Elevation Gain: 4,950′
We drove up to the Cottonwood Lakes/Mt. Langley trailhead on the evening of July 12. There are a number of tent sites, vault toilets, and quite a bit of parking. It seemed a little busy so we continued up the road to Horseshoe Meadows, which has more tent sites for $6 a night. We found a nice one and retreated to the car as a heavy thunderstorm passed over the area. It poured rain for about 30 minutes, let up, started again for about 10 more, and then finally cleared. It seemed like most of the other campers were also hiking or climbing, so after we ate dinner and it got dark it was pretty quiet. We set the alarm for 4 so we could get started right at 5.
We awoke to clear skies, packed up the car and drove to the trailhead. We got feet on the ground at 4:59am. The trail is excellent, easy to follow, and never steep. It goes through a gravely area with old dead trees, pine forest as it flanks a creek, and then turns to the west and splits to New Army Pass (to the left) and Old Army Pass (to the right) with gorgeous meadows and numerous lakes. We opted to take New Army Pass, since we had heard conflicting information about the conditions and safety of Old Army. Once up and over a small bump, one of the larger lakes and Langley’s impressive south face come into view. It’s a great place to take a break and get some photos. The trail continues on past interesting rock features, bristlecone pines, and more tarns as it climbs past timberline.
The trail up to New Army Pass is excellent. It consists of gentle, uniform switchbacks. We got to the top, saw the rest of the route (there is still quite a bit!), and took another small break. There were numerous marmots sounding the alarm, and with good reason – two coyotes gained the ridge from the other side! I had never seen a coyote up so high before. The trail meanders across a broad plateau, and we saw where the trail met up with Old Army Pass. We ran into two guys who said they had come up New and were going down Old, and we decided that would be a good plan since it would save us about a mile.
Spot the coyote!
We followed the obvious trail to the north and got to the base of Langley’s summit plateau. It is still a ways away. We followed large cairns through mostly gravel trail and a bit of rock hopping as we gradually made our way up. You really aren’t there until you’re there! By this point, clouds and fog had descended on the area, but we were keeping an eye out for signs of electricity. The large cairns continue on the broad plateau and we finally reached the summit. At this point the summit was completely socked in, which is disappointing considering that I could tell that the drop off to the north and view of neighboring peaks Muir, Whitney, and Russell would be dramatic. We took some photos and it began to lightly graupel as we began our descent. We got to the trail junction and started down Old Army Pass.
Those views! 👌🏼 😩
The trail is not maintained, and there is a persistent snowfield across part of it, but it’s pretty easily avoidable. There are much more eroded trails on some of Colorado’s 14ers, so if you’ve done a fair bit of hiking you’ll be fine. We continued down the switchbacks, enjoying the great close up view of Langley’s south face and one of the larger Cottonwood lakes below. Once off the switchbacks, the trail returns to easy dirt and gravel. It goes past more bristlecone and alpine meadows.
Descending the switchbacks, and looking back up at Old Army
I’m really glad we did this semi loop because both sides have their own beauty. The sun came out as we hiked out and we took a last look at Langley before descending back into the forest. Before too long, we met up with the main trail and slogged out. It was a long day and we were originally going to backpack in, but due to the fire changing our plans we needed to do it as a day hike. I’m glad, because those trail miles go really quickly. We clocked 22.6 miles in just over 10 hours. However, the area is absolutely incredible and I would love to return to spend some more time there and do a repeat of Langley so I could enjoy the summit views!
We got back to the car and drove to Bishop for our first night in a motel for almost a week. Showers, sushi dinner for Sommer’s birthday, and beds were a nice change of pace. The next day was a full rest day, so we picked up permits, soaked in the hot springs, and then drove out to the Shepherd Pass trailhead to camp the night before our next big adventure – Williamson and Tyndall.
Relive 3D Topo/GPS: