Cottonwood Lakes area
(Cirque, Pickering, Langley)

28 Jul - 4 Aug 2002 - by Phil Rogul

on july 28th the wife and i drove up hwy 395 to lone pine, with a great mexican food stop off 395 at adelanto (taqueria las amigos - homemade corn torillas to die for!). after surviving one "road rage" incident that resulted ironically from some incompetent driver pulling out onto the hwy in front of us, near adelanto, while we were travelling about 60mph. he was obviously outraged that i had the nerve to honk at him! and, give him the finger, more than once!!

sunday mid-afternoon we loaded gear into our respective packs - 35 and 55 lbs - and headed up the new army pass trail from cottonwood campground. a ranger had told us we could camp at golden trout camp ground, which is outside the boundary to sequoia nat'l park. since our permit was for mon. entry we figured this would give us a head start. it did, but we found out that camping there is only avail. by reservation, (why were we not surprised?) so we crossed over the "border" into the nat'l park anyway to set up camp, figuring that if a ranger cited us for being 50 meters over the "border" one day ahead of our permit we'd be ready and fired up to contest it.

we camped just above a flowing stream in an idyllic setting amongst the trees. the only noises we encountered were from livestock - talking donkies - who wandered over to us from inside the golden trout camp (fenced in) stock area.

monday we packed up and headed further up the new army pass trail, deciding to camp at the high(est) lake just on the east side of the pass. this allowed us to bag cirque peak (12,900) that afternoon, following relatively easy class two route up to the flat peak area.nice register on top with american flag. views were outstanding in all directions. top of the world! the sequoia fire rose up from 35 miles away - vertically - like a mushroom cloud, as it was still early and luckily no winds had arisen to disperse any smoke yet.nice big golden trout from high lake that night - unstaocked lake, so fishing was slow, but worth it!

tuesday. we packed up and headed up and over the pass to sky blue lake. our map - 1996 usgs - did not show a trail up to there, so we cross-countried on the north and west side of the drainage, covering about 3 miles plus.an all-dayer for my poor wifey! nearing sky blue at the end of the day we encountered a small group who had been camping there, but felt it was too "rough" of an area! perfect for us, allowing for a peaceful solo visit! beautiful deep blue lake, rare jumping fish, nothing biting (drat!) on dry flies.

wednesday morning we had a leisurely camp breakfast of freeze dried soup with nuts -( better than bacon n eggs!), since neither of us can stomach gooey oatmeal that early in the morning) - and decided about 8:30 to cross country up to the higher lakes west of sky blue and take a look at the saddle which we'd need to access for climbing pickering. we arrived more quickly than we had expected at the last lake, looked at the saddle which sat far above lots of the usual loose rock, sand, and scree, and decided to climb up for a summit attempt.

by early afternoon we were at the saddle, and selected a route up the large boulder pile that led to pickering. after a few detours to keep it within class 2 (for the wifes sake)(ed.note - he failed!arrrugh!never again!!!) we finally arrived at the highest point, but could not find the register! our gps confirmed that we were indeed sitting on the pickering summit (13,485 feet), so we decided that signing in was not necessarily required!

we descended back to the saddle for lunch, as it was a bit precarious trying to find a comfortable flat spot on this boulder heap. views from the summit to the west were obscured by the smoke, but which managed to catch up with us and pollute our breathing air on the return to base camp. i found my eyes burning, but our lungs seemed unaffected.

we returned to our camp by six pm . yummy lasagna for dinner, and a chocolate-raspberry pie thing for dessert that took up way too much space in the bear can, but tasted great!

thurs. we packed up, hoping for an easier day. time for more back-packing down the drainage and back up to below new army pass (west side) so as to be positioned for climbing up to langley. we had scouted on the way in an off-trail camping area near a flowing spring, which proved perfect. great views, solitude, and great water! millions of marmots, but they were well mannered. we packed down from Sky Blue Lake via trail (!), which we'd suspected was there but we hadn't found on the way up - we came in on the opposite side of the drainage just by rock creek, picked up new army trail west of the turnoff for soldier lakes basin (about 1/2 mile west). arriving late afternoon, we set up camp and rested - another backpacking day behind us!

fri. early am we packed up, skipping the routine of firing up the svea stove. we hit the trail before 7:15 and headed up to the buttes below langley, stashing our backpacks and taking lighter day packs up to langley summit.

we had been told by a backpacker we'd met over the pass that there was a "better" approach to the langley peak by heading for the eastern saddle, then climbing class 2 up and over. turns out the class 2 ends and class 3 begins as one approaches the "top", which forced us back down again (ed. note - i was fooled again, i will never do that again, never!!!) and looking for the easier hikers approach, which we easily found, and continued on. multiple ducks on that approach make it painless and interesting. saw a few people on top, phone wasn't working - we could connect with other parties but they couldn't hear us - phil tried a makeshift antenna but that didn't work either.

we summited by late morning - great views in all directions! book says 14, 045 ft but gps on top said 14, 075. spent about an hour on top eating cheese, rolls, pb from a squeeze tub , dried fruit and chocolate and admiring the beautiful views. then, back to the buttes to pick up our packs for the hike back over new army pass.

for all those "competitive" climbers - please note that my wife did the packback plus those peaks! in other words, go ahead and top that!

fri around 5:30pm found us once again at high lake on the eastern side of the pass. a perfect camp site, with a sandy lake shore along with an ideal rocky cove for setting up the camp stove out ot the winds. plus, pulled out another golden trout for dinner - he bit on a black ant - supplemented that with refried beans and great salsa and apple-cranberry crunch.

saturday morning we started back down the trail, bumping into the same ranger who gave us our permits at the lone pine station - andy. he was managing a trail crew who were deep in the mud trying to re-build some sections..... they had 6 beautiful dogs (labs, mutts) that they had rescued from various pounds - they told us that the doggies guarded the camp from bears at night and slept all day while they trail-built - what a life!

we were out by saturday late afternoon and, true to form! made our first stop at the "espresso shop" in lone pine - very worth it! great coffee, nice people, plus LA Times laying around to catch up on! then we went a little further north to Independence, where we had reservations for a real bed!!!!at the winnedumah hotel, a wonderful place across from the inyo county courthouse. Great place, great ambiance, great people to meet. Actually, wouldn't mind living there!!


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