Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hiking the Sierra Nevada – Part IV – Mt. Langley


It was another season later when Eric and I, both hoping to hike all of the “walk up” peaks above 14,000 feet, decided to hike Mt. Whitney’s neighbor, Mt. Langley.  It’s just short of Mt. Whitney’s height by about five hundred feet, and its approach is almost identical to Mt. Whitney’s, and is about five miles to the South.

We were in pretty good shape from the year before and yet still did an acclamation hike the day before in Bishop's Pass.  Mt. Langley’s trail head is at 10040 feet, and the peak is 14,023, so the total gain is 3,983 feet.  As I recall, the hike is about nine miles in either direction for a total of about 18 miles.

So overall, this hike is significantly easier than Mt. Whitney, or it would appear to be on paper.  However, once we hiked up and got past the timberline and into the base camp area near a lake much like that of Mt. Whitney’s base camp, we found that the trail book we owned didn’t indicate clearly at all how to proceed past the lake.  So we did a rather stupid thing.  

Eric and I scrambled up the face of a very steep, rocky cliff that looked like it lead to the crest line trail.  This took a lot of work and was really frightening.  We were climbing with our hands and feet; no ropes.  We eventually got to the top of where the crest line trail should have been, but once we were up there, the area was much larger than we thought it would be and we couldn’t make out any specific trail.  

There was mostly rock and just a little gravel up on the crest, and so no trails were visible.  After about 20 minutes of searching, it became apparent to us that the only way to summit the mountain properly would be for us to find the correct trail from the base camp lake. It was also getting late in the afternoon, so we decided that we were done for the day.

We started heading back down the precipice.  At one point, I we had to get down a large, shear face of granite that was very exposed.  While ascending, I had suspected that it would give us trouble coming back down.  I went first and did kind of a sliding, jump down to a very thin rock shelf that landed me on my right knee.  I was lucky I didn’t keep going over the edge. I landed so hard on the knee that for a moment I thought I might have fractured one of the bones in that part of my knee.  It really, really hurt, and I was stunned for a few moments.  I will note here that for about three years after this, my knee in that exact spot would hurt during periods of cold or dampness.  So actually I think I did get a small fracture that day.

Eric came down next with some trouble, but not with the awkward landing I had performed.  The rest of the journey down the mountain was fine.

A few weeks later, we came back to Mt. Langley to try our summit bid again.  This time, we had researched the trail leaving base-camp and had discovered that we should have followed the lake clockwise on the Southeastern side, rather than around the Northwestern side.  It was hard to see from where we had been, but there was a small trail that led from the Southern side skirting very close to the lake, then up to the crest.  We were delighted that it was a much easier approach than the scramble up the rock face had been.

We crossed northward along the crest, again, very much like the crest of Mt. Whitney.  And we came to a large dome, also like Mt. Whitney.  This dome was much harder to climb up onto.  We had to head west for a while because the edges of the dome were much steeper.  This took some time, and Eric and I found our own areas to make our climb.  We rejoined once on top of the dome, our heads pounding again, and we made it to the summit in another half hour or so.

Another challenge was now getting back down the edge of the dome.  Eric and I had miscalculated where we had come up, and we started down much sooner than we should have.  It was much too steep, so we had to reverse ourselves and head further west again to find a shallower way off of the dome.  We yet again miscalculated and ended up coming down a part of the dome that was still too steep and unsafe for us.  But we made it.  In hindsight, this trip was much more dangerous than Mt. Whitney, partially because it is not traveled as much and therefore the trails are not worn in clearly.  But we still had a lot of fun.

Our last adventure of the day, or actually the night, happened, as we got closer to the trail head.  We were probably an hour away from it (maybe four miles away), and it was pitch black.  We had our flashlights out to follow the trail.  But as we kept walking, we had thought that we had gone to far and therefore had missed a turn off.  So we headed back up the trail.  We ended up vacillating along the trail for about two hours. 

Eric became extremely anxious, and I felt like I was holding us together for a time saying that we would eventually find our way.  Then I had an idea to just hike straight down to the Owens Valley, forgetting any trails.  Eric, thank God, said he thought it would be a very bad idea to leave the trail, and we’re probably both still here on the planet because of his good sense.

Finally, a couple of people came up the trail from where we were first headed down, and told us that we were still three or four miles up the trail.  We were so relieved.  To this day I’ve always wondered why there were two people hiking toward the mountain that late.

I was supposed to be at work the next day, but we came off of the mountain at about 10:30pm.  So we paid for another night in our hotel, and we got up very early the next day and drove back to the San Fernando Valley.  I told my production manager about our adventure the night before, and I could see I her eyes that she could not connect with it in any way.  

Eric is NOT peeing here.