Rising to 14,042 feet, Mount Langley is less than five hundred feet shorter than Mount Whitney but receives far fewer visitors. While the lottery to get a permit for Mount Whitney can be challenging and competitive, Mount Langley’s hikers can easily get a free permit on the day of their hike. The summit provides expansive views, solitude, and a deep feeling of accomplishment.
At least eleven miles of hiking lie between Horseshoe Meadow and the top of Mount Langley. The trek be attempted as a fatiguing 22-mile day hike, or as a three-day affair with backcountry camping beside the beautiful Cottonwood Lakes. Langley is considered an “easy 14er” (though still a bit tougher than Whitney) and the trail to the top is more tiring than technically challenging. The marathon hike through thin air provides a worthy adversary and great rewards.
The first 7.5 miles of the hike are along Cottonwood Lakes Trail which is gradual and scenic, climbing 1,500 feet over 6.5 miles before a tougher ascent of 800 feet to New Army Pass. Langley is in sight and the path is clear.
Descend from the pass and break east off New Army Pass Trail, hugging the high end of the slope. Frustratingly, you are forced to give up three hundred feet of the elevation you worked so hard to climb. The only way to avoid the extra elevation is to hike up Old Army Pass instead, which is a less-maintained trail that can require a tricky snow climb.
Beyond the passes, a worn path makes its way up to a ridgeline populated by rock towers. Beyond the towers, lies a barren slope of sandy gravel. The so-called Langley Plateau is much longer than it appears from the pass and the ridge offers a truer view of the distance to Langley.
Set out for the summit across the plateau. While an established trail may does not lead to the summit, the National Park Service has created a marked route no minimize the number of paths across this fragile landscape. Follow the established route as best you can up the mountain.
Beneath the summit, the easy-to-cross terrain gives way to a rock crown that requires a couple hundred feet of class three scrambling. Were this climb somewhere other than 14,000 feet above sea level, it would likely not be a challenge, but after the long slog, this point forces hikers to gather courage and preserver. The east side of the crown is steep and has the potential be covered in snow even in summer. Make your way west until you spot a channel that looks good for climbing and scramble up over the rocks.
Above the climb, it is just a gradual walk to the high point at the northeast end of the summit. When you find the USGS marker and register, you have made it to the top.
To the north and east, the mountain drops away down shear cliffs. The views are electrifying. Mount Whitney stands boldly to the north and other prominent pinnacles fill the panorama. To the northwest, the well named Sky Blue Lake lies in a mountain cradle in front of Mount Pickering. No California mountain south of Langley is any taller so you can stare out in that direction for days. To the west, the backcountry of Sequoia National Park spreads out toward the snow-capped Great Western Divide. If you make it to the top, congratulations! Proudly sign the register and know that you have seen sights few ever will.
Mount Langley sits on the border of Sequoia National Park and the John Muir Wilderness at the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This 22-mile hike with 4,000 feet of elevation is sure to be a highlight of any hikers resume. If anyone asks why you are setting out on such a strenuous hike, answer as John Muir would have, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”
- Review Cottonwood Lakes Trail for more details on the early portion of the hike, as well as a word on trailhead quotas and other information you should know before making the ascent on Langley.
To get to the trailhead: From the city of Lone Pine, it takes half an hour to ascend to the trailhead campgrounds. From Route 395 in Lone Pine, turn west at the traffic light on to Whitney Portal Road. After three miles, turn left on Horseshoe Meadow Road. Drive twenty miles up mountain switchbacks to the end of the road at Horseshoe Meadow. Turn right, following signs for Cottonwood Lakes and park at the trailhead.
Trailhead address: Horseshoe Meadows Road, Inyo National Forest, Lone Pine, CA 93545
Trailhead coordinates: 36.4532, -118.1699 (36° 27′ 11.5″N 118° 10′ 11.6″W)
|Cottonwood Lakes |
This trail through lake-filled Cottonwood Basin provides a 10-mile round trip day hike to Long Lake and a 7.5-miles one-way trek to New Army Pass a 12,300-foot gateway to the eastern Sierra including nearby Mount Langley.
|Old Cottonwood Creek Trail |
This 8 to 9-mile day hike follows a secluded trail through mountain meadows to the South Fork Lakes and Cirque Lake.
|Cirque Peak |
This 12,900-foot summit can be reached via off-trail ascents from New Army Pass, Cirque Lake, and Chicken Spring Lake.
|Cottonwood Pass |
This 7-mile round trip trail ascends 1,200 feet to an 11,200-foot pass and a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, with access to Golden Trout Wilderness and Sequoia National Park.
|Lower Soldier Lake |
This 19.2-mile loop crosses Cottonwood Pass and New Army Pass to visit a beautiful lake that is an ideal camping spot for backpackers heading higher and deeper into the Sierra.
|Sky Blue Lake |
This hike extends beyond Lower Soldier Lake up Miter Basin to a deep blue lake surrounded by towering peaks.
|Primrose Lake |
This sidetrek visits a lake between Miter Basin and Mount Pickering en route to Sky Blue Lake.
|Mount Pickering |
This 13,485-foot summit west of Mount Langley offers more excellent sierra views.
|More trails in the Sierra Nevada Mountains |
Explore other destinations in Sequoia National Park and the rest of the range.
|Horseshoe Meadow Campgrounds |
This pair of campgrounds offer 40 sites and serve as a great base for the Cottonwood Pass and Cottonwood Lakes trails.