With our little gal due in just about a month (October 12), I’m staying fairly local not to be gone all weekend (meaning day trips). And, what all that equates to are more adventures in our own Gore Range. Kristine has been absolutely wonderful in wanting me to get out and climb. Just because she cannot climb and scramble right now, she doesn’t want me not too as well. She’s quite amazing. We keep telling each other its good recon for me so we can do these trips together at a later date. Definitely. Its been a stellar spring, summer, and early fall of ski-mountaineering, hiking, and rock climbing trips, and this past weekend’s venture on the classic Eagle’s Nest – Mt. Powell traverse in the Gores was a phenomenal day out on terrific terrain with great buds. This was one of the few traverses J and I had not yet attempted in our Gore escapades and has been on the list for years now. Despite us both having summitted the Gore Range’s highest peak, Mt. Powell, a few times via its standard route from Piney Lake, we had never climbed the Gore Range’s second highest peak, Eagle’s Nest, and certainly never linked the two monarchs. This traverse, dubbed the Gore Range Traverse, is listed in David Cooper’s book Colorado Scrambles and is probably the longest traverse with most vertical gain described in his book.The cruxy ridge between the two peaks looked challenging yet at the same time very fun and we were excited. In Colorado Scrambles, Cooper describes the route as starting at the 8,600′ Surprise Lake Trailhead in Summit County near the Green Mountain Resevoir and ending at Piney Lake on the west side of the Gores north of Vail. A few good friends and fellow climbers have urged us to make a loop out of the two peaks all from Piney Lake in order to avoid a lengthy car shuttle, but this option doesn’t allow for a good adventure along the very lengthy east ridge of Eagle’s Nest. Personally, one of the reasons for doing the full traverse is to explore the east side of Eagle’s Nest as I had never done before. In the end, it was worth the car shuttle. It was to be a big day at about 16 miles and 7,100′ of vertical gain, but the weather looked pretty decent and we had a strong crew of four including our friends Rick Thompson and Marc Barella. It was super fun to have Rick and Marc join J and myself in doing what we absolutely love to do – scramble in the Gores.
J and I drove over to the Surprise Lake Trailhead later Saturday evening arriving at 10:30pm while Rick & Marc came from Denver and arrived at about midnight. We cowboy camped at the trailhead and we woke up to frost covered sleeping bags in the fairly chilly pre-dawn air at 4:30am. After some coffee and oatmeal, we set off across the footbridge at 5:20am illuminating the trail with out headlamps and we were shedding layers shortly afterwards. At 2.6 miles or so, the route takes a right onto the Gore Range Trail, and after 3 or so miles, the route takes a left on another trail leading to Upper Cataract Lake. At about 4 miles and 7:00am, the sun had risen above the horizon and we no longer needed our artificial light. We took a short break and then headed left into the woods bushwhacking our way to treeline and up the steeper north facing slopes consisting of beautiful tundra hiking and some boulder hopping. The breeze picked up as we crested treeline and felt fairly sustained once we reached the enormous 12,400′ plateau at the beginning of Eagle Nest’s east ridge.
Once we reached the beginning of Eagle’s Nest’s ever-narrowing east ridge, Mt. Powell’s north face came into view with the wind dying down a bit blocked by the east ridge itself. We made our way up the now much more defined east ridge gaining altitude fast up to Point 13,091′.
However, what vertical we had gained in the last half hour, we then lost after Point 13,091′ and then proceeded to go up and over several minor bumps along the east ridge. Thus, the nature of Eagle’s Nest east ridge. But, the views were incredible and it was fun to be up high with a great crew.
We then came to the crux downclimb off of another 13,000′ point, which can be descended on class 3/4 terrain on the ridge’s left (south) side though we stayed a little closer to the ridge crest and spiced it up with just a few low class 5 moves.
After descending maybe 200′ down the crux, we ascended the same vertical on the other side of the small col and continued upwards. We hopped on a small knife-edge, which is definitely not necessary, though it afforded nice views down the north face and good photos.
We continued to scramble up and over a few more sub-summits before arriving on the summit of Eagle’s Nest around 10:30am.
After some snacks, gatorade, and photos, we were off again down the much mellower south ridge of Eagle’s Nest to the low point of the ridge with neighboring Mt. Powell. It was a beautiful Fall day yet the west wind was fairly stiff the entire time on the ridge, which made things just a bit more difficult and taxing.
Starting at the low point of the connecting ridge, the challenges of the ridge presented themselves right away. The first in a series of impressive gendarmes reared itself up in earnest and a fun 4th class crack provided passage just right (west) of the ridge proper. Once could stay maybe 100-200′ down below the gendarmes on the ridge’s west side the entire way and keep the difficulty at maybe class 3. But, where is the fun in that? We came for some scrambling and hopefully we would get it.
After the top of the first proper gendarme, the downclimb was a 25′ overhanging drop, so we backtracked just a bit and downclimbed around and back up to the ridge proper via a nice low 5th class crack.
We tried to traverse the gendarmes as close to the ridge proper as was feasible (without getting into mid-upper 5th class climbing) and were able to find some pretty cool lines that went at maybe 5.3 or low 5th class. The downclimbs seemed to always be 4th class, which definitely made things a little faster. On one gendarme, J and I climbed a line that maybe went at mid-5th class, but it was such an elegant stemming chimney that it was hard to resist.
It was really a “choose your own adventure” ridge traverse. The ups and downs continued as did the stiff west wind. We then came to the 5.3 crux upclimb section that our bud Ryan Marsters describes on MountainProject. This was a nice pitch on solid rock. From a layback to a mantle, it was great fun.
It was after noon by now and the clouds were building to the west accompanying the stiff west wind. However, storms were not threatening. It was just chilly. Layers went back on. A nice little 4th class crack system on the next gendarme was great fun and then easier scrambling ensued.
I took a little video of Rick & J nearing the end of the nice scrambling:
We took a much needed break at this point and refueled with some snacks and gatorade.
We then reached the end of the crux ridge traverse difficulties and it was more steep talus hiking for a little while. We meandered our way on the ridge’s right (west) side through some class 4 difficulties without losing any elevation and soon enough crested the ridge proper one more time.
A few more hundred vertical feet of class 3 scrambling on the ridge proper landed us on the large plateau leading up to Powell’s summit block. We saw another climber on the summit ridge waiting for his partner and we all soon caught up with those guys and ascended the familiar Powell summit block consisting of about 100′ of blocky scrambling.
I think it was maybe around 1:30pm when we topped out on Mt. Powell and we could definitely see darker clouds and snow showers to our north. We got down out of the wind and ate our sandwiches. It was great to be on the summit of Mt. Powell again and be off the traverse especially with weather moving in. The views are absolutely amazing to the south with the entire Gore Range spread out beneath us. So many familiar peaks were visible and so many more since the last time J and I had climbed Mt. Powell (June 2008).
After 25 minutes on the summit, we boogied down Powell’s standard south slopes route for about 2,000′ and reascended 200′ or so to Kneeknocker Pass. It snowed on us on the descent and the views of Peak C’s north face in the snow were pretty cool.
Peak C’s north face is a route I hope to climb at some point. I believe the face already has one established line at 5.7, but has the potential for more lines which would likely go at mid-5th class and up. Kneeknocker Pass definitely lived up to its name as our knees were “knockin'” on the descent down its east side. We took a nice break in what I like to call “Kneeknocker Meadows” and ate some food, re-filled with water from the stream, and chatted away with one other. It was a fine day. We finally had 4 miles or so of nice trail out to J’s volvo at Piney Lake, which our friend and J’s employee Kristin had so nicely left for us the day before. Thanks, Kristin!
We finally arrived at the volvo around 5:10pm for a total time of just shy of 12 hours since we departed that morning from the Surprise Lake Trailhead on the east side of the Gores. Our legs were definitely feeling it a bit. My quads, especially. All in all, a good tired and we were all so happy the day worked out so well. After another few hours of car shuttling, picking up cars back at the Surprise Lake Trailhead, eating Chipotle in Silverthorne with the boys, I finally arrived at home around 10pm.
Thanks to J, Rick, & Marc for a super memorable day in my favorite range. It was awesome to finally complete the Eagle’s Nest to Powell traverse and have a blast on it to boot thanks to the wonderful camaraderie and positive attitude. Cheers, fellas!