12:23 PM, Saturday August 3, 2013, I reached the summit of Mount Langley in the Sierra Nevada Mountain. The mountain stands at 14,032 feet though the benchmark says 14,042. I was accompanied and encouraged by my two companions Ant and Larry. In terms of difficulty, this was the most difficult hiking I have ever done. Without the help and guidance from my friends the last exhausting mile could not have been conquered. With Ant's path finding and Larry's close support, I was able to overcome the challenges of the ascent and was able to claim victory with my friends
My First ever backpacking trip
Two nights and three days at 10,000' and higher elevation. A couple borrowed items but the rest was all new gear. Never before tested. The plan was to camp at the trailhead parking lot. The next morning, pack up and hike out to Cottonwood lakes and setup camp. Next day, navigate Old Army Pass then head north to Mount Langley. Final day, pack up and hike back to the trial head. Seek Starbucks, burgers, beer and get home early enough to visit with our families.
Day 1: Head to Trail head Camp
I will skip the drive through Yosemite though it was really great. Mostly lakes, Mountains, Trees, and pee stops.
Lunch at Whoa Nellie Deli. I got a burger rather than fish taco. I already failed my first Sierra backpacking test. No beer either. Infraction! Stopped at welcome center to get passes. Why bother no rangers to check passes on any hikers the entire trip they have great, affordable maps. I got a couple plus a scarf to protect the back of my neck. Remember this.
Drive, drive, drive. Mountains, Mountains, Mountains. Pee, pee pee.
Lone Pine. OK little town. Headed up whitney portal road through Alabama Hills. Really cool rock cropping with character(s). Lots of movies filmed here. I did not get to be a tourist and visit the sites and read the plaques. Phooey!
Headed up the road to Horseshoe Meadow. Amazing how they cut a road in the side of the hill. Lots of rocks. On the road. Falling. Aimed at you. Most miss. I hope. then, Bam! Horseshoe Meadow. 10,000 ft elevation. Lots of cars. Plenty of open camp sites. We picked a site. My tent went up quickly and easily. Same for my sleeping pad and bag. No problems. Debated about eating backpacking food there or going to town. Decided to go to Lone Pine for foods. Picked Mount Whitney Restaurant. I opted for a grilled turkey melt and split a pitcher of beer. Food was good, Indian Wells Red Ale was the crap. Dr. Peppery. Bah!
Back at camp it was already dark. Temperature was about 70 in the afternoon. About 45 after sunset. The sky was loaded with starts. The Milky Way was almost touchable. We saw a several shooting stars! Awesome. Several Satellites too. Saw a couple Iridium Flares. that was totally cool too. Cold now. Nite nite.
Day 2: Hike to Cotton Wood Lakes
The hike was just over 6 miles with the first two or so mild among the pines. After the second mile, the uphill started and really caused me distress around the 3.5 mile point. Miles 4-4.75 were the steep switch backs with lots of rock steps. These were pretty exhausting to me. The pack was HEAVY with all this climbing.
After the 4.75 mile point, things got quite a bit better but I was really tired and spent. The altitude started to get to me somewhere around 10,800' and three hours into the hike. The remaining three miles were plagued with a headache and nausea.
We reached Lake 3 about 2 PM, four hours after starting. We found a great spot where the three of of us had decent room. being the noob, I just picked a spot and setup camp. I had no idea how far from one another they likes top be not did I think it was something to think about. Luckily, we had plenty of room.
The afternoon did not go well for me. I had a constant pounding head ache which was only mildly suppressed with ibuprofen. The nausea got worse leaving me with difficulty drinking water and unable to eat. I had no idea this was from the altitude. I thought it was just exhaustion from the hike. I tried a tums to calm things but quickly ran to the bushes to hurl.
I was unable to eat that night. I had planned a carb loaded dinner to prepare for the ascent of Mount Langley the next day. I slept OK but definitely not rested.
Cotton Wood Late #3
My tent. First time ever used.
Day 3: I don't know how to quit you Mount Langley
My companions were up early preparing for the hike to Mount Langley. I arose slowly. Elevation sickness still had me in its grips. I was feeling slightly better but still had a gnarly headache. I pumped up on ibuprofen hoping to mellow it out some. Nausea was still there but not eating anything make it tolerable.
I had decided to return to Horseshoe Meadow and camp closer to 10,000. I didn't want to be the person who screwed the whole trip so I didn't say anything. the more I thought about it, the more I thought I should at least try to summit Langley. Sure, I was tired, weak, hadn't eaten and suffering from altitude ailments but at least I could try right? Looks a lot better to try and fail, right?
I was able to get a packet of oatmeal to stay down. I kept wanting to get to lower elevation and feel better. I also wanted to at least try. I decided to try. I hurried some stuff together. I did not have a day pack so I emptied my back pack and dropped in my hydration bladder. It was kind of bulky but not too heavy. I grabbed some energy snacks as well as a couple things to nibble on.
We headed out around 8 AM and headed for Old Army Pass. I was rather worried about this trail since it was not maintained and had some fatalities in the last few years. The scenery on the way there was stunning. The mountain looks like a sheer wall of granite. No way there is a trail there. No Way!
It took me about 75 minutes to climb the pass. My friends were at the top in less than an hour. It was hard for me on a good day. This day, Bah! Even harder.
Top of Old Army Pass
Something was not quite right at the top of the pass. Be careful when you stop to look closely at some rocks.
We proceeded towards the mountain with about 2000 feet of elevation ahead of us. The terrain is sandy and rocky. The trail meanders and is often not a trail but just a direction towards the mountain. Folks set up little rock cairns to mark the trail. It was easy to get off trail but you could find you way back easily enough.
As we approached the base of the mountain, all I could see is skree and boulders. Two things I had come to dislike. Greatly. I really slogged through a lot of skree on the way. Luckily I had gaiters so it did not fill my shoes but still, the stuff drains the life out of you.
Still far away from the base. Boulders look like little rocks.
As we approached the base, maybe 100' away, all I could see was an impassable wall of rock and boulders. There is no trail up an literally you can just pick a direction and head that way. You could be totally blocked or find a route up. There are routes up and we had some initial route plans but it was a lot less clear up close.
I watched two men scale large 10' boulders coming down. I was already really spent with altitude sickness, no real food and just some energy chews. Boulder climbing? No way! So, I quit. I called out to Ant and Laurent and quit. Ant didn't hear me but Laurent did and hung back with me. The two gents that descended the boulders came over to us sensing I had quit. They were very supportive and helpful and encouraged me to continue. Laurent was a extremely kind and assured me we could do it.
Ant actually found a doable path. Laurent helped me navigate the 2' -5' rocks and boulders. We navigated through, slowly. There was some rock climbing but it was doable. If you had energy. and were not near death. Still, I moved upward. One slow, painful step after another. Out of the boulders, it was mostly rock and skree again but with much more slope up. I tried to follow my friends lead and step on mostly rocks but was was really just stumbling upward on pure determination.
A lot of this kind of trail.
The "trail'! This picture also contains a special flower in this picture. It was super fragrant. I think it is a Sky Blue.
It took me about 90 minutes to climb the 800 or so feet of elevation from the base. My friends stuck with me when they would have been there in 45 minutes. At 14,000 feet, the altitude really affected me. Added to the other symptoms was dizziness. But, I made it.
The three of us! I felt like I was going to fall and had to move quickly after this.
I went to the edge and put my camera over. That is about 2000' down.
Summit register. Project Kill Joe failed again.
We made it back to camp by about 4 PM. I was feeling a bit better but still had a nasty headache. I was able to eat some food and was happy to not feel too nauseous.
Cottonwood Lake #3 nearing sunset
Sun setting behind the mountains.
The next morning, Sunday, we were up early, packed and heading out. It was a very fast 2 hours, 31 minutes (versus 3 hours 45 minutes up).