Hiking Mt Langley

Notes by piero scaruffi | Travel resources | Other California destinations | California hikes | The Sierra peaks
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Mt Langley, located in the Eastern Sierra just south of Mt Whitney, is the tenth highest mountain in California (4280m). It is also the third easiest to hike (after White Mountain and Mt Whitney) and its views are among the best.

Drive on hwy 395 to Lone Pine. Turn west on Whitney Portal Rd. After five minutes, turn left on Horseshoe Meadow Rd and drive up the mountain almost to the end of the road (30 minutes) and turn right when you see the sign for Cottonwood Lakes (not the Pass). This is the Horseshoe Meadow campground for hikers ($6 in 2005). If the campground is full, remember that down the road it was "national forest", so you can camp just about anywhere you can park the car.

(Click on the map)

From the Horseshoe Meadow parking lot (about 3,000m of altitude) follow the trail to the Cottonwood lakes that starts at the northwest end of the parking lot. It is about 10kms to the Cottonwood lakes. There is a first creek crossing after about 15', then another one after another 30'. After 20' a plateau is reached with the New Army Pass fork (don't go to New Army Pass or you'll miss the Cottonwood Lakes). Another 30' of walking takes you to the Muir Lake fork (again, don't go to Muir Lake) and, immediately afterwards, to the first Cottonwood Lake. The second lake is announced by a little house. One can already see Mt Langley (the tallest object in front of you to the northeast). To the left, one can guess the location of Old Army Pass, although it cannot be seen yet. The trail continues to the left of the second lake and to the right of the third (very long) lake. Now Mt Langley is no longer visible because the basin of the fifth lake blocks the view. At the end of the third lake, the trail goes down to the left and finally Old Army Pass becomes visible. The trail continues in between the fourth (left) and fifth (right) lakes, and then begins climbing up the pass. After about 45', the pass is reached. The trail is wide and well-maintained all the way to Old Army Pass, despite having been erased from some maps. It offers, in fact, one of the best views of all the Sierra passes on both sides.

(One can also use New Army Pass if there is still snow on Old Army Pass, but New Army Pass makes it much longer).

Now that you are on Old Army Pass, walk to the Sequoia Park sign (very visible) and eight meters later take the trail on the right. This is usually marked with cairns and, again, very visible (but, of course, it depends on how much snow came down the previous winter). If instead you continued straight, you'd head for the Pacific Crest trail down the valley. (You can see the use trail coming down from New Army Pass on your left).

The trail to Mt Langley (usually in very good conditions, despite not being shown in any of the major maps) coasts the north side of the Cottonwood Basin up a ridge. You can finally see Langley when you are on top of this ridge. From this point the trail leads to the base of Mt Langley. Once you reach the rocky base of the mountain, there are different ways to get to the summit, depending on how much you like scree and how much you like rock climbing. The very rightmost part is for professional rock climbers only. More towards the left, it is easy class-2 climbing. If you simply follow the use-trail and the footsteps, you will probably end up on the north ridge: there has emerged a real Mt Whitney-style trail for tourists that takes you all the way to the top, mostly class 1 (but beware that is makes a long detour to the north side in order to avoid any kind of rock climbing). Many people go up to the right of a monolith that you can see well when you are at the base of the mountain. An even easier way is to go further to the left, where a wide strip of dirt circles around most of the rocks. Whichever way you go, you eventually reach the summit plateau. It takes a bit of intuition to find the summit (register and marker are invisible until you step on them and there is no obvious peak).

Here are the three routes that I suggest and the one that I do not recommend at all:

Look for my Langley hike's pictures

Distance from parking lot at Horseshoe Meadow via Old Army Pass to summit: 16.8 kms. So round trip it is about 33kms. The elevation gain is about 1,300 meters.

Trail milestones (and 2005 times):

  • Horseshoe Meadow trailhead (3060m)
  • First creek crossing: 30'
  • Second creek crossing: 1h
  • New Army Pass fork: 1h15'
  • Muir Lake fork: 1h35'
  • Lake 1: 1h50'
  • Lake 2: 2h
  • End of Lake 3: 2h30'
  • Bottom of Army Pass: 3h
  • Old Army Pass (3700m): 4h
  • Top of ridge: 4h 15'
  • Base of Langley: 5h
  • Summit plateau: 5h45'
  • Summit (4280m): 6h15'
  • Pass: 8h
  • Lake 1: 11h
  • Parking lot: 12h

Directions to Lone Pine: see the Whitney page.

Mt Langley from Tuttle Creek

Mt Langley can also be climbed from Tuttle Creek.

Take the road to Whitney Portal from Lone Pine and turn left into Horseshoe Meadow Rd. Turn right into Granite View Drive and drive almost to the end. Before some private property turn right into the only major unpaved road. (Most likely you'll get to the end of the paved road and then drive back and turn left into the unpaved road). Drive to the end, but, if your vehicle is a regular low-clearance car, you will most likely park before the steep section (there's an appropriate "square" on the right side) and walk the last km. At the end there is a wide parking lot. The road used to continue but now there is a sign "wilderness" and a boulder to block it. This is the trailhead. You are parked on the south side of the LeConte creek.

The trailhead leads in 30' to a wooden bridge over the Tuttle creek and in two more minutes to an abandoned building that used to be a temple. This building has a working roof and a fireplace (and great views of the mountains). Above the building there is a metal shed. The trail here is difficult to follow, but just walk east (left) towards the Tuttle creek and you should hit the trail (we left lots of cairns in 2011). The trail mostly follows the Tuttle creek upstream staying within 100 meters of it. Resist the temptation to climb the ridge in order to take a short cut while the creek bends right (it's loose granite dirt with extremely steep and slippery chutes). The trail enters foresty (and shady) terrain and calmly ascends the Tuttle canyon. When you see the waterfalls of the creek, you should prepare to cross to the other side (the right side gets very bushy).

You do see the summit of Mt Langley from Tuttle Creek (from the summit you see the Tuttle Creek all the way to the Black Falls).

I crossed just below the waterfalls at a clearing when the creek is almost flat. It only required a little jump. On the other side stay as close to the creek as you can without entering the vegetation. This should mostly be on friendly terrain. After a pine forest, you will be doing mostly bouldering to the Black Falls. These falls come down from the ridge to your right (from the north). Now the creek splits in three branches: to your left there is a south branch that is dry in the summer; in front of you there is a vertical wall (not so vertical when you climb it) that takes you to the (very dry) Tuttle basin and then to Tuttle pass; to your right are the majestic Black Falls.

Take the dry left branch (the "south fork"). It is mostly class 2. At the top continue west over a series of plateaus. The last one takes you right under Mt Langley. There is an actual trail that dead ends there, coming from Old Army Pass. You can take that trail, go all around, and join the semi-official class-1 trail to the top; or you can climb the class-3 chute on your right (i left big cairns) that will take you to one of the sub-peaks from which it's an easy 500 meter walk to the real summit.

Picture from the Black Falls:

Picture from the Tuttle Basin:

Route from Tuttle Creek

Route from Tuttle Creek

Route from Tuttle Creek

Route from Tuttle Creek

Route from Tuttle Creek

Looking back at the point where you enter the Langley plateau from the east

See this page for more details on the Tuttle Creek trailhead and route.

Mt Langley from Meysan Lakes

From the Meysan Lakes trailhead near Whitney Portal a trail leads to the last lake. From there climb the Mallory-LeConte saddle (class 2). Then coast LeConte and descend towards Iridescent Lake. Coasting the lake to the left (east) continue southeast up the ridge. Eventually you reach a plateau from where Langley is an easy class-2 scramble.

See this page for more details on the Meysan Lakes route.

Video from the top
Sierra mountains