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Mt Langley - Base Camp timberlinetrails.net
Mt Langley is
named after Samuel
Pierpont Langley, but
it was most likely
first climbed by the
Indians. The first
white man to ascend
the peak was William
Bellows in 1864. Mt
Langley is the
southernmost of all
The trail that leads nearly to the top of Mt Langley
is well maintained, and is a pleasure to hike or
backpack on. I say nearly to the top, because the
last 300 vertical feet is accomplished with a class 2
To the left, you see backpackers traveling on the
lower section of the Cottonwoods Lakes Trail. The
trail is fairly level for the first few miles, but then
turns upward and gains about 1,200 feet before
reaching the Cottonwood Lakes and Meadows area.
You also get a nice high start on Mount Langley,
because you can drive your vehicle all the way up
to a 10,000 foot above sea level parking lot.
To the right you see an example of the Cottonwood
Lakes Basin terrain in the summer months. In the
spring months, things are beautifully green.
Having been to the top of all of California's fourteen
thousand foot peaks, I have to say that Mt Langley
has one of the most beautiful approaches. The
meadow shown to the right is an example of one of
the Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges sub-alpine
Sub-alpine meadows differ from alpine meadows in
that the sub-alpine meadows are located below
timberline. Approximately twelve thousand feet
above sea level is the elevation of timberline (where
trees no longer grow) in the southern section of the
Sierra Nevada Mountains.
In the image to the right, you see hikers
approaching the Old Army Pass well above
timberline. The trail from the Cottonwood Lakes
Basin to the top of Old Army Pass is unmaintained,
and can get a little rough here and there, but
overall, it is in good condition.
In early season, snow can present a problem, and
crampons and ice axe will be necessary if snow and
ice cover the trail. But as the year wears on, the
snow and ice melt out, and most folks have no
problem reaching the pass using this trail.
We went to the top of Mt Langley in August of
2006, and as you can see, there is still some snow
on the trail. 2006 was a particularly heavy snow
year, so conditions can vary greatly from year to
In the photo to the left is an example of an alpine
meadow on Mt Langley. Another interesting
feature is the small little pond like water source that
you also see here. These small little high altitude
lakes or ponds above timberline are called tarns.
The word tarn is derived from the Old Norse word
tjörn meaning pond. Its more specific use as a
mountain lake emerges as it is the commonly used
term for all ponds in the mountainous areas of
Northern England, particularly Cumbria.
These little high altitude tarns on Mt Langley make
for beautiful places to take a break or have lunch
at. These little jewels up high on the mountain are
what make all the work getting there all seem
To image to the left shows hikers now above Old
Army Pass traversing the near level section of trail
that leads to the class two scramble to the top of
Mt Langley's 14,042 foot summit.
Here at above 12,000 feet, the landscape begins to
resemble something like the moons. Very barren
except for the toughest of plants. I saw a lot of
lichens along the path growing on rocks up here.
Lichens do not have roots and do not need to tap
continuous reservoirs of water like most higher
plants, thus they can grow in locations impossible
for most plants, such as bare rock, sterile soil or
Conditions up here can be ferocious when it comes
to wind and cold. High altitude air is also very dry, so make sure that you
have enough water along. Many hikers/climbers underestimate these dry
conditions, and fail to carry along enough water.
To the right you can see myself and my two sons Ben and Sean (going
from left to right) on the top of Mt Langley. Langley provides a great view
of the south Sierra in all directions from the summit, including the Mount
Whitney group, the Great Western Divide, Olancha Peak, and Owen's
Just over Sean's left shoulder you can see Mount Whitney in the
- Mt Langley is the southernmost
14,000 ft peak in the Sierra Nevada
- It is one of the easiest peaks over
14,000 feet in the state of California
to ascend. (White Mountain Peak is
the easiest California 14er)
- The Cottonwoods Lakes Trail is
arguably one of the most beautiful
approaches to any peak.
fourteeners, and has a great vantage point from the summit for viewing the southern Sierras. Having climbed Mt Langley three times,
I consider it along with White Mountain, to be a great start for anyone eager to climb a fourteen thousand foot peak in California. At
14,042 feet, it ranks as number eleven when lined up against the other fifteen California fourteener's. Though Mt Langley can be
easily accessed and climbed from the beautiful Cottonwood lakes area, the peak also sports other opportunities for very challenging
climbs on the North and South facing Walls. Above, you see Mt Langley as viewed from the Owens Valley in the winter.