Mt. Langley - 14,026ft

Work brought me to Bishop for a few days and I figured, why not try another 14K mountain while I was up here. I chose Mt. Langley. After working Wed-Friday I drove to Horseshoe Meadows Friday evening and spent the night in my car. It was a cold night and I woke at 6:00 to find ice on the inside of every window. After some food and gearing up I was on the trail at 6:20, temperature was 25°F. One group had left before me at about 5:30. The hike was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky…. Until I hit (Old) Army Pass.

The weather forecast when I last checked Friday morning was 20% chance of a light dusting of snow >12,000ft and I made sure to pack extra warm clothes just in case this mild event happened. As I hit the top of Army Pass more clouds started rolling through and you could see fresh snow on the mountains to the west. At about 12,500ft Langley was now covered in clouds but other than the cold (~15° F) the weather was quite nice.

I finally made it to the back side of the mountain and begin following the 7’ high cairns. At 11:30 I made it to 13,500ft and the weather takes a turn for the worse. Within about 10 minutes, it went from flurries to snowing and <50ft visibility. The wind picked up and temps dropped. I kept ascending till 13,840 at which point in time I was 0.3miles from the summit. Any sense of the trail was now covered in snow and the cairns were no longer visible unless you were very close to them and the weather was just getting worse. My nose was numb and extremities were cold past the point where I felt comfortable. “You win this round Langley, but I will be back” I thought as I reluctantly turned tail and started hiking back down the mountain.

I turned my GPS into “Backtrack” mode so I could follow the trail I made to get back down the mountain. This was literally a life saver as there was no trail and the cairns were extremely difficult to find. As you head back down the mountain the trail makes a sharp left turn south. As I search for the cairns I saw a very lost looking gentleman down the mountain past the turn off. We made voice contact and he came up to me. He is lost and doesn’t know the way off the mountain. No map, no compass, no GPS. We made our introductions and I highly suggested to Richard to stay with me and I will lead us out.

The rocks were icy but we slowly got off the main section of the mountain and down to about 13,000ft. At which point we both heard yelling. Visibility was still very poor and we were able to just make out a figure about 200ft down a drainage heading west down the side of the mountain. He seems lost, trying to find the trail. We are able to verbally communicate that he needs to come back up to us. The clouds rolled in and we lost sight of him. We continue our descent and after about 10 minutes we heard more shouting.

We saw the same figure down a different drainage again heading down the wrong side of the mountain. This time we called him back up to us; his name is Donny. Donny didn’t have a map, compass or GPS and is looking for his missing climbing partner “Johnny the Rastafarian”. Apparently Donny stopped to put on a layer and go to the bathroom but The Rastaman kept powering down the mountain and left his partner behind. Donny joined our band of merry men and I led the way towards Army Pass. I was still utilizing the backtrack function from the GPS as the trail and visibility were obliterated by the weather.

We made the 2 miles back to Army Pass and found many other hikers in the general vicinity. Both Donny and Richard found their climbing partners and turns out The Rastaman had already descended the pass. We say our cheerful goodbyes and they express their gratitude for me leading them back, got to love the GPS! Going down Army Pass was a slow and careful endeavor as the trail was icy but eventually I was safely back to Cottonwood Lakes area. Through it all, the snow would just not let up…
It was still dumping pretty good, once again making the trail difficult to follow. I realized at one point that I was off trail and used my indispensable GPS to get my bearings back on course. At this point I heard a “Hello! Sir?” I turned and saw two gals and a dude far off trail. They explained that they were lost and wanted to know if I knew where the trail was. Looks like I get more hiking partners! We formed our troop and finished the last 7 mile trek back to the trailhead.

It never stopped snowing on us the entire way back to the car. We arrived at 4:45pm with a temperature of 22°F. Total mileage was recorded at 20.7miles, not bad for a day of hiking. We said our goodbyes and they invited me for a beer. Normally this sounds great, but I had a 5 hour drive ahead of me and decided to just hit the road. I got back home at 10pm to a hot shower, a warm bed and a beautiful wife.

The lesson learned from this trip, never go on a hike without your 10 essentials!!! I had my Map/Compass in case I needed them but the GPS was the MVP of this trip. Even though the other climbers I hooked up with had proper clothing, food and water, they didn’t have the navigational tools needed when the weather turned bad. I was not as prepared for the weather as I should have been as I chose to travel light but I listened to the brain that gave me 12 reasons to turn back, and only one to continue on. Don’t worry Langley, I will be back.


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