Peak(s):  Eagle Pk A  -  13,205 feet
Date Posted:  02/19/2019
Date Climbed:   11/14/2018
Author:  CaptainSuburbia
Additional Members:   desertdog
 The Eagle has landed  

Eagle Peak A - Sangre de Cristo Mountains

November 14, 2018

This climb was not even remotely as hard as landing on the moon, but it was significantly harder than we had anticipated. Despite it being only the middle of November we experienced full on winter conditions. I left Fort Collins very early and picked up my climbing partners in Westcliffe around 6am. We drove northwest about 13 miles to the tiny town of Hillside and turned west onto 198 which would lead us to Eagle Peak. We had hoped to park high up this road, maybe as far as Balman Reservoir. However, we didn't even get close and parked just above the Lutheran Camp at an elevation of only 8798'. It was going to be a long day.

Start Time: 7:00am. Finish 8:00pm

Climbers: desertdog(Richard), Laurie, CaptainSuburbia(Judd)

Total Distance: 13.2 miles round trip

Photo credits: Laurie Pares and myself

The plan now was to hike up the road to Rainbow Lake, and then onto the Rainbow lake trail which would take us to the gentle northeast ridge of Eagle Peak. This avalanche safe ridge would then take us to the summit. As we started out, the road had a good foot plus of fresh snow, but fortunately there were tire tracks to follow which made the initial going slightly easier. We were wearing just boots.

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Hiking CR 198 with Eagle's Northeast ridge and false summit in view

This road seemed to go on forever, and the wet snow, which seemed to be increasing in depth, made it a long slog. After passing Balman Reservoir we had the option of jumping off the road and bushwacking from there to the ridge. In other winter trip reports, which I had read in preparation, this seemed to be the preferred winter route. However, the deep, wet snow in the trees was not very inviting, so we continued up the road in hopes that the trail from Rainbow Lake would give us better access to the ridge. We figured we'd make better time sticking to the road as long as possible. Unfortunately, about 2/3's of the way up the road the tire tracks suddenly ended. For a bit we broke trail in our boots until the snow became to deep and heavy to manage. At this point we switched to our snowshoes which we wore until close to treeline. Eventually we came to the Rainbow Lake Trial, veered left and popped out into a clearing with a closer view of our ridge and the remaining route.

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Rainbow Lake and the ridge

We started snowshoeing around the north side of the lake at 10,400 feet. Quickly we found ourselves back in the trees with no sign of the trail, and so the bushwack to treeline began. Trenching up to the ridge and treeline took everything we had. The slope was very steep and heavily forested with 2 to 3 feet of wet snow. Deadfall was everywhere. Often, for every step we took it seemed like we slid back 2 steps. I know each one of us thought about turning around at some point as we broke trail. We slowly meandered up this slope for several exhausting hours and eventually popped out of the thick forest with much relief. We still had a bit more work to reach the ridge proper, but at least now we felt like we were getting somewhere.

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Happily emerging from the steep forested slope

From here to the ridge there was still a lot of trench work ahead, but at least we were out of the pine forest and on a more moderate slope.

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Final slope to ridge with 12er Wulsten Baldy in view
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More trench work
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Finally at 11,400 feet we were on ridge, and we took off our snowshoes and stashed them. The initial ridge from here was very wide and windblown. Boots alone probably would have worked here, but we put on microspikes for the extra traction. It was past noon by this point and turning around would have probably been the prudent thing to do as the summit was still several hours away and the sun would be setting early. We kept going though knowing we had a strong crew and didn't want to waste all that effort. We figured we had just enough time to summit and return to Rainbow Lake by dark, and we weren't too worried about walking the road with headlamps. Plus we had good weather on our side too.

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Perfect spot for snowshoes
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Looking down at Rainbow Lake with a small section of the road visible beyond

The weather at this point was almost perfect and the northeast ridge of Eagle Peak was pretty straight forward. I was exhausted from the trenching marathon, but for the first time I thought we had a good chance of making the summit. Soon after we started up the ridge we noticed another batch of pine trees and were a little worried we had ditched our flotation to soon. Fortunately, we were able to skirt them on the right and continue up the ridge unimpeded.

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Starting up the ridge and skirting the pines on the far right

From here to the false summit the ridge remained very wide and fairly easy to negotiate. It was usually steep, grassy tundra interspersed with rocks with the occasional small talus field to cross. The snow was crusty and easy to walk through.

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13er Cottonwood Peak in the distance
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A good look at Wulsten Baldy

As we approached the false summit there was more and more snow to contend with, but it was mostly firm and we only experienced minor postholing from here to the summit ridge.

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Almost to the false summit

Upon reaching the top of the false summit, and to my surprise(and delight), we noticed there were several narrow ridges and a sporting finish between us and the summit of Eagle Peak.

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Climbing from false summit to first narrow ridge
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Looking down at the false summit

There was lots of snow on the ridge, but it was fairly easy to plow through and the exposure was minimal. I don't think the climbing ever went beyond difficult class 2. Occasionally there was a bump or obstruction along the ridge, but there was always an easy path on the left side with good snow. We reached the summit around 3pm.

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Final approach to summit
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Summit at last
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Ridge to Thirsty Peak (center) and Lakes Peak (left)
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Lakes Peak (right) and Electric Peak (center)
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Cottonwood Peak

With the sun quickly going down, we didn't stay long on the summit. Snapped a few quick photos and began motoring down. We reached the road just after dark, and then had a long, cold journey back to our vehicle.

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Going back down the ridge
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Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
RWinters
Congrats
02/19/2019 21:29
Congratulations! I had a similar experience last April with slightly less snow. It is a deceptively long day parking near Rainbow Camp and the slope to the ridge I was steeper than expected.


Tornadoman

Good work
02/20/2019 11:23
This one has been on my winter radar for a couple years now. Thanks for the reminder! I imagine the trenching would make for quite a sufferfest given recent snows.


CaptainSuburbia

Re: Congrats, Good work
02/23/2019 12:56
RWinters - Thanks! You are so right on both of your points. Congrats on your summit as well! Eagle is not an easy winter peak.

Tornadoman - Thanks! Yeah I'm sure those trees are loaded right now. I bet that road gets beat down though. I plan on going back this spring for Cottonwood.



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