The trip to attempt to summit Mount Langley was no different. Tired and exhausted from the drive with a quick pit stop in San Bernardino to pick up Mark’s brother, we pulled up to the trail head to find every parking spot filled, no empty camp in sight.
We searched the area, looking for a suitable camp spot, only to find it took a drive down the cattle road and a short jaunt into the woods among the pines to find something worth calling camp. Exhausted we set up shop, packed our gear away, and were quickly sound asleep in a four man tent under the night sky. Morning came early, too early I thought as my alarm sounded. I hopped up, poked my head out of the tent, and knew it was time to go to work. We packed up the site, got our packs together and drove to the trail head strapped up ready to roll. This would be our 3rd California fourteen for all 3 of us; we smiled like exhausted idiots, knowing this was the price to pay to see the top, and took our first steps onto the trail.
I love being among the pines, the padded trail was lined with them, some dead from a recent forest fire, some dead from lighting strikes, other thriving in the sunlight at 10,000 feet. We trekked on weaving in and out along the trail, open green fields in the distance beyond the pine thicket. There were a lot of backpackers on the trail descending the mountain. We stopped to chat with a couple of them. We planned to take Old Army Pass up to the summit plateau which was the only crux that stood between us and peaking the 14,026 ft Mount Langley. The two fellas we stopped to chat with told us there was a way to circumvent the snow covered pass which would most certainly require crampons and an ice axe. They spoke of a short 60 foot scramble just to the left before the snow drift, we decided to go for it and forego the longer more populated New Army Pass route.
Taking the fork towards Old Army Pass we hit some big switchbacks that really got the heart pumping. We climb up and up exiting in a beautiful open meadow that housed the glacier lakes where we hoped to camp for the night! It was gorgeous and wide open, the pines were more space here given the altitude but the grey rocks were still a beautiful sight to see. We pushed to Lake 5, finding a nice flat area to ditch our gear and take a well needed rest. Marmots and small birds were the only animals we found here, that and the few other trekkers seeking adventure. We looked up at the pass curious if we would be able to reach the summit plateau or if our efforts would be thwarted by an impasse.
After dropping our gear we started ascending the pass, hearts were back to pumping the low oxygenated air through our muscles as we pressed to the crux. I was the first to reach the snow and started to assess the situation. The snow bank left in the shade had a nice 400 foot drop below it, the penalty for a mistake here was certain death, and there had been many who attempted it and didn’t come back. Mark and I found the rock chute and took the scramble, while Mark’s brother Michael (who had the ice axe and crampon) decided to go for it. After the sandy rocky loose chute we reached the summit plateau and began to look for Michael who was nowhere in sight. Fearing the worst we hiked towards the exit of the pass. Just as we did, Michael came into sight and was just sitting, waiting. We regrouped and pushed for the peak.
The push for any 14er is always tough. The oxygen is thin, your body is tired, and every part of you says stop, except your will. We pressed on, up the huge cairn stacks and beyond to the rock scramble that lead us to the snow patch, and eventually the summit. The granite rock plastered the higher altitude landscape, not many creatures or plants could survive here, but it was still gorgeous. From the summit we could see for miles and miles in all directions. The drop off from the peak’s really got everyone’s nerves on edge.
I had only been at 14k a handful of times before this, but for some reason (I guess I was having a good day) the altitude didn’t suffocate me, and I took a nice nap after cheering a celebration brew with my friends post peak. When I woke I looked around to the surrounding area in awe, took pictures like a tourist, and signed the registry with everyone. I put a note in the box for HB; it was her hike to summit after all, even though she couldn’t be there. Said my peace and headed down.
On the way back we decided to take the traditional route down the summit plateau down the west ridge. As I walked down the sandy slopes, loose rocks and dirt would try their best to catch a ride in the bottom of my shoes. I had to stop a few times to clean them out, but nothing would deter me from enjoying the view of the incredible landscape surrounding us. We trekked on and finally rounded the corner to the Old Army Pass. There, standing out in the field between us and our route home were 13 Rams. It was incredible!!! The Alpha male was standing out big bold and strong ready to take on any challenger that dared come too close. We (as passive as possible) made a large circle around them attempting to get to our route down without disturbing the herd. I have never seen so many rams in one place, even in pictures; it was truly a perfect moment on the mountain.
After finding the chute we climbed down back to camp, exhilarated by the days trek. We got back, set everything up and chowed down on some much deserved dinner. What a day! We woke in the morning, had breakfast, snapped pictures and appreciating the landscape, and took our time heading back down to the trail head where we camped again for one more night before the long drive home to Phoenix.
- Weather: Hi 60s, Low in the lower 40s, Overcast/Sunny
- Water: 7 liters (2 days)
- Food: 3 protien bars, 3 Clif Bars, 2 via starbucks instant coffee, 2 Quaker Real Medleys, 2 Mountain House, Quinoa, instant mashed potatoes
- Time: 2 Days (approx 36 hours)
- Distance: 20 Miles round trip
- 58 liter exos osprey backpack
- Big Anges Copper Spur UL2 tent
- Flash REI sleeping pad
- Cosmic Down Kelty Sleeping Bag (rated to 20 deg F)
- Jet Boil – Sol
- Black Diamond trekking poles
- Sawyer squeeze water filter
- Smart wool 195 long sleeve shirt
- Arc’teryx hoody
- Smart wool beanie cap
- Patagonia Pants
- Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
- Darn Tough wool medium weight sox
- Giro Mountain Biking Gloves