Cottonwood Lakes Loop — Page 6

The Author atop Mount Langley Summit

VI. 14,039 Feet Above Sea Level

The great, sweeping lines of Mount Langley stretch out and down in all directions. There is, as they say, nowhere higher to go. I'm alone today on this fine peak, and the solitude is welcome.

Two hundred miles to the south, 25 million people cluster together in the coastal basins, busy, busy, busy. Here, in this quiet, thin air, time seems to tick more slowly. Thunderstorms have kept me away from the Sierra since my ski descent of Shasta. Today the sky is cloudless from horizon to horizon; the winds are calm.

langley summit blocks

Summit Blocks

summit register

Signing the Register

Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney

Olancha Peak

Olancha Peak

Despite a fall chill in the air, this is as fine a summit day as I could have picked. I take a few scampering steps up Langley's mottled summit blocks and drop my pack.

The view of Owens Valley is magnificent. I'm a bit weakened by my persistent headache, but my spirits rise when I remember I have a box of Crackerjack in my pack.

Moments later, I'm munching on caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts, smiling without a care in the world.

Afterward, I find and sign the summit register, which includes a tribute to our soldiers stationed in Iraq placed by the members of a local air base.

Now it's time for some sightseeing.

While I've been snacking, I've failed to mention that Mount Whitney, the celebrity of the range, is less that four miles north. If it's quiet here it's certainly crowded over there.

I'd guess a hundred or more people are on the peak at this very moment.

To the south lies the rising outline of Olancha Peak, the proper pronunciation of which remains a mysterious.

Olancha Peak is the last of the Southern Sierra's high marks before the desert begins, at around 11,000 feet high. Looking west I see the Kaweas, a remote and technical part of the Sierra whose coloring is darker and more dramatic than the bleached granite of the other south peaks. Despite the vertigo, I can't resist crawling to the edge of Langley's north face and peering over.

I take a quick photo, looking straight down, as I'm perched on blocks of granite that hang over two thousand feet of air. Surprisingly, I see several fingers of snow remaining in a series of discontinuous chutes across the face. Each of these hidden snow fingers suggest the possibility of a madman's ski line in winter... Such dreams will have to wait for another time, however (or more likely never). For now, I'm ready to begin the second half of my loop, down the south slopes and Army Pass.

next: Crashing Army Pass