Tag Archives: Cottonwood Lakes

Cottonwood Lakes

Hadn’t been up to the Sierras in a while, so over the 4th of July weekend I took a three day backpacking trip to Cottonwood Lakes near Lone Pine, California.  Camp was set up between lakes number Two and Three.  On the second day I hiked to Long Lake and High Lake before turning around at the base of New Army Pass. The weather was perfect the whole time but the mosquitoes were out in full force.  A full set of photos can be found here.

Backpacking Cottonwood Lakes

It was that time of year again where we headed off to the Sierras. This year we decided to go to the Cottonwood Lakes area near Mt. Langley. Early Friday morning we hit up the Eastern Sierra Interagency Center and got a “walk-in” wilderness permit with no problem, then up into the mountains we went.

We stashed any scented items from the car and our extra beer in the bear lockers at the trailhead and then hit the trail. It wasn’t long until we entered the Golden Trout Wilderness Area.

The beginning of the trail were pretty easy going with not much elevation gain and decent shade cover. There were also some cool log bridges we used for creek crossings.

About 2 miles in we came across this great meadow which Cottonwood Creek flowed through. Some marmots were there checking us out.

After a couple more miles of hiking we came to a trail junction where someone had left a poop shovel on the trail sign. We thought it was strange that the shovel was just abandoned there so we decided to adopt it and named it “Poopie.”

After some uphill hiking the trail brought us to Cottonwood Lake Number One where we got our first view of Mt. Langley. It was at this point we also noticed the dark clouds coming our way.

After a short break we headed further up the trail to where we would find a place to set up camp. The clouds were looking more ominous as we hiked.

We ended up experiencing a quick and cold little hailstorm before we were able to set up camp; luckily we were able to find a nice little rock shelter which we were able to throw all of our gear under until the storm passed.  It probably didn’t last more than 15 minutes.

After the short storm we decided we better set up camp as soon as possible just in case mother nature wanted to give us a second dose. Of course once camp was set up the skies cleared and the weather was beautiful for the rest of the trip.

The morning views from camp were great, especially the early sun creeping onto Langley.

We also spotted a couple of deer cruising by the lakes in the morning.

Eventually once everyone was awake and we all had breakfast we decided to head out for a hike up New Army Pass. Just after leaving camp we came across a moon-like boulder field which had a small pond of water and a beach leading down to it. It was pretty nice and I dubbed the spot “Cottonwood Beach.”

After checking out the little beach we headed up to Long Lake and ended up taking the long way around it. That was okay though because we found some great camping spots towards the west end if we ever decide to come back.

Since we went the wrong way around the lake we were a little off course and decided to just cut straight up through the snow to where the trail was. This was our first major snow traverse of the trip.

We followed the trail further up towards New Army Pass and that’s when we encountered more snow and the trail became harder to follow. We finally came to a point where the trail up through the pass was completely covered in snow. We tried to find an alternate route up some rocks but that didn’t work. It looked like we’d have to go up the snow.

None of us had brought crampons along so we weren’t really prepared for that steep of a snow ascent, however we did have our ice axes which significantly helped the steep climb.

We all finally made it to the top of the pass which is at about 12,300′ above sea level. It was a pretty epic moment.

Once over the pass we could see Mt. Langley in the distance and at that point making it to the summit didn’t seem as intangible as I thought it would, so we decided to go for it.

Unfortunately we came about a 1/2 mile from the summit and made the decision to turn back. It was starting to get late in the day and we were worried that the snow in the pass might ice up, and without crampons that would make for a difficult descent.

We decided to take a look at Old Army Pass on the way back but decided it looked even harder to go down than the way we came up. Luckily for us the snow in New Army Pass was still soft enough for us to dig our boots in and we made the descent without any problems. I’m not going to lie though, it was kind of scary at some points.

There were some great views of the lakes below from the top of the pass.

The rest of the hike back to camp was quick; we made great time getting back.

Although we didn’t make it to the summit of Mt. Langley I felt like we still had a great hike and I really wasn’t too disappointed about it. I think if we had actually planned to summit it from the very start we probably would have. I was happy enough just getting up New Army Pass. Below is the track of our trip for the first two days (I ran out of battery for the last day).