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trail runs level for a while until climbing out of the basin to the Cottonwood Lakes area at which point you have traveled about six
miles on the trail. But before you get to Cottonwood Lakes, you will see a sign reading New Army Pass. Do not take this option, or
you will miss the Cottonwood Lakes. Once in the Lakes basin, the imposing south face of Mt Langley comes into view. The
Cottonwood Lakes area is a beautiful place to set up camp, if you are planning more than a one day trip on Mt Langley. From the
lakes basin, follow the trail and you will end up making a short climb into a smaller lake basin, and then into a steep section known as
Old Army Pass. At the top of the pass, you will enter into Sequoia National Park. You are now well above timberline, and the
unmaintained trail is easy to follow. You are almost there, and with a bit more hiking and scrambling you will be able to reach the
summit (14,042 Ft). The summit is 10.5 miles from the trailhead with an elevation gain of 4,002 Feet.
Mt Langley - Along the Trail timberlinetrails.net
The Mt Langley
Trail starts at the
parking lot (about
10,040 Ft of
altitude). The trail is
excellent. It starts
off fairly level then
descends a bit to the
golden trout camp
area. Here the
Mid July or August is a good time to climb Mt
Langley, even though you may encounter hot dusty
conditions down low on the trail (as seen to the
right). Earlier in the year would be better for the
lower sections of the trail but the downside to this
would be lots of snow and ice on the trail that goes
from Cottonwood Lakes basin to Old Army Pass.
The way around this would be to carry and use an
ice axe and crampons to gain the pass. But you will
need to be skilled in this type of travel in order to
negotiate the more difficult terrain.
The dusty conditions are short lived, because it will
not be long before you will begin to gain altitude on
the up and coming switchbacks, and soon enter into
the beautiful Cottonwood Lakes district.
Not too far from the trailhead, you will come to a sign
notifying you that you are entering the "John Muir
Wilderness. The John Muir Wilderness is a wilderness
area that extends along the crest of the Sierra Nevada
of California, USA. It runs for 90 miles along the High
Sierra crest, and contains 581,000 acres. It was
established in 1964 by the Wilderness Act and named
for naturalist John Muir. The wilderness begins near
Mammoth Lakes to the north, and ends in the
Cottonwood Lakes area to the south.
I have come across several of these signs in my travels
throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but this
marker is something special, because it marks the
southernmost boundary of the John Muir Wilderness.
This very special wilderness area is home to some of
the most beautiful mountain scenery in all the world.
Here you see one of the log crossings that you will
negotiate on the lower sections of Cottonwood Lakes
Army Pass trail. I find these crossings kind of fun and
you get a chance to practice your balance a bit. The
streams travel at a gentle pace here, and the height of
the crossing is certainly not too fearful. You still do not
want to take a fall. Even short falls can result in
sprained ankles or even worse injuries.
To the right you see an old rugged sign post letting you
know that you are at Lake 5. We camped at Lake 3
down below, but Lake 5 is a nice place to camp also.
It gives you a bit higher start in the morning for your
bid to gain the summit.
The lakes are a good place to get water, but you still
need to filter, chemically treat, or boil it for safety. Not
worth taking a chance in heavily populated areas.
In the above photo to the left, you see Lake 2 in
the early evening hours. Just above, you see an
image of what you will see when you first gain
access to the meadows area. The peak in the
near upper left hand portion of the picture is
Cirque Peak. Cirque tops out at 12,900 feet,
and many mistake it for Mt Langley.
I have heard of, and known of, hikers and
climbers who have climbed Cirque Peak instead
of their intended goal of Mt Langley. Needless
to say, they were very disappointed. They
might of rested up a day or so and then gone
back and climbed Mt Langley the next day. But
those I have spoken to say that they were out of
time and energy and would have to come back
and give Mount Langley a try some other time
in the future.
Above, hikers are returning to Lake 3 where
they are camped after doing a bit of fishing in
the lakes higher up.
To the right, you see Lake 4 in the distance
along with the headwall that guards Old Army
Pass from easy entry. When looking at it from
this vantage point, it does not seem possible that
there is a trail that leads up to the pass that is
located in the center of this view where ground
The unmaintained trail to the pass seems
impenetrable at first, but with an hour or two of
hard work (and a little excitement) the pass will
be gained, and you will find yourself closing in
on the summit of Mount Langley.
Just above, you see the lower section of the Old Army Pass trail. You are now above timberline and things are very stark and rocky
up here. In the above photo to the right, you see the remnants of snow left over from the winter months, causing the hikers to skirt
along the edge of the trail.
Now that you have gained the pass, the trail
eases up and you will now traverse along one
of the High Sierra crest lines. Even though the
trail is not as steep as what you have just
encountered, there is still a little over 2,000
vertical feet to gain before reaching your goal.
Air is a lot thinner up here and you will have to
make good use of your remaining energy
reserves to reach the summit.
The views from the crest are fantastic, and
you can see clear into the Owens Valley to the
east (which is over 8,000 feet below the pass),
and into Sequoia National Park to the west.
Here you see Kurt sitting in the foreground
taking a break and enjoying the view.
The trail finally ends and
those wanting to reach the
summit must scramble up
the last 300 vertical feet of
class 2 rock before
reaching the top of Mount
As you can see in the three
photos to the left, there are
lots of good sized boulders
to scramble over, but hand
holds are plentiful.
But care still must be
taken. A fall could produce
serious injury, and there is
always the danger of a rock
being kicked loose and sent
Therefore be careful not
only for yourself but for all
those who follow.
I could not resist getting this photo (above left) of Russ taking a break just below the summit block of Mt Langley. He certainly
knows how to make the best of stark conditions and get some rest. He even makes use of the surrounding natural materials for
making a nice little pillow to lay his head. In the above image to the right you see the group taking in the view of Sequoia National
Park to the west. Even though we are actually standing within the boundaries of Sequoia, the heavily populated portion of the park
lies far below.
To the left is an image of the beautiful
meadows and lakes that make up the
Cottonwood Lakes basin. You also get
your first clear view of Mt Langley as you
gain access to this area from the trail
below. There are few places in the Sierra
Nevada Mountains that offer such
unspoiled large scale high altitude
meadows. You are now at 11,000 feet
above sea level, and the trees are beginning
to thin out. Timberline is at approximately
12,000 feet in the Southern Sierra.
The lakes basin is also a great place for
landscape photography. Early morning
lighting provides wonderful opportunities
for photographers. The water surfaces are
usually very still during this time of day,
and you can get beautiful photos of Mt
Langley reflected in the clear calm waters
The photos to the left and
right seem like the hikers are
engaging in a full on climb
through boulders. I thought
this was a neat section to
negotiate and it gives one a
feeling of real high altitude
climbing even though you are
technically still on the trail.
Shown in the Topo Map you will
see the red line that represents
the Cottonwood Lakes / Army
Pass Trail. The first 6 1/2 miles
of trail is well maintained, while
the last 4 miles is an
unmaintained but well worn foot
path. The last 300 vertical feet
must be gained by scrambling up
class two rock to the summit.
As noted in the contour lines, the
trail starts out gentle, then
switchbacks up after a few miles
into the cottonwood lakes basin.
From there the trail levels out
again as it passes through the
beautiful meadows and
Once past Lake 5, as labeled in
the map (but posts a sign labeled
Lake 4 on the actual trail), things
begin to turn steep. This is part
of the unmaintained trail that
leads to Old Army Pass. Lots of
switchbacks are encountered as it
climbs what seems to be a cliff
when viewed from below. I
found this section of trail
perfectly do-able, and even a
little bit exciting. Once you climb
out of the basin the trail gives
you a super vantage point and
you will be treated to some
wonderful scenic views of the
lakes and meadows below.
< Lakes Trail
When you reach the top of Old Army Pass (12,000
Feet), you are greeted with a trail marker (as shown
on the left) letting you know that you are now
entering Sequoia National Park. This is just like the
one on Mt Whitney Trail located at Trail Crest. But
there you enter Sequoia National Park at 13,600 Ft.
To the right you see the group taking advantage of a
photo-opp at the top of the Old Army Pass
That concludes our section on the Cottonwood Lakes Army Pass Trail up Mount Langley. Please make use of the below links for
more information on this wonderful High Sierra Peak.
You have made known to me the
path of life; you will fill me with joy
in your presence, with eternal
pleasures at your right hand.