Lone Eagle Peak - 11919
UN 12,130 - 12130
Lone Eagle Peak - 11919
UN 12,130 - 12130
|Lone Eagle Cirque|
What: Lone Eagle Peak (11,919'), UN 12,130 "Cherokee"
Where: Indian Peaks Wilderness
When: July 17 - July 19, 2015
How: Monarch Lake Trailhead, Cascade and Crater Lake trails; "Solo Flight II", Class 4 *Classic* and "Southeast and Northeast Faces II", Class 3 *Classic*
Who: Nick (eskermo) and Joey
Sources: Gerry Roach's "Colorado's Indian Peaks"
Numbers: 19.4 miles, 5,630' roundtrip
The adventure started from the Monarch Lake Trailhead at 7:00 PM on Friday. We enjoyed a pleasant but brisk hike on an excellent trail with the evening sun on our backs. The Cascade Trail is simply gorgeous, offering a little bit of everything you could ask for in an approach trail: a lake, wetlands, gushing streams with nice bridges, lush forests, open meadows filled with wildflowers, deer popping in and out of the brush, random rock formations, perfect looking boulder problems, and more waterfalls than you could count. Needless to say, the approach passed quickly, covering the 7.8 miles and 2,000' vertical to Crater Lake in 2 hours and 45 minutes. We set up camp pretty far from Crater Lake and prepped for the climb up Lone Eagle in the morning.
After enjoying the sunrise, the search for the Lone Eagle climbers trail commenced around 6:00 AM Saturday morning. We picked it up not far from the northeastern/easternmost corner of the lake. There is a narrow, steep gully meadow nestled between a talus field on climbers right and trees on the left. The vague trail switchbacks steeply up this meadow. We then contoured around the east side of Lone Eagle, staying as high up as possible, just below the cliffs on the right. Occasionally we dropped down a bit to avoid snowfields and sketchier sections of rock. The path continued around the base of the cliffs toward a small saddle-like feature around 11,100'. From this point you could look down on Triangle Lake 200 feet below.
From the small saddle we continued an ascending traverse southwest for a short distance before turning into more of a northerly direction. The lower part offered some fun, easy 2+ and class 3 climbing. After turning north, we aimed for a long grassy ramp that climbs toward Lone Eagle's summit. Up to this point, the climb had been going away from the summit in an effort to circumvent its difficulties. The goal at this point is to reach the notch/saddle shown in the picture below. This is not the prominent notch just left of center, but the more mellow one halfway between the right edge of the picture and the center.
Upon reaching the notch, you are greeted with this:
Yeah, we were thinking the same thing you are thinking right now: LET'S CLIMB THIS!!!
From here, we passed through the notch to the west side of the ridge, downclimbed 20 feet or so of loose rock, then traversed north under the cliffs to the next notch. This is the notch Roach refers to as having a "curious chockstone". Curious, indeed. We passed back through that notch to reach the east side of the ridge once again. The following pictures show the remaining terrain:
We followed cairns down ledges and grassy patches and the occasional third class move. Eventually, we hit the crux of the route, which consisted of several class 4 moves. It started off as a weird traverse on a narrow, very exposed ledge. Then you do an awkward but manageable downclimb on slightly less exposed rocks. If it feels weird at first, just keep feeling around and take your time, because all the holds are there and solid. From the crux section, we continued to downclimb some more before contouring over to the final push to the summit ridge. The last pitch was super solid, fairly easy, but relatively exposed class 4 scrambling. We made it from camp to the summit (about 1,800' of climbing) in about 2 hours and 45 minutes. The summit was incredible.
When one peers down at Lone Eagle's knife edge, I imagine there is a dichotomy of thoughts among climbers - one says "AWWW YEAH!!!" while the other says "I'd rather climb ball bearing scree on a 45 degree slope wearing Chacos with a 50 pound pack on my back". Or something like that. I tend to gravitate toward the former though process, so I giddily scampered down to the completely unnecessary scramble for a photo shoot:
We retraced our steps and stopped to take in the views after passing through the southern notch.
The wildflowers on the way down were something else.
We hung out by the lakes doing our own thing most of the evening. Joey managed to catch three trout, the largest of which was about 13". I walked around taking pictures and enjoying the sun before an afternoon storm forced us into our tents for a couple hours. After the weather passed, the clouds dissipated and made for an awesome evening and sunset. Then dinner happened. Summer sausage quesadillas. Yes please. Major props, Joey - that was bomb.
Sunday morning around 7, we started up toward "Cherokee" from the small cabin remains Roach talks about in his Southeast and Northeast Faces route. This cabin is on the far north corner of Crater Lake and sitting on top of a rocky hill. It's hard to see from below on the shoreline, but a short climb above Crater Lake offers a clear view of the cabin remains. We zigzagged our way northwest, northeast, southwest, and every which direction following grassy ramps and making the occasional scramble. The goal is to reach the notch in the picture below. This part of the hike just plain sucked. The grass was really high and really wet, my approach shoes were completely soaked and squishy, and I wasn't feeling it. Near the top, the terrain turned into more of a talus hop, a much welcomed change. We climbed up through the notch beside a cornice on some manageable rock and entered the realm of the Northeast Face.
After enduring the suck of the Southeast Face, the Northeast Face was a real treat. Roach's description suggests heading further out west on the face and then climbing up to the summit. However, we stuck pretty close to the ridge line, only traversing west to avoid ugly rock or technical difficulties. There was some awesome, blocky class 3 and class 4 moves that were completely avoidable, but why not?! The movement on the upper route was so much fun and not too exposed. We quickly arrived at the summit of Unnamed 12,130 - aka "Cherokee" - around 8:45.
On our way down, we made the quick scramble to Point 11,602, which add all of four minutes each way. Very worth it. The true high point was on the precariously balanced block I'm sitting on in the picture below. On a clear day, I can imagine the views from this perch are even more spectacular than the cool/creepy clouds we had blanketing the skyline that morning.
It finally began to drizzle on the way down, making an already slick and sloppy descent even more difficult. We found some small cairns near the top and followed them on a descending traverse, zig zagging southwest and northeast until reaching a more prominent, major drainage. This drainage and creek eventually turns almost due south and broadens as you descend. We found trail segments and the occasional cairn, but it was pretty much pick the path of least resistance and go. This often meant whacking through thick brush in knee high wet grass with a hidden stream running under the brush and tree branches poking and scratching all over your body. Isn't mountain climbing the best?! The wildflowers on these slopes were also out of this world.
We made it down from the summit in just under two hours (well, Joey was probably a solid 15 minutes ahead of me), and quickly packed up camp and started the hike out. Intermittent rain was our companion on the trip down, and for the first time this whole trip the bugs left us alone! It took us three hours to hike out, only stopping briefly to admire one of the many awesome waterfalls and talk with a couple that had just come down Pawnee Pass. I found it quite odd that our ascent up to Crater Lake was 15 minutes shorter than our deproach. I guess that's what tired legs do to you.
This is an incredible area with mind blowing scenery in a spectacular setting. And it's only a 2 hour and 30 minute drive from Denver! I found Gerry Roach's descriptions for both routes to be pretty spot on, even though we deviated slightly to create our own little scrambling adventures. The route finding on Lone Eagle is challenging, but not impossible. There are cairns all over the place, and if you keep your eyes open and look both up and quite a way down, you will find what you need. On the other hand, "Cherokee" is kind of a free for all. There are very few cairns, close to zero trail segments, and many confusing slabs and short walls that one must climb up or contour around. However, the scrambling on the Northeast Face of "Cherokee" is just wonderful. This makes the steep, miserable stuff coming up the Southeast Face totally worth enduring.
Note that overnight stays in this area require a $5 permit that you need to pick up at the Sulphur Ranger Station just outside of Granby. I was worried at first that we wouldn't be able to get off work and leave Denver in time to get to the Sulphur Ranger Station before 5, but the ranger I spoke with was super helpful and said he would just leave my permit and information in an envelope hidden outside of the office. There is also a $5 entry fee to Arapaho Bay National Recreation Area, in which the Monarch Lake Trailhead is located. The rangers kindly left at a note on my windshield asking that I display my American the Beautiful Pass on my dash so that the expiration date is easily visible - just a heads up! The Crater Lake Backcountry Zone is small, just surrounding Crater Lake and Mirror Lake, and the permits fill up quickly. The Cascade Zone is just outside of the Crater Lake zone, and there are many more spots to fill up in that particular zone. Awesome campsites abound near the trail, starting below the Buchanan Pass split and going all the way up to just below Mirror Lake and the Crater Lake Zone. In particular, right above many of the waterfalls are multiple excellent flat, wooded, soft camp sites that would make a worthy outings in and of themselves.
Bring some bug spray, a fishing rod, a nice camera, and have fun!
Another way to do this without the long drive would be to start at the Long Lake trailhead at the Brainard Lakes NRA, take the Pawnee Pass trail up to 12,541', then drop down to about 10,120' where the Pawnee Pass Trail meets up with the Crater Lake/Cascade Trail. From there, you would turn left and hike up to Crater Lake at 10,300'. More hiking and climbing, but less driving. Pick your poison!
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