Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mount Langley (14,026 feet)

"Uh oh.  Too late," a Japanese hiker insisted, shaking his head.  "Very windy on top," warned a second Japanese hiker as he eyed our thin short sleeved shirts.  Sierra and I reassured the hikers that we had warmer gear stowed in our packs, then continued up old Army Pass heading toward Mount Langley.

At 14,026 feet, Mount Langley is one of California's easier "14ers," making it a popular climb.  But the many hikers we met descending from Mount Langley had all woken early for an "alpine start," and were now headed back down to the warmth and safety of their camps and cars.  Sierra and I hadn't started hiking until 9am, and had stopped for a lengthy lunch break to set up camp at Cottonwood Lake 3.  We were definitely behind schedule to reach the summit that day.

Undaunted, we pressed on, ready for whatever adventures the day would bring.  A wall of wind greeted us at the top of Army Pass.  We stopped briefly to layer up before continuing to climb the rocky, desolate ridge.  The sandy ridge held a variety of tracks from both hikers and bighorn sheep, creating a maze of use trails leading up to the final, rocky base of Mount Langley.  From there, climbers are faced with a variety of options to reach the summit plateau. 

Turning around to scan the ridge we had just traversed, I spotted a tawny shape bounding across the rocks.  As I watched, several more tawny shapes came into focus as a small flock of about 15-20 bighorn sheep crossed the ridge.  We stopped to watch them for a few minutes before turning back to pick a route up the climb.

Reaching the summit plateau, we hurried to the high point where we enjoyed a brief celebration ... Sierra's fifth 14er!  With relatively clear skies we enjoyed incredible views north to Mount Whitney and back to the southern Sierra Nevada mountains.  A cold, brisk wind prompted us to add more layers and prepare for the descent.

After a quick, Class 2 scramble, we found ourselves trudging back along the sandy ridge, which was now completely desolate, abandoned by both hikers and bighorns.  Sensing movement, I looked up to spy three bighorn ewes and one lamb traversing the ridge above.  Awestruck, we watched until they disappeared over the rocky horizon.

With daylight quickly disappearing, we scrambled down the rocky old Army Pass.  Evening shadows already cloaked the Cottonwood Lakes, but a bright golden alpenglow lingered on the rocky peaks above.  We returned to our camp at dusk, and hiked out the next day.

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