Langille Peak, Chocolate Peak

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August 18, 2013
Day 4 of the 2014 Sierra Challenge was one of the more strenuous days of the event. Langille peak is the eastern highpoint on a small spur ridge which branches east from the Black Divide. Getting to it involves hiking up trails and over Bishop Pass, down into LeConte Canyon, then cross countrying up to Langille.

PeakElevationTopographic ProminenceSummit Coordinates (lat/lon)
Langille Peak12,018 ft318 ft37.100971, -118.610716
Chocolate Peak11,682 ft342 ft37.145489, -118.549848

Getting to the trailhead: From Bishop off Hwy 395, head west on West Line Street (Hwy 168). Continue 15 mi, then turn left onto South Lake Rd, which will be clearly marked with a "South Lake" sign. Continue 7 mi to the end of this road.

Trailhead coordinates (lat/lon): 37.169338, -118.565850

About ten of us stood sleepily in the parking lot of South Lake Trailhead aka. Bishop Pass Trailhead (9,830 ft), "eagerly" waiting for Bob to call the start. Everyone there was planning on summiting Langille and not climbing any alternate peaks. At 4am, Bob snapped the requisite group picture and sent us off, calling after us, "alright, go wake up some backpackers!"

Everything was still and quiet as the large train of headlights blazed through the forest. The 5.5-mile trail to Bishop Pass was very scenic during the day, but on a night with virtually no moon, it was just one section of dark trail after another, interspersed with entire switchbacks packed with those %$@#&! horse steps. As we neared the switchbacks below Bishop Pass, a few flickering lights above caught our attention. They were from Chris and Matt who had started an hour earlier. Shortly before 6am, the first round of us reached Bishop Pass (11,972 ft).

Day 4 group (photo by Bob Burd)

Bob and Jonathan at Bishop Pass

The sky gradually lit up as we descended the trail into Dusy Basin and LeConte Canyon. To the west, the small, pointed silhouette of Langille came into view, looking rather insignificant amid all the towering peaks of the Black Divide behind it. On the switchbacks down into LeConte Canyon, many of us couldn't stand the horse steps anymore, and gratefully cut several switchbacks via large slabs which could be found near some of the creeks.

our route up Langille Peak's southwest slope

looking south down LeConte Canyon

As the trail intersected the JMT/PCT 6.8 miles from Bishop Pass, we took a use-trail west for a few hundred feet to the LeConte Ranger Station (8,730 ft). Once there, we took a break and chatted with the ranger for some time. She was a little surprised to see hikers who had started from South Lake Trailhead early in the morning and gotten to LeConte Canyon before the sun even had a chance to hit it.

After our break, we headed west to cross the Kings River, finding a convenient beaver dam style bridge made up of several sticks and logs piled atop one another.

Now the fun began. We continued west up a steep slope. Though this slope looked very bushwhacky from the bottom, the bushwhacking itself was minimal, and the terrain was pretty easygoing. After a few hundred feet of gain, the terrain eased up and ascended more gradually.

At ~9,800 ft, we found ourselves in a giant amphitheater-shaped bowl surrounded by walls of slabs. The only thing that looked feasible was a long gully which lay on the left side of the bowl.

Thankfully, the gully worked. Aside from a little bushwhacking, it was an easy climb involving some light class 2-3 scrambling on reasonably solid rock.

Once at the top of the gully (10,580 ft), we had a clear view of the route up Langille to the north. From this point, each of us took our own slightly different line of ascent, aiming directly for the peak. This was your typical Sierra class 2 boulder slog.

The first of us reached the summit just before 10am. The main highlight of Langille was not the climb, but its summit views. We were treated to an incredible panorama of LeConte Canyon and the Black Divide. There was also an interesting register with entries dating to the 70s.

view southeast from summit






Bob, Jonathan, and Nick

register entries

By 10:15, seven of us had made it to the summit (three more would make it later that day), and after a 15 minute break, we all started hustling back down, with each of us taking our own line of descent.

last look at Langille

By the time I had gotten back down into the bowl, I had lost the others, and continued descending. I had planned to bag Chocolate Peak as a bonus today, so I would need an extra 30 minutes or so ahead of the others. Upon reaching the JMT, I wolfed down two pop tarts and started the long ascent on the trail back up towards Bishop Pass.

Palisades seen from Dusy Basin

From Bishop Pass, Chocolate Peak looked like an insignificant pile of red rubble to the north. As I got closer, it looked a little bit bigger.

Chocolate Peak

At the southeastern side of Long Lake, I turned off onto the smaller (but well marked) Ruwau Lake Trail which branched off to the right (east). As the trail began curving over to the south ~0.2 miles later, I left the trail and continued east up to the base of Chocolate's south ridge.

Ruwau Lake turnoff

Chocolate's south ridge was a very short ascent which contained a jumble of scree and rubble all the way up.

summit cairn

Chocolate Peak's summit contained a panoramic view of many of the lakes which resided in the surrounding area. Since this was a very popular peak, I was surprised to find the same register I had seen there back in 2012.

view southwest from summit





There were many ways to descend Chocolate Peak. I initially headed west, planning to take the northwest ridge back to the Bishop Pass Trail, but as I came upon a large flat area about a third of the way down the ridge, a nice sandy slope presented itself to the southwest, and I gratefully heel plunged down to the trail.

looking down the northwest ridge (the sand slope is to the left of where the green line ends)

Back at the trail, I emptied my shoes of sand and jogged back to the trailhead. It was a relatively uneventful few miles back, arriving at the cars at 3:41 pm. The one thing that stood out was the extremely low water level of South Lake due to the drought.

Final Stats
28.4 miles
9,800 ft gain/loss

Weather Forecasts
South Lake Trailhead
Bishop Pass, Chocolate Peak
LeConte Canyon
Langille Peak

Peakbagger Pages
Langille Peak
Chocolate Peak

Summitpost Pages
Chocolate Peak

Bob Burd's trip report
High Sierra Topix message board

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