Mt. Langley, 14,026 feet of sandy windswept granite is one of the high places of the world. Langley is my second 14er and number 14 on my 30 for 30. My friend and I picked up our permit at the Lone Pine ranger station and started the hike in. Unfortunately we were not able to get a permit for the popular Cottonwood lakes route. Instead our permit took us to Cottonwood pass which, although beautiful, does not have many water sources and after 8 miles we were faced with the decision to set up camp for the night by Rock Creek or fill up on as much water as we could carry and attempt to get closer to the summit. The idea of an early morning summit, and a view of the sun rising over the high sierra made the decision a no brainer, even if it did mean carrying a back breaking amount of weight for the next few miles.
So we continued to hike higher, and every time we thought a spot looked good for camp we would look at each other and say “higher”. Above the Old Army pass we finally saw a large flat area with a striking view of Langley and Rock Creek Valley. I’m not exactly sure of our elevation but it must have been around 13000 feet.
For anyone who has spent time at elevation the effects of the high places are not foreign to you. Oxygen becomes scarce, the body does its best to adjust but sometimes it rebels. Migraines, nausea, and actuate mountain sickness can set in and all you can do is descend to get any sense of relief. Some people can start to feel the effects of altitude at as low as 8,000 feet. The death zone, 26,000 feet and higher, is known as the altitude that human beings are no longer able to survive without the assistance of oxygen. So in the grand scheme of things 13,000 feet is a bump, only half way to death if you will. Luckily neither one of us experienced any of the nastier aspects of altitude.
After a long day of hiking my body was exhausted. I could not wait for the sun to finally go down enough to justify me curling up in the sleeping bag. Strangely enough though once I tried to close my eyes I could not get to sleep. Maybe it was the excitement of the hike tomorrow, the sore spot my back, or the wind whipping at the tent but sleep was illusive. Oh altitude, you are an insidious bed fellow. No matter how tired you may be sleep can allude you at altitude. Deeper stages of sleep and rapid eye movement are reduced at elevation making getting a good night’s sleep difficult. At one point I left the warmth of the tent just to break up the restlessness I felt. The stars were out, and there was no moon. High above the light pollution, smog, and the tree line the night sky shown in all its glory. The thin air was cold and fresh and I soaked in as much I as could before returning to the tent.
I remember dreaming so I know I at least got a couple hours of sleep but as soon as the dawn light started to creep up the mountain I was ready for coffee and to finish our hike. Sleeping so close to the summit meant a quick jaunt up to the top. After taking in the views, we headed back toward home.
The way back was long and dusty and I was thankful we slept so close to the summit, saving us a few miles of hiking on the way out. Every climb, every hike, every trip to the Sierras ends the same way. Grateful to be back at the car, knowing we are safe and going back to warm beds and warm food but already planning the next trip to the mountains. It’s so hard to stay away from the high places.