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by Nadia Ruiz, Team Top Secret Endurance Athlete
I am writing this post to share my experience hiking to the Mount Langley summit! I really enjoyed it and will share a few tips with you and encourage you to do it too!
The most popular and widely recognized mountain in California is Mount Whitney. It is the tallest mountain in California at 14,457’ elevation. Popularity is high every year; therefore, enthusiasts will need to apply for a permit via a lottery system every spring for one of the allotted spots during the summer/fall climbing season. I’ve climbed Mount Whitney with a running hydration for the first time and wanted to see how fast I could summit alone in 2014 on my first try. I was please to make it to the summit in 4hrs and 15minutes, very respectable for a hiker/backpacker but nothing extraordinary for an ultra runner or trail runner. Climbing above 14,000’ elevation leaves something special in the soul and I excitedly looked forward to the next time I could return.
However, if you are looking to plan something last minute that does not require a lottery system for a permit and/or for an equally challenging and beautiful summit, I dare you to go beyond what is popular. There are 12 great high peaks in California to explore above 14,000’ listed as summitpost. My goal is to explore all of them and beyond. As an endurance athlete competing in over 100 marathons and five Ironman races, my favorite other past time is exploring the wilderness. Listed as 9th highest peak in California at 14,026’ elevation, Mount Langley was my choice for this last minute adventure.
Mount Langley is located next to Mount Whitney and is accessible from the city of Lone Pine, a short 3-hour drive north from Los Angeles. You can opt to book a hotel or hostel in Lone Pine, which sits at 3700’ elevation or you can take the 30 minute drive up Mt. Whitney Portal to Horseshoe Meadow Campgrounds, where the trailhead to the summit begins and sits at 10,000′ elevation under the stars.
As a last minute trip, we opted for some car camping over Labor Day weekend. It was a very crisp night at 37F and I had forgotten my sleeping bag. I slept in all my gear layers. I might have gotten maybe 2-3hrs of interrupted sleep due to discomfort, not ideal when trying to climb to 14K the next day. Overnight, I drank almost a liter of water due to an increased thirst at elevation, which I discovered later would lead to about 3 urine stops within the first two hours. Tip: make sure to space out your hydration throughout the days prior ideally. I had not.
Mile 1. We started on the Cottonwood Trailhead shortly before 6am with the first sunrays warming the tops of the pines. No permit is required if you are not camping overnight in the wilderness off the trailhead. Only a parking pass is required. We excitedly began with the intention to summit, but always keeping priority first that weather and/or our bodies may not allow for a summit. The first five miles meander through the serene tree lined wilderness and climb slightly over 1000′ collectively, therefore, a very gentle climb. At Mile 4 approximately, you come to a section where the trailhead breaks off to New Army Pass or Cottonwood Lakes. We ran into a couple who recommended Cottonwood Lakes or aka Old Army Pass (it’s a mile less, climbs a little steeper, and much more scenic with lakes).
Mile 6. You climb only another 200′ where it opens up to the beautiful meadows, crystal lakes, and get your first view of the gnarly rocky ridge you will need to ascend. The 360 degree terrain is mesmerizing. After reaching the rocky ridge base around Mile 6 at 11,200′ elevation, you begin the most difficult half of your ascent. The majority of hikers at this point are carrying only a day back to summit as they camped overnight at the lakes to split the ascent over two days. Carrying any load on top of yourself through any climb especially above 10K will be taxing. Tip: drink, eat, drink, pace, and listen to any early signs of altitude sickness.
Mile 8. When you reach the top of the ridge breaking 12,000′ elevation, the views in front of you are mountain range after mountain range, something my soul simply loves to see. Turn around to see what you just climbed in less than two miles will shock you. Welcome to Sequoia National Forest.
Mile 9. The climbing becomes forgiving again for the next two miles climbing only about 800′, so if you’re an avid climber, this may not phase you. If you’re sensitive to altitude, this will tax you. Mile 9.5 at 12,500′, we stopped for a 30min lunch eating my foot long subway sandwich. Extra jalapeño and mustard on chicken with veggies hit the spot! Tip: bring very high calorie savory foods to help motivate your consumption on the trail. Some tend to lose their appetite when climbing at higher altitude but this does not mean you don’t need the calories. You need the calories. Less than two miles left to the summit, however, it will be the most challenging 1500′ gain of the day. Be prepared for some scrambling, crawling on all fours, and being brought to complete stops (for most). There were a few I saw even laying down and taking naps even though we were so close to the summit.
Mile 10. Above 13K, that will do it to you. Pushing the effort, I passed hiker after hiker. My goal: get absolutely uncomfortable (safely) to earn that summit. I was nauseous, sleepy, lightheaded, and breathing very heavily. It felt awesome! Inside, I missed this extreme type of discomfort due to altitude or pushing my body at a faster pace such as a 5K or shorter. That feeling of pushing so hard you want to vomit. I was uncomfortable yet so happy to be right where I was.
Summit. I reached the summit and allowed myself to enjoy it for an hour until my body could not take the cold any longer. Some found signal at the summit; I stayed disconnected to just really take in that moment. We were as high as cessnas fly. But we didn’t fly up there; we climbed on foot and our bodies can do that. Survive discomfort. Survive suffering. Survive pain. One thing it does is it teaches us: we are strong enough. We are capable to endure more.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. To go further. To go faster. To go higher. It’s when we’re uncomfortable where we learn. Learn what we really can do.
Mt. Langley 14,026′
9.5 hrs moving time
12hrs total time
Horseshoe Meadow Campground, Cottonwood Trailhead
10K – 37F overnight
11K – 46F day
12K – 50F day
Summit – 32F, 20mph winds
10K – 45F evening
2 scoops of Top Secret Nutrition Cardio Igniter mixed with water (40)
Mile 0 – fruit salad (400)
Mile 4.5 – chips, string cheese (500)
Mile 9.5 – subway, almonds (700)
Mile 11.2mi – bar, yogurt, nuts (600)
Mile 12.5 – yogurt, nuts (400)
Mile 16 – Bar (100)
Mile 22.4 – soup & crackers (300)