Folks here helped me plan this whirlwind, 6 day/5 night backpacking trip up and around Langley and Miter Basin. (See here
.) Due to weather and logistics, we ended up climbing Langley 1.9 times in four days. Here's my detailed report.
OR, you can just skip all the text that follows and see the report in pictures in the two posts that follow....!
We had an utterly fabulous trip. Because people seem to be interested in food strategies, I've included a description of our dinners.
DAY 1: COTTONWOOD LAKES TH TO LONG LAKE (Cottonwood Lakes Basin)
We picked up our permits in Lone Pine, drove up to Cottonwood Lakes TH, and backpacked to Long Lake. As we hiked, clouds formed, making for an especially dramatic entry into the Cottonwood Lakes basin, with that first view of the HUGE Langley massif. I felt the pressure drop dramatically, so we hiked fast to Long Lake and set up camp. A downpour started, with thunder and lightning to follow. We stayed snug in our tents. Others were not so lucky. The next morning, with all the wet clothes hanging from trees, Long Lake looked a bit like a refugee camp. Long Lake is beautiful, but the camping is a little on the high density side.
Dinner was soup (chicken bouillon) and MaryJanesFarm Organic Sweet Red Bell Pepper Pasta
DAY 2: LONG LAKE-LANGLEY (13,600')-LOWER SOLDIER LAKE
In beautiful, sunny weather, we climbed up New Army Pass. Cresting the pass, the view of Langley across the alpine desert/plateau was breathtaking. We left our backpacks on the trail that goes down to Lower Soldier Lake, and hiked across the plateau to Langley, hoping to summit. As we hiked, we could not ignore the clouds forming in the south and west. We followed a good use trail up the lower flanks of Langley, across a sort of plateau on Langley itself, and then traversed a steep sandy wash using a well-established use trail. At this point, we were in the boulders that lead up the west side of the summit plateau. My friend, who was in the lead, when confronted with the boulders, decided to head right (South) and, against my own sense of the geography, I followed. This turned out to be a mistake, as the boulders just got bigger and steeper. I went up an aggressive, lengthy class 3 chute angling north-east from where we were to scout out a better route and look for cairns, while my friend waited with our stuff. While it was not one I would recommend, and while I did not get far enough to see the leveling of the summit plateau, I did get far enough to see cairns and confirm my sense that the better route was to our left (north). By this time, however, I was exhausted from doing class 3 with little acclimatization, and we could see rain clouds approaching quite distinctly. After hitting about 13,500-13,600', we decided to head down. That turned out to be a wise decision, as the photos will show.
We picked up our packs and headed down through the established trail to Rock Creek and Lower Soldier Lake. The weather cleared as we got to lower elevations.
When we got to LSL, I raised several possible routes we could do over the next few days in Miter Basin and the vicinity. To my surprise, my friend, responded "What about Langley? I didn't get my summmit picture!" I had written Langley off for this trip but, with her comment, various possibilities start spinning through my head.... We tabled the issue of a Langley revisit for the moment.
Dinner was Trader Joe's instant miso soup mix, trout (caught by my friend), and a large
quantity of instant mashed potatoes. One of the best dinners of the trip.
DAY 3: LOWER SOLDIER LAKE-MITER BASIN-SKYBLUE LAKE
Armed with advice from this forum, we hiked up a drainage on the northwest corner of LSL, countoured around a ridge, and made our way cross-country down to Rock Creek and into Miter Basin. Weather was iffy. Also based on advice from this forum, we decided to camp among the trees up on the base of The Miter. By the time we set up camp, the weather had gone from iffy to worse, but then seemed to clear. So we headed up the drainage to our left (northwest) to Skyblue Lake. Right below Skyblue lake, you have a choice of a gentle class 2 climb to the lake on the west side of the drainage or a more vigorous class 3 climb on the east side of the drainage. Being new to this type of thing, I chose the easy route up.
Skyblue Lake was astonishing in its changing colors, clarity, and vast size. I hiked both the east and west sides, and ultimately climbed the drainage near its inlet to scope out future possible routes. Although somewhat cloudy, the weather held, and made for dramatically changing colors in the lake and the granite peaks that surrounded it. My friend tried unsuccessfully to catch fish.
We hiked back to our camp (via a Class 3 descent on the east side of the Skyblue drainage), changed into camp shoes, and then set off across Miter basin for an easy hike to a tarn we had spotted from high up on the Skyblue Basin drainage, where we watched the sun go down. Then back to camp.
Dinner was an exceptionally good, if ridiculously pricey, freeze-dried dinner of Backpacker's Pantry Pesto Pasta with Smoked Salmon
, helped down with more bouillon and copious amounts of hot tea and hot apple cider (it was cold).
DAY 4: MITER BASIN-UPPER SOLDIER LAKE
We had thought to spend the fourth day hiking up to Iridescent Lake and possibly Arc Pass, and either camping a second night in the Miter, or else going back to LSL. However, by the evening of Day 3, a plan had taken shape in my mind that I shared with my friend, and she agreed. We would try to go cross-country to Upper Soldier Lake, camp there, and, if the weather was good, go for Langley again via a use trail from USL (based on Glenn's excellent advice on this forum)
So, on the morning of Saturday, September 1, we hiked back across The Miter and down a portion of Rock Creek. We then angled up the slope on the west side of the creek to a tarn at the base of The Major General. From there, by staying at the tree line, we were able to do an easy traverse across the nose of the Major General without losing altitude, and then, with Upper Soldier Lake in sight, work our way own to the lake. (Unless you stay high at the tree line, the exposure can be a bit much... or an alternative route includes descending a drainage but then you have to regain some altitude to reach the lake.) We found excellent camping sites in the trees just above a sandy beach on the northern side of USL.
While my friend hung out (and tried, unsuccessfully, to catch us some dinner), I went to scope out the route for tomorrow.
This was not easy since I am a relative newbie to the whole off-official-trail thing, and I saw two possible drainages that we could take to Mt. Langley -- a very rocky one to the northeast, and a very sandy one to the southeast. I saw no cairns. My hunch was that the sandy one was correct, as it looked both steep but doable, and I saw footprints. But I am analytical to a fault, so I decided to explore the rocky one first, to rule it out. Suffice to say that after 20 minutes of hard, dusty, scrambling, I was done with the hard route, and was literally kick-stepping my way up the increasingly vertical sandy wash to the southeast. After maybe 15-20 hot, dusty, grueling minutes of this, I saw what I thought was a use trail on my right (on the South side of the wash), where the sand was more compacted, and it was! I followed the trail (much more easily now) up the wash until I could actually see Langley and was assured of a reasonable route for the next day. Descending was a breeze!
Dinner was shelf-stable smoked salmon and quinoa, with freeze-dried apple crisp for dessert.
DAY 5: UPPER SOLDIER LAKE-LANGLEY-LOWER SOLDIER LAKE
If at first you don't succeed....
At the entirely decent hour of 7:20 a.m., we left camp and hiked up the sandy wash to Mt. Langley. This time, when we got to the rocky section on Langley at 13,500' or so (very approx.), we were able to follow the cairns successfully through a short (40-50') class 2 chute that led us directly to the summit plateau. We were on the summit by around 10:30. The weather was great, and lots of folks were heading up. We spent almost an hour exploring, and then had a quick, fun descent to USL. It was so early in the day that we decided to move our camp to LSL so that my friend could fish.
Dinner was yet more soup and cider, fresh trout and Backpackers Pantry Hawaiian Style Rice with Chicken
(not my favorite rice dish).
DAY 6: LOWER SOLDIER LAKE-COTTONWOOOD PASS-COTTONWOOD LAKES TH
Whoever said that Cottonwood Lakes Trail is a sandy slog got that right! I cannot believe that a trail can be so scenic and yet, in places, so utterly monotonous at the same time! Bizarrely, a heavy metal song lodged in my head, and its drum beat in the chorus kept my feet moving for the hours needed to exit (Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," I had to look it up when I got home since I don't know from heavy metal...). Lunch at Chicken Springs Lake provided a pleasant, if brief, respite.
I decided to drive all the way back to the Bay Area, getting home just a midnight. A highlight of an otherwise overly-long drive was enjoying KFC (from Bishop) at Olmstead Point while the sun set.
A WORD ON TOPO AND LOGISTICS
Along with advice from this forum, we were armed with two topo maps, two compasses, and some very powerful iPhone apps (including GPS-enabled NatGeo topo of Sequoia/King Canyon that worked GREAT on the few occasions that we consulted it).
My paper map as the Tom Harrison Whitney High Country Trail Map (I had a GPS-enabled Sierra/Kings recreational map on my iPhone). On the left bottom corner of the paper map is a inset of the Horseshoe Meadows area with both Cottonwood Lakes and Cottonwood Pass trailheads. It correctly shows a trail (that we took at the end of our hike) from Cottonwood Pass trail past the pack station to the Cottonwood Lakes TH. My friend had a different map of the Whitney High Country that is not available at REI but apparently is available in Bishop and Lone Pine.
My pack weighed 35 lbs (including 4 lbs of water) at the start of the trip, and 25 lbs (including maybe 1 liter of water, and maybe 1 lb of uneaten food) at the end of this 6 day/5 night trip. Before the trip, I spent one night at the Tamarack Lodge in Mammoth Lakes (8,500'), not as much acclimatization as I usually prefer.