Monday, July 09, 2007

Eagles Nest Wilderness -- July 6 thru 8, 2007

Rocco and I headed up to the area of Mt Powell and Peak C on Friday afternoon. At the trailhead is the Piney River Ranch, an old style camp sorta place in a gorgeous setting with Mt Powell and Peak C at the end of the valley. From the trailhead I could see the col I would cross the next day into the Black Creek Valley en route to the summit of Powell. I could also see the snow couloir on the south west face of Peak C which is the classic route to the summit. Only Class 2 for me on this trip because of having Rocco along.
This trip was my trial run for the 120 mile hike of the Colorado trail into Durango at the end of July. I am ultra-light. My pack is about 8 lbs plus food and water. This was my first time sleeping under my 1lb poncho tarp on tybek ground cover and 3/8 inch thick blue pad. The ground was pretty hard but I figure that most of the time I have to lay on it I am asleep. All my gear worked out well. I especially like the Pepsi can stove that burns denatured alcohol.
We started hiking from Piney Lake at about 6pm. The first thing I noticed was the wild flowers. Everything was in bloom at every altitude. Ever the high tundra at 12,000 feet and above was on fire with lush flowers and plants. We hiked about 3.5 miles, just past intersection of the trail that goes to the col, to a nice campsite next to the Piney River near the falls. There were several good camp sites in this area.
I got up at first light, packed up, and headed up the trail to the col between Powell and Peak C. There is a good trail that climbs and winds over rock, brush and stream. It turned out that there are many flat areas, with water to camp between 10.780 right up to 11,220 at the base of the talus slope that leads to the col.
From the col Peak C looks like a 1500 ft black surf board sticking up from the sand. The mountains of the Black Creek Valley are dark, dramatic, pointed and imposing. The lakes are bright blue. The route to Powell is just to the left 1600 ft up the grass ramp. First you must descend 100 ft to get to the bottom of the ramp. I did so by glissade. I noted that the snow was pretty soft already at 8:30 am.
I climbed to the summit and met a fellow from Steamboat Springs there. He was out on his own camping and climbing. We identified all the surrounding peaks together and off he went toward Peak C. My plan was to descend via the north face of Powell into the cirque below Powell and Eagles Nest, then work my way over the ridge into the Black Creek valley to the south and camp there somewhere.
But, the four summits of Eagles Nest were calling my name and regretibly I fell under their spell. The summit is one mile away and the most direct route is a clas 3 and 4 ridge line. According to by guide book, Joe Kramersic's Mountaineering in the Gore Range, there is also a Class 2 route. From the summit of Powell you would head west and drop about 1500 feet into the Cataract Creek Valley, then head north along the ridge for about a mile to just beyond the low point in the ridge. From there you can climb to the summitt on Class 2. But I was stubborn and refused to descend. So Rocco and I scrambled for several hours over Class 3 rock mostly above 12,800. About the time we finnally got to the Class 2 access, the dark clouds were building and it was clearly time to descend. So I ended up in the Cataract Creek Valley for the night. It was pretty and I camped near the upper lake. But I was really angry with myself for my terrible decision making for I have learned all these lessons before: Don't be a peak bagger!! Don't set out on a 3 hour trek to a nearby peak at noon!! Get on your route and stick to your plan. On the positive side it was some excellent route finding experience and some good strenuous climbing.
The next morning I woke up and hiked out by 11am. Eagles Nest was calling again but I didn't listen this time. Who wants to slog up 2000 feet of talus for a view I've already seen. I was proud of myself for resisting. I enjoyed a rather thin cheeseburger at the Piney River Ranch. I was going to take Rocco canoeing but $25 per hour was more than it was worth.
One day I will return to the area. I will leave Rocco at home, I will camp in the Black Creek Valley, I will climb technical routes on Peak C and the surrounding peaks. Perhaps in September. Any takers?

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