Mount Langley - Not a summit, but still a success
I was exhausted. I had no appetite. The afternoon clouds dropped rain on the valley below, but only sprinkles landed on me. I sat on a boulder at my campsite, staring at my nearly full bear canister. I wasn’t feeling any hunger; nothing looked good, and that was why I was in this state.
My body was starving for calories, but I didn't want to eat. Begrudgingly, I forced myself to eat what should have been for breakfast, but I felt no joy in it. I knew I should descend to a lower elevation, but I was too tired to do it. The idea of it was more than I could comprehend.
It started raining a bit, so I retreated into the tent. For about an hour, I dozed off and on. I would wake up with my heart pounding in my ears and completely flushed. Bizzare visual dreams would start the instant I closed my eyes and I would wake up quickly after.
My body and mind weren't working right. I felt a crushing depression. I stared up at the stark granite of New Army Pass.
Was it the regret of my decision, earlier in the day, to turn around at 13,800’, within 300’ from Mount Langley’s summit as thunderstorms blew in from the west? Or was it the thin air of the 11,500’ elevation of my campsite by the lake playing tricks on me?
Once again, I knew the remedy was to immediately descend, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.
I was backpacking solo in the Sierra Nevada.
I filtered a water bottle and sat on a low flat boulder at the edge of the lake, forcing myself to sit and stare into the ripples, facing what I thought might be an existential crisis.
Was climbing these peaks what I really wanted to do? Did I even like backpacking? Was I getting too old for this? Did I even want to be here?
As I sat on a boulder next to the lake, I controlled my breathing and studied the beauty around me. I watched the ripples in the lake dance with each other, alternating between harmony and dissonance, to the point where I felt I was on a boat and the far shore was coasting by. I watched the clouds occasionally part to show blue. I closed my eyes and felt the wind blow around me.
I had eaten and rested. I had nothing else to do except be here. I had nothing to clean or pack up, no duties to keep my mind busy. Once again I reminded myself that sometime in the future, I would wish I was sitting at this lake, enjoying all that was here.
I relaxed and became present. Slowly I came out of whatever funk I was in and truly saw where I was, perched on a boulder next to a gorgeous lake high in the Sierra Nevada. Yesterday I was at home, but today I was able to get near the top of a high peak and see unending granite spines wrinkling out away from me. I could see ducks and trout swimming in this lake in front of me. This lake that has seen so many different things in its thousands of years.
After two hours, the sun was almost gone, as was my anxiety. I packed up for the night and had one of the best sleeps in a tent I ever had, having only had one meal the entire day.
The next morning, I woke up at about 5AM, feeling pretty great. I had some coffee and some snacks and was on the trail as the sun was rising above Long Lake. The morning air was wonderful as I startled a deer in the brush. I had the trail to myself for the next 5 and a half miles.
I continued down past the Cottonwood Lakes and headed down the Old Cottonwood Trail. It was nice to have Cottonwood Creek cascading next to me. I arrived at the bottom of the valley and was able to cruise on a trail that gently descended over the next 2.5 miles before I hit the main trail again.
On the way, I encountered an old pioneer-looking cabin next to the creek. I couldn't find any information about it online.
The second I was back on the main trail, I encountered plenty of day hikers, and within half a mile from my car, I met a ranger, who asked me for my permit.
As I got back to my car and made the long way home, I reflected on my experience. Yesterday, I felt like I was at the bottom of a well, but today, I felt like I was on top of the world. The difference was nutrition, acclimation, and rest.
As the mountains faded into my rearview mirror, I was already planning my return. With one more day of acclimation.