At 14,032 feet, Mount Langley is the ninth-tallest peak in California and is generally considered one of the state's easier fourteeners to climb. The most popular approach, via the Cottonwood Lakes Trail through New Army Pass, offers Class 1 hiking to the summit and meanders past lush alpine lakes, streams, and meadows. The trail begins at a generous 10,000 feet in the Golden Trout Wilderness of the Inyo National Forest, launching from the trailhead at Horseshoe Meadow Campground.
Home to California's colorful state fish, the Golden Trout Wilderness invites backpackers to buy a fishing permit and pack a fly rod for a chance to view these rare, vividly beautiful creatures up close. Golden trout are endemic to this region of the High Sierra and can be found in only a handful of waterways: in particular, the South Fork of the Kern River and Golden Trout Creek and its tributaries.
The southernmost of California's fourteeners, Mount Langley offers excellent views of the Whitney range to the northwest, the Owens Valley and White Mountains to the east, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to the west. Its rocky, barren slopes offer alternate choices for peak baggers such as the distinctive, conical Cirque Peak (12,900 feet) above New Army Pass, while the well-watered lake basins below give welcome respite and camping on the way back down. Popular camping areas include Long Lake (at the base of the trail to New Army Pass) and the Cottonwood Lakes (at the base of the trail to Old Army Pass). However, Mount Langley is also possible as a day hike for the fit and ambitious. A hiking option for both day hikers and overnighters is to proceed up New Army Pass and return via Old Army Pass and the Cottonwood Lakes, adding a small loop to the hike for variety and offering a convenient way to explore the scenic lakes.
Permits are required to overnight in the Mount Langley region, and these can be obtained at the Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center in Mammoth or at Forest Service ranger stations in Lee Vining, Bishop, or Lone Pine.
For hikers and backpackers looking to explore the highest elevations available in the contiguous United States, Mount Langley offers a good introduction to the thin air at 14,000 feet without requiring technical mountaineering skills. But adventurer beware: standing on the summit of Mount Langley and looking at Mount Whitney (14,505 feet, the tallest in the contiguous U.S.) reaching another five hundred feet higher only a few miles away can bite you with a summit fever that isn't easy to shake.