Mt Langley is the high point back and to the left.
This past winter I charged myself with the task of tackling
California’s Fourteeners. I found an enthusiastic partner in Justin
Bender and, together, we started planning our first trip.
The Northeast Couloir on Mt Langley
Mt. Langley, with it's Northeast Couloir, was determined to be a
good weekend hike and we began our adventure there. Located just
outside of Lone Pine, Langley rises nearly 11,000 feet from the valley
floor. We awoke to a beautiful Cali day and began our climb early. A
few hours later and thousands of feet up, we found a restful camp spot
and sat down for some well deserved food and beer.
Justin and I enjoying a bite of lunch.
Since we managed to find some bare ground we took full advantage of
drying out our gear. As night fell, Bender got a fire going. We sat and
enjoyed the light and warmth until it was time for bed. After a couple
sips from my flask, we were ready to brave the cold night ahead.
Bender sits beside his fire.
Skinning my way towards the climb.
The next morning we got a late start and hustled to get out of camp.
Bender and I enjoyed skinning for the first part of our climb; this
made the time and the elevation pass by quickly. It didn’t take long,
however, for the crampons to come out for the 2000+ foot climb up the
Crampons were needed for the steep hike up the couloir.
As we crested the top, we discovered that we were only a few meters
below the actual summit. With our victory photo in hand, Bender and I
set out on our descent.
Bender and I at the summit of Langley with Mt Whitney visible in the background.
Looking down the southern face before dropping in.
While the snow wasn’t the best above 13,000 feet, the scenery and
the terrain more than made up for it. After descending over 3000 feet
in one run we reached our camp.
Some sweet turns at the entrance of the route.
Here I am making the best of the high altitude snow.
Bender makes his way back to camp with towering mountains all around.
With a quick take-down, Bender and I were out before the snow got
too soft in the midday sun. While our packs were heavy, the slush was
soft so we had to take advantage of the creamy turns.
Heavy packs for heavy snow.
We had now completed one of our goals. Only 14 peaks left!
Our next task was a challenging one, Mt. Whitney and the
Mountaineer's Route. A few weeks later Bender and I returned to the
Southern Sierras to tackle this classic backcountry decent in the
My huge pack was tough to carry uphill for thousands of feet.
An early start was necessary as our route up Whitney required that
we camp much higher than on our previous trip. After 5 hours of
climbing we found a suitable campsite below Iceberg Lake. We spent the
rest of the day melting snow for water and relaxing in the baking sun.
Bender and I got an early start the next morning and made quick
progress towards our goal. Hiking in the early morning is something to
Sunrise over the White Mountains.
Hiking towards Whitney and the Needles.
Hiking up the Mountaineer's Route.
Whitney's summit marker.
After a couple hours we finally made our way up the couloir. With
less than 2000 feet separating us from the highest point in the Lower
48, Bender and I were able to make quick work of the distance. With a
quick side trip to the summit, we were excited to reach the top. Our
summit attempt required us to ascend one last snow-filled chute. This
proved an easy task on the way up, but could have turned ugly on the
way down. The snow at this elevation was very cold and wind affected.
While I was down climbing to get back to our route a simple slip turned
disastrous. Bender watched in awe as I fell a hundred feet down the
chute. A quick self rescue and some harder snow managed to keep me from
tumbling thousands of feet down the north face. With this incident
behind us, we were back and ready to ski the Mountaineer’s Route. After
hiking back down into the couloir, we found a flat enough spot to get
our gear on. I had the pleasure of dropping in first and checking on
the conditions. The snow in the Mountaineer's Route was some of the
worst I’ve had the luck of skiing. Hundreds of frozen boot packs
Looking down towards Iceberg Lake.
We did manage to finally get out of the couloir and find some better
snow. Anything in the sun was softened slightly and made for smooth
turns all the way down.
Bender finds the goods on Whitney's east face.
Steep turns and sunshine.
The following day proved to be more difficult. We set out early and
made our way towards Mt. Muir. We thought this would be a simple
traverse towards the summertime trail. It turned out to be more
extensive rock climbing than we were prepared for so we turned back.
Bender and I then decided to make our way towards Mt. Russell, on the
opposite side of Whitney from where we were standing.
Hiking below the Mountaineer's Route on our way to Mt. Russell.
traverse and a short boot pack to the Whitney-Russell Col had us
staring at the stunning south face of Russell. I soon concluded that we
no longer had enough time to scramble to the summit and make it back to
ski what snow existed on the southern slopes.
So a quick survey of the area was made to find a place to drop into
the snow field. This was more difficult than expected as we hadn't
planned on skiing Russell that day and hadn't really looked at any
lines from the bottom. Many chutes in this region don't go all the way
and can lead into substantial cliffs. Bender and I wanted to avoid any
of these scenarios.
Finding a spot to hop into Russell's southern snow fields was a little tough.
Once in, we were greeted by the huge cliffs that make up most of Mt.
Russell’s southern face. Despite the late start, the skiing back to
camp was epic; soft snow and sunshine for 2000 feet.
Skiing below the cliffs that comprise Mt. Russell's south face.
Bender enjoys some more late afternoon snow.
After being shut down on our attempts at summiting both Muir and
Russell, Bender and I decided to head out and prepare for our next
trip. It was strange to return to the heat of the valley below, but
that’s what 10,000 feet will do to you.
Hiking back to Whitney Portal Road.
Once down, we caught a glimpse back at our route. Mt. Whitney and
the Needles stood boldly against the skyline, with the Mountaineer’s
Route clearly visible on the right.
Mt. Whitney and the Mountaineer's Route.
Our next attempt would be in the Palisades Region north of Lone
Pine. The wind would pick up and shut us down in our tent for days.
With this attempt failed we opted to head home and regroup for the next
I would later return to the Southern Sierras with Moment rider Paige
Brady to see what the snow was like in Tioga Pass. Things looked a
little bleak as we drove away from the mountain’s eastern slopes above
Prepping ourselves for the hike up Dana.
Our group collected at the road closure and began to get our gear in
order. It would be a relatively quick hike to Mt. Dana and our intended
descent route. As we reached the entrance to the Solstice Couloir we
were greeted with a view north over Tioga Pass. There just wasn’t much
coverage this year, most things had seen a lot of wind and that really
did a number on the snowpack.
The top of the Solstice Couloir often has a large cornice guarding
its entrance. This year the cornice was small enough to safely drop in
and ski this classic descent. Paige was psyched to get to the top of
our line and have a look at the summit of Mt. Dana.
Paige with Mt. Dana's summit and the entrance to the Solstice Couloir.
She was even more excited when she got to drop in on her new Tahoe’s and get some backcountry chalk.
The first few turns in Solstice.
With another ski descent behinds us, we made our way back to the car
where warm beers and flip-flops were waiting, thus ending my season in
the Sierras. Having only accomplished a small portion of my goal, I
look forward to the coming season and the new adventures that lay ahead.