Saturday, November 17, 2007

New Army Pass Trailhead (Cottonwood Lakes Part 1)

(GPS: N 36 27.200, W 118 10.195)

This is one I have wanted to do a write up for a while now. A few months ago I headed home from vacation and, with some luck, I was able to get a place to stay overnight in Lone Pine, CA. I was fully confident I would be able to do this long hike if I got a place to stay, AND was able to drive up these long switchbacks up Horseshoe Meadows Road. One ends up driving up about 6,000 feet to an elevation of about 10,000 feet.

The overall goal was to get to Mt. Langley which is another 14er about five miles south of Mt. Whitney. The first two entries will be up to the Cottonwood Lakes area, and then the rest will be the rest of the hike to Mt. Langely.

I arrived at the New Army Pass trailhead right as the area started to lighten up. The sun would not be out for half-hour or so. I hit the right time to get started on this trail. This was one of those days that everything pretty much went better than planned. I really had no problems at all as you will see. The only problem I had, which turned out to not be one, was that I did not get an quality sleep the night before, but that was the only thing. As usual, since there was not enough light out at the time, and to save battery power for the peak, most of these early pictures were shot on the way down, but I arrange them in a way to show you how the trail is from trailhead to summit.
Since I had already had about two weeks of exercise hikes at high altitudes I just went flying up the trail. I felt great. The hike is a long 21+ mile hike, but a lot of it is on flat ground. There is very little uphill in the first two hours of the hike. One gains about 1000 feet to the Cottonwood Lakes, and then another 3000 feet to the top of Mt. Langley.
Somewhere along the way there is an area called Golden Trout Camp which I assume is an area that Golden Trout are sent from their parents for camp for a week during the summer. Ugh...yeah...okay...moving right along...
It is always nice to enter John Muir Wilderness. I like people, but when I think of a real wilderness there is a lot of forest features and very few people. People tend to be more friendly and respectful in these areas. Not always, but usually.
I finally crossed a bridge I recognized from the photos I have seen others take. I was really moving a long quickly. I will probably say it a few times, but I really viewed this day as my last day of vacation. I was taking in the air and trying to enjoy every moment of it. I knew when I reached the top of Mt. Langely that the moment I headed down my vacation was basically over.
There is a sign that splits the trail. I used my intuition (which was excellent on this day) and took a right up this short switchbacking trail.
To this point, most of what I saw was a beautiful forest area with lots of trees. I topped out and reached the above meadow. Cirque peak and Cottonwood Lake #1 are in the background above. As much as I wanted to go to that lake, I had to stay on the trail heading right of the above picture to this:
There is another lake in the above picture which should be Cottonwood Lake #2, but more importantly Mt. Langley, which is the highpoint in the picture, is shown. This was my first glimpse of where I was headed this morning. I was making really good time. No one was around at all. At the time there weren't any clouds around. It really was a great experience.
This is further on looking back. One thing I encountered on the way down were some horses. Apparently, they take a pack of people on horses to the lakes back here. The trails were filled with horse dung so I knew I might see some eventually.

In my next entry I will wrap up this part of getting to the Cottonwood Lakes area and start getting to higher elevations.