|Along the South Fork of Cottonwood Creek
July 26 was my first hike this year in the high mountains of the Eastern Sierras, more than a month later than in previous years. The Sierras received an unusual amount of snow this year and summer is coming very late in the high mountains. Even the end of July turned out to be too early to get over some passes or get to the really high mountains (I overly optimistically thought I could get up to Mt Langley).
|Looks still very summer-like at this unnumbered lake, with Mt. Langley (4277m or 14032 feet) behind it
Cottonwood Lakes and Cottonwood Pass are one of the closest trailheads to Los Angeles, the road goes from Lone Pine. Also quite popular, but not as crazily overrun as Mt. Whitney and I think much prettier. The day I went, still about half the permits for overnight backcountry were available.
As I was driving up the road from Lone Pine, I saw a big lake. Yes, the long gone Owens Lake is back this year. For 100 years, Owens Lake has been an alkali flat with small brine puddles after LA started to divert the water from the Owens Valley. The lake had disappeared by 1926. But this year, Owens Lake flooded and looks like the large lake it used to be.
|Owens Lake is actually a lake in 2023, not an alkali flat
|After about 2 hours of hiking, I was high enough to encounter snow, this is at Lake #3
I finally made camp between lakes 4 and 5, nobody else at either one of the lakes. No mosquitoes, I would not even have needed the inner tent (I didn't use the rain fly at all). I encountered a few further down in the swampy area, but unremarkable. This year is also a month later for them.
|camp at lakes 4/5.
It was obvious that Old Army Pass would not be manageable without winter gear. The picture doesn't quite give justice, but that is even before the real climb, not much above the lake yet.
So the next morning I hiked back along lake 3, then on the New Army Pass trail past Long Lake and High Lake. That's where I saw a few groups, I think the majority wanted to cross the pass to get on the John Muir trail, but turned back. There was a well equipped group with ropes and ice axes who claimed it was impossible to get to the top of the pass. Mmh, that required a first hand look.
There was a slightly snowy area and some snow bridges that were about to cave, still before Long Lake (where I left my pack), and nothing difficult. Snow was pretty hard, so no post-holing.
Lots of pink snow this year, I also had noticed it in Colorado the previous month. That is algae growth and is kind of new to me. Or have I always overlooked it? In any event, nothing difficult here either:
|Army Pass Point is the mountain top in the background
|More pink snow elsewhere
|Getting closer, not much further to the top
Now I could see the problem: An overhanging snow cornice blocks the top part of the trail.
Instead of trying to tackle it, I got off the route and climbed rocks to the right of the snowy area.
|View from the top of New Army Pass
But it was clear that pushing onward would not be advisable: Mt Langley is another 600m higher. So I went back and hiked out.
|at the top of New Army Pass
I returned along the South Fork of Cottonwood Creek. The whole area is lovely, but that stretch it particularly impressive.