Cottonwood Lakes Loop — Page 3

Chutes & Talus

The East-Southeast Ridge

At the last of the lakes I stop for a quick lunch. Soon, I'm hiking again, now scrambling up and over talus. To my relief, the route—a hidden chute—finally comes into view.

Twin gullies appear, one to the north, against Langley's south wall, the other to the south, adjacent Peak 12891. This part of the mountain features huge talus blocks—many of them car-sized and beyond, all of them loose or questionable. As I climb higher, the terrain soon rivals Williamson Bowl for sheer difficulty of travel.

Andy Lewicky & Talus Cottonwood Lakes Basin Climbing the Chute

To deal with loose talus, I try to stay focused when I'm climbing. I concentrate on placing my feet wherever they slide the least. Often, this means looking for larger rocks buried within the gravel and dirt, and using them as stepping stones.

I specifically avoid passing beneath large blocks, as these can and do come loose—sometimes with frightening speed.

When it's not possible to avoid a large, loose boulder, I'll make quick, decisive moves—remaining ready to leap clear at the first sign of trouble.

For a moment, as I gain elevation, I'm uncertain which gully to choose—left or right. I don't want to make another bad decision and be forced to turn back once again without reaching the summit.

Instinct tells me to keep left, so I traverse northward. And at last, the final piece of the route materializes.

I spy a narrow gully right against the south wall of Langley, leading to a notch on the ridge just north of Peak 12,891. I'm pleased to be on-route for certain, now, but the climbing quite simply is abominable: some of the loosest, sandiest gravel and talus I've ever seen, all of it powdery-white, like a bizarre high-altitude beach. The going is slow and tiring. I'm feeling the altitude now, and in fact I've developed a tiny bit of a headache. The chilly air doesn't help.

I look back, and I'm rewarded with a fine view of the cottonwood lakes, now nearly 1000 vertical feet below. The water in the lakes is a sparkling blue. It looks inviting, but I know it's icy cold. In fact, I've already passed several patches of snow. The sky is clear from horizon to horizon. The weather is fair, the air calm and cool, and I'm on-route, making slow but steady progress.

next: Diaz Creek & Owens Valley

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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