All pictures by D:
We first become aware of Mt. Langley on the way back from climbing Cirque Peak. Far distant, it's snowy flanks catch the sunlight. We must go there.
Weeks later, the 21 mile hike begins in the chilly pre-dawn after an almost sleepless night. (Below freezing temperatures and anticipation have made sleep difficult.)
The rising sun warms Cirque Peak, barely visible across the tree tops. The trail winds gently alongside stream and meadow for 5 or 6 miles, gaining little elevation, and then seems to dead end at a sheer granite face on the north end of the last Cottonwood Lakes. We retrace our steps, thinking we have missed the turnoff to Old Army Pass, but indeed the trail does climb the almost vertical granite wall in front of us.
D leads the way, I focus on his feet in front of me, and try not to look at the abyss below. But near the top we are forced to negotiate a snowbank that stretches across the trail, by climbing down off the trail, clinging to rocks that hang 1,000 feet above the lake. A cold sweat breaks out, fingers scrabble, then clench on the chilly granite slabs but at last we are safe at the top of the pass.
A cool wind blows steadily across the top of the pass, to the North the Whitney Range is visible. We turn into the large, sculpted bowl that lies on the approach to the summit. It is all sand and gravel; two steps forward, one step back.
Then on to the class 2/3 rock scrambling all the way to the summit. Shasta is courageous and obedient; D lifts her patiently over the worst of it.
The summit is finally gained, bringing enormous smiles of relief and joy. We linger for some time, enjoying the near perfect weather. Brilliant blue skies, views of Mt. Whitney to the North, White Mountain to the East, Black Kaweah to the West.... we reluctantly start the trek down.
Somewhere on the vast talus slopes my camera falls from my pack - I retrace my steps but it is impossible to find. Then Old Army Pass again: going up was difficult, going down is terrifying. Tired feet slip and skid on loose gravel, hands grip Shasta's collar. Solid ground is reached, tears of relief flow.
The last 5 miles back to camp seem to stretch endlessly as the afternoon light fades. Hot tea, an excited recounting of our adventure to a neighboring camper - then blessedly home.