Monday, June 27, 2011

Trip Report: Mt. Langley Day Hike, June 24, 2011

Mount Langley at 14,042 ft is the 9th tallest peak in California and is considered to be one of the easiest 14ers to hike here. This was the sixth 14er that I successfully completed. The route we chose to do starts at the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead and goes over Army Pass and then to the summit. It is about a 21 mile round trip hike with approximately 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Many online resources have rated this hike to be no harder than class 2. I might agree (if I followed the correct route), but I found some class 3 sections on the route I took.
Mt. Langley as seen from Cottonwood Lakes.
Mt. Langley as seen from Cottonwood Lakes.
I'm not sure if I've ever had a "perfect trip" where nothing went wrong, nothing could have been better, and no mistakes were made. Do these such trips even exist? I do find that with each trip, there are new lessons to be learned. Well, what did I learn on this trip? I learned that you should always do your homework regardless of how easy you think the task will be.

That was the biggest mistake I made on this trip. I failed to do my homework because I thought of Langley as being very easy, straight-forward, and that there was no way we can screw it up. 21 miles with 4,000 feet of elevation gain is comparable to a typical day I had on the John Muir Trail last year. It did not appear to be challenging enough for me to spend time researching the trail, reading up on trip reports, and looking at photos. Instead, all I did was find two random topographical maps online with the trail drawn out, printed them out, and headed for the mountain.
The sign says 1.6 miles to Cottonwood Lakes.
The sign says 1.6 miles to Cottonwood Lakes.
Snack time. Big bump on my forehead from a mosquito bite.
Snack time. Big bump on my forehead from a mosquito bite.
Cottonwood Lake #3.
Cottonwood Lake #3.
Everything was going fairly smoothly until we arrived at Army Pass. I remembered reading on SummitPost that ice axes and crampons are only "useful" to go over Army Pass during the winter and that people have snowshoed up the pass before. This statement and the rating being no greater than class 2 gave me the impression that Army Pass isn't going to be very steep. I even considered leaving the crampons at home, but decided last minute that it wouldn't hurt me to bring them. 
Cottonwood Lake #4 and Army Pass behind me.
Cottonwood Lake #4 and Army Pass behind me.
Crampons are definitely required to hike up the main chute of Army Pass. I was also well aware that there is a less straight-forward route to go up Army Pass, but given the conditions I saw, it looked easier to just go up the main chute. Even if you went up the other way, you would still need crampons. However, you can probably get away with not wearing crampons if you just scrambled up the rocks instead of hiking in the snow, which is what we ended up doing anyway.
Putting our crampons on.
Putting our crampons on.
Army Pass has a very short and steep section toward the end. When we arrived at this section, it was so hot that the snow became soft and slushy. Every step I took, I slid back about half a step and the spike of my ice axe did not feel very secure in the snow either. At this point, I traversed to the rock on my right and scrambled up to the pass from there. It was much easier for me to do this and more fun as well. 
This was a little bit after when it started to get steep. I just traversed to the rock on my right and scrambled up from there.
This was a little bit after when it started to get steep. I just traversed to the rock on my right and scrambled up from there.
Another look at the steepness on the main chute of Army Pass.
Another look at the steepness on the main chute of Army Pass.
Although Army Pass was more challenging than originally expected, it was not the major problem we faced. The main issue we had was with one of the maps I printed out and followed. Apparently, the trail as drawn on this map is not the easiest nor the best way to reach the summit. It wanted me to summit via the south east face, which I believe eventually joins the Northeast Couloir. We followed this map and had hiked all the way to the base of the steepest section and started to question the route when it didn't look right. I looked at the other map I had with me and realized that the two maps had conflicting trails drawn. The other map wanted me to approach the summit from the south west. At this point, it looked much easier to do that as there appears to be far less snow. So we ended up traversing back to the south west approach and scrambled up the rocks to reach the summit. When I came home and read up on trip reports, this is indeed the preferred and easiest route to go up Langley.
Mt. Langley.
The mistake we made was keeping to the ridge on the right. We eventually hiked until we saw the snow and then decided to traverse left and scambled up the rocks.
It took us an extremely long time to reach the summit. Jacquelyn seemed to have been severely affected by the altitude right after Army Pass (12,000 ft). She would take maybe 5 steps and have to rest for 10 breaths. I would take around 30-60 steps and only breathe half the amount of steps I took. Nevertheless, we reached the summit after 10 hours of hiking at 3:45PM.

The views from the summit were amazing. Mt Whitney, Mt. Muir, the Keeler Needles, and Mt. Russell were among the first few easily recognizable peaks we saw looking north. We spent about 15 minutes at the summit  to take pictures, sign the summit log, and to enjoy the scenery. During this time, the entire summit was ours. In fact, we did not see a single person all day as there was nobody else on the trail from when we started to when we finished. This was quite ironic as the parking lot was filled with cars.
Mt. Langley summit marker.
Summit marker.
Signing the summit log.
Signing the summit log.
Mt. Whitney, Muir, Russell, and the Keeler Needles are easily visible from Langley.
Mt. Whitney, Muir, Russell, and the Keeler Needles are easily visible from Langley.
Panoramic shot of me on the summit.
Panoramic shot of me on the summit.
Coming down the summit was rather straight forward as we just followed the path of least resistance. That was until we reached Army Pass. We didn't want to go down the rocks we came up on and we didn't want to walk down or glissade the steepest section of Army Pass either. So what did we do? I'll leave the specifics out, but it took us a long time to get down. Basically, I down-climbed some class 3 rocks and glissaded where it was less steep. Jacquelyn found her own way down, which she felt more comfortable with. After getting down the pass, hiking back to the car just felt extremely long. I think it took us the same amount of time to get down from Cottonwood Lakes as it did to get up. The elevation gain during the last few miles were dreadful. We came down in the dark and finally returned back to our car at about 10:30PM.
Cool rock formations.
Cool rock formations.
Start Time: ~5:45AM
At Summit: ~3:45PM
Finish Time: ~10:30PM

Total Time: ~16.75 hours.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Trip Report: Split Mountain, June 1-2, 2011

Split Mountain at 14,064 ft is the 8th tallest peak in California. The name comes from its double summit (the north summit being the taller one). The route we took to summit the peak was via the North Slope from the East as approached from Red Lake. It is about a 7,500 foot gain over 7.5 mile and rated class 2/3, but I found the class 3 section borderline class 4 given the current snow conditions. Many online resources has described this peak as one of the easier California 14ers next to Langley and White Mountain. Although I did not find Split to be too difficult, it definitely wasn't easy. This was my fifth fourteener to date.
Split Mountain, as viewed from Little Red Lake.
Split Mountain, as viewed from Little Red Lake.
Jacquelyn and I left the Bay Area on Tuesday, May 31st and headed for the Red Lake Trailhead (~6,500 ft). It takes about 1-1.5 hours to drive to the Red Lake trailhead from Big Pine. The road requires a high clearance vehicle and 4WD would be helpful. We spent the night at the trailhead with heavy winds (30-60 mph) which prevented us from getting very much sleep. The winds continued throughout the next day as we hiked up to Red Lake. I found the trail to Red Lake to be quite uninteresting with a lot of bushwhacking involved. The lake itself, at ~10,500 ft, was mostly frozen and the surrounding areas were almost completely covered in snow. We found a perfect dry spot and set up camp there.
Red Lake Trailhead.
Red Lake Trailhead.
Bushwhacking. Is this really the trail?
Bushwhacking. Is this really the trail?
Camp at Red Lake.
Camp at Red Lake.
At camp, the winds continued throughout the day and night. I was well aware of the wind factor, so I brought my single-walled 4-season Mountain Hardwear EV2 tent instead of one of my lighter tents. This was only the second time I used this tent and it held up extremely well. The winds forced us to boil water inside the tent and even though we were careful, we still managed to knock the stove over and spill water all over the floor (luckily the stove was not on). Getting a good nights sleep was also not very easy, especially for me being a light sleeper. Every time I would almost fall asleep, the winds would pick up and wake me up again.
Boiling water inside the tent.
Boiling water inside the tent.
We got up at about 5:30AM the next morning and started heading for the summit at 6AM. When we almost reached the first saddle after Red Lake, I looked back towards the lake and saw a small dot that appeared to be moving. I continued to stare at the dot with disbelief that we were not alone on the mountain. My initial thoughts were that this person must be day hiking the peak or skiing up it. There were no other cars at the trailhead and no one was camped anywhere near us at Red Lake. This guy was fast as he quickly caught up to us. It turned out that he was just as crazy as we were, was camped at Little Red Lake, and was also attempting to summit Split Mountain. It was good news for both parties as we all appreciated the extra company.
Little dot down the hill.
Little dot down the hill.
We were all surprised at the steepness of the 3rd class section right before the top of the ridge leading to the North Slope. It was nearly vertical and at times, it was easier to use the pick of our ice axe rather than the spike of it, just as if we were ice climbing.
Beginning of the 3rd class section.
Beginning of the 3rd class section.
At the 3rd class section.
At the 3rd class section.
Using the pick instead of the spike.
Using the pick instead of the spike.
The North Slope being only about a 1000 ft gain, was fairly straight forward and well graded. It didn't take us very long to reach the summit from the top of the ridge. During this trip, we started using a new technique of hiking up slopes which worked out really well for me and Jacquelyn. What we did was, take about 20-30 steps, then rest for 20-30 breaths. Basically, we took as many steps as we could without feeling the lactic acid build up, and then we would take as many breaths as we did steps. Normally, we would just hike at very inconsistent speeds and take either very long rests or very short rests, and one person would either be going too fast or too slow. When we adopted this method, we were practically hiking next to each other and at the same speed.
The North Slope of Split Mountain behind me.
The North Slope behind me.
We reached the summit at about 12:00PM and didn't spend too much time up there. The longer we stayed, the colder we became. I'm not sure if there was a summit log, but if there was, it was probably buried and we didn't find it. After taking some pictures, we ran down the North Slope and quickly found ourselves back at the class 3 section. We took this section very slow because if we had slipped and failed to self-arrest quickly, we may have ended up falling off the other side of the ridge.
Summit marker.
Summit marker.
At the summit of Split Mountain.
At the summit.
At the summit of Split Mountain.
At the summit.
It didn't take much longer to get back to camp as we glissaded down where we could. I found the hike back from Red Lake to the trailhead to be the most difficult part of the entire trip. The trail was extremely hard to follow coming down, especially during the sections where there were patches of snow covering the trail. At times, we completely lost the trail and so we just followed the drainage. We ended up doing a lot of bushwhacking and hiked through boulders, scree, and talus. In fact, we ended up on a completely different trail towards the end. I knew the drainage or creek would lead straight back to my car, so I just stayed alongside.

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