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pika peak and holy cross wilderness

John B

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I was determined this year not to waste the last of the summer hiking season. Decided to to a quick backpack into Lake Charles this weekend, and also climb Pika peak (13,126ft). Took Friday off from work, left my house in the foothills west of Denver at 6am. Stopped for breakfast in Idaho Springs, and then arrived at my trailhead south of Eagle, CO at 10:30am. It's also located in Sylvan Lakes State Park. This is an access point for the western portion of the Holy Cross Wilderness. This wilderness area is a bit south and west of Vail, CO. It's probably not visited quite as much as some of the other wilderness areas in Colorado, but it's one I like. As a friend of mine had canceled Thursday morning due to weather concerns, this was a solo trip. Original plan was to climb some peaks in the Sangre de Cristo range, but weather forecast looked a bit grim there. Pika peak became my backup plan as the forecast was much more encouraging--40% chance of thunderstorms Friday night (didn't care, as I planned to be in my tent!), and 30% chance of thunderstorms of Saturday but not until after noon. As I planned to be off the summit long before then, I was optimistic that my chances for success were good. I use the NOAA (national weather service) website, and have always been impressed by the accuracy of their reports.

Left the trailhead at 11am (9300ft), and had an easy hike in to Lake Charles of 4.8 miles while gaining 1700ft over that distance--pretty gentle trail. Aspens are now nearing prime time for viewing! Only saw two parties all day--a family of 4 day hiking, and party of two that passed my campsite at the far end of Lake Charles just as I finished setting up camp. Thus, I had the place to myself, and scored the best campsite at the lake, overlooking the lake from the east end, with beautiful spot for tents, bear hang, and water access. As I arrived at 2:30pm, I had plenty of time to set up camp, get the usual chores done, and then get in a bit of reading. 5pm was dinnertime. I discovered, as I was getting out my dinner stuff, that I had failed to pack my fuel canister for my stove. I can't recall if I had ever made that mistake (if so, it's been 20 years or more in the past, or at least long enough ago that my foggy memory couldn't dredge up the details). While this meant that I couldn't have a hot dinner, I wasn't going to starve, as I plenty of food which didn't require heating. I finally just shrugged my shoulders, and decided to make the best of it. Started to think about just making it a two day trip, instead of 3 (my original plan was to pack in Friday, climb Saturday, and spend a second night at the camp, then pack out Sunday). Here's pictures from my approach day: https://picasaweb.google.com/JBroadbooks/LakeCharles2014_09_19?authkey=Gv1sRgCJDc1-L3jaH2OA

Saturday: up at 6:45am, left camp at 7:15. Pika peak pretty much looks right over Lake Charles--distance to the summit was only 1.3 miles, but there is 2100 feet of vertical gain--pretty steep, but it's a class 2 climb with maybe a couple of short stretches one could call class 3. I hiked about a quarter mile east from my camp on the same trail I had taken in to Lake Charles--it continues another mile east to Mystic Island Lake--about the same size as Lake Charles, and from the view I got of it during my ascent, it appeared to be worth a visit (maybe another time!). After this short distance on the trail, I turned north and started my climb up the south slope of Pika peak--there was an obvious gully/coulouir which looked pretty straight forward (it was). I found myself on the summit at 9:45 with great views of the Gore Range (north of me in the Vail area), the Collegiate peaks to the south--I was at the northern end/start of the range. the Collegiate peaks contain (I think) 14 of Colorado's 54 "fourteeners"(peaks over 14,000ft). After a snack at a bit of hang time, I started down at 10:15, and was back in camp at 11:30am. Some clouds had started gathering, but no rain developed from them. I broke camp and took a bit of rest, then packed out to the trailhead, arriving back at my vehicle at 3:15. Had an uneventful drive back home (and at least avoided the Sunday afternoon traffic issues which we have on I-70 in Colorado). Here's pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/JBroadbooks/PikaPeak2014_09_20?authkey=Gv1sRgCOrAgKnUmLKI8QE


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