Bubble Lake: Crown Jewel of the Gores

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Bubble Lake Cirque.

Bubble Lakes: Peak “I”, “Dwarf Pyramid”, “The Elephant”, and Pt 12,845

Mileage/Vertical: No idea (7 miles/4000 feet to Bubble Lake from Piney Lake TH via Kneeknocker Pass, 3 12ers loop from Bubble Lake, approximately 4 miles and 3,000 feet)


Scot, Mike and I had been tentatively planning a trip to the reclusive Bubble Lakes for a couple years now. Fortunately for me, they both bailed on the idea 2 times before, and the stars finally aligned last weekend. I’m glad they did, cause this place was special. Scot put it in his top 3 all-time (1 – Sunlight Basin, 2 – Bubble, 3 – Slate), I think I put it tied for #1 with Slate (I have not been to Sunlight). Mike took the neutral path and said he loves them all (and he’s been to all 3).

Some scheduling conflicts had us with 3 separate schedules. Mike and I packed in Saturday morning, with Scot coming in later Saturday afternoon due to a swim meet for his daughter. Mike was leaving Sunday afternoon, myself leaving Monday afternoon and Scot leaving Tuesday afternoon. We at least had Sunday to climb together.

After some Marko’s Pizza in Edwards (highly recommended) friday night, Mike and I crashed early for a 6am early morning pack in. We arrived at the Piney Ranch overnight trailhead around 6, and were on the trail soon after. Just a thing of note – the ranch has gotten weird about backpackers, hikers or any non-guests walking through the ranch property, so a trail has been constructed around the ranch boundaries. It’s not hard to spot from the parking lot. Just a FYI.

The morning had a peaceful, misty feel to it…

Piney Lake with Peak C’s silhouette seen through the early morning fog.

Good thing there is no Grizz in these parts. You’ll smell wet dog in zero visibility and not know what hit you.

We made quick work of the trail to the Kneeknocker Pass “junction”, which is nothing more than a pile of cairns in the middle of some foliage. This was prime time to be in the Gores from a lushness standpoint, we were surrounded by seas of green in all directions.

The Corn Lily.

Green valley beneath Kneeknocker with HCW as a backdrop – not bad.

We grunted up the steep, faint trail to the pass and took a break, admiring our surroundings and scouting out the easiest way to sidehill with a full multi-day pack to Dwarf Pyramid. The east side of Kneeknocker was snow covered, so we got axes out for safe measure and heel stepped our way down the basin towards the Powell/Dwarf Pyramid saddle. After dropping our packs at a small tarn below the saddle, with no more weight on our backs, we made quicker work of the terrain.

Dwarf Pyramid from Kneeknocker Pass.

From the Powell/Dwarf saddle, you can straight down in to Duck Lake and Dinosaur Ridge, and you soon figure out where Duck gets its name from in about 300 feet….

The ice melted perfectly to form a beak, an eye and some feathers. Pretty neat.

Bubble Lake from Dwarf Pyramid’s summit.

Some sweet lines on Powell and Eagle’s Nest’s East Faces. I’m getting tired just thinking about how hard it would be to get back there though. Someday.

Dora Lake.

This photo by Summitpost member JackB was taken from Dora Lake.

I was getting worried that a marmot might eat all my Pringles, as well as ancy to beat the rain and set up camp, so we didn’t linger on the summit of Dwarf for too long. By the way, while it doesn’t look it, the NW ridge of Dwarf Pyramid goes at easy class 3, straight shot all the way up the ridge. Quite enjoyable actually.

On the way back to the packs, we saw an interesting formation in the snow. It looked like a Honey Badger den, so neither of us bothered getting too close.

Glacier Butthole.

After re-joining with our packs, which were unscathed, we made way for Bubble Lake, trying to keep as much elevation as we could cresting the valley below Kneeknocker. We found a very faint use trail and were able to keep elevation loss to a minimum. Tired and hungry, we finally crested the final hill and peered straight down into the lake. It was worth the 3 year wait…

Finally.

Basecamp for a couple nights.

We didn’t have much time to look for the most ideal site in the valley due to an engulfing thunderstorm. We set up the tent in a small hail storm and retreated to our quarters till the quick shower subsided. After locating a spot to dive in the lake, a nearby snowfield that would serve as a backcountry fridge and some trees to hang stuff, an early dinner was served. It did Bubble justice. 2 Johnsonville Stadium brats each, with Cherry Habanero mustard, some Uncle Ben’s wild rice and Cheddar Cheese Pringles, washed down with a Deviant. It simply doesn’t get much better than that.

With Scot running late due to his familial obligations, Mike and I called it a night early in anticipation of a trio of 12ers in the basin. We were treated to a nice sunset, with the rays hitting down on Peak N to the east, almost reminding us of our trip there 2 years earlier and how we had talked about Bubble on that trip – coming full circle.

Bubble Lake with sunset over Peak N and O.

Scot showed up around 7am on the dot, just as he said he would in the last email on Friday. It was kind of amazing we ran in to each other at all, given the size of the lake. He quickly cooked up his usual 4 packets of Quaker oatmeal, scarfed it all down and we were on our way.

The first peak on the agenda was the furthest away – Peak I. Not much was known about this peak, other than a short video from Theron Welch and a quick write up on Summitpost. It’s main appeal was it was one of the most remote peaks in the Gores – which needs no further explanation.

Upper Bubble Lake and Peak G in the background

We reached Upper Bubble Lake via a dry rock rib along a slope connecting to the upper and lower lake. We reached the still frozen upper lake with no issues and climbed the permanent snowfield to the upper basin, with the eastern ramparts of the Ripsaw Ridge towering over our right shoulders. Peak I finally came in to view as we crested a long, low saddle connecting Pt.12,845 to Peak G and we made an ascending traverse for the Peak I/G saddle.

Traversing towards “I”.

Scott had his crampons on and took the lead along the final semi-steep slope towards the saddle, with Mike and I in tow. Despite a suspect forecast for the weekend, the weather gave us solid windows each day, even with building clouds throughout the day.

We reached the south side of Peak I and had to perform an ascending traverse along grassy ledges to reach almost the SE corner of the peak, in order to find a weakness to gain the summit ridge. Think Peak 9 in the Weminuche and you have a good idea of the nature of the route.

Can you spot Mike?

We reached a gully that appeared to contain a mild class 4 scramble all the way to the summit ridge. Mike was in the lead and made cairns for Scot and I, as we had fallen a little behind. Nature was calling Scot halfway up the class 4 scramble section (I nearly stepped right in the result of that call on the way down), so I met up with Mike on the summit.

Scot along the summit ridge with Peak L in the background. This really is a “sentinel of the Gores” from every angle. Impressive mountain.

Since Mike was heading out later that day, we decided to head towards the 12,845/Elephant saddle and see where our interests led us. This involved descending all the way to the lake between “I” and those 2.

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From the I/G saddle, we all kind of foot skied our way towards the lake, myself tripping, bending my knee the wrong way and destroying my hands on the fall. But the lake was beautiful…

Unnamed high alpine lake deep in the Black Creek drainage.

Looking back at the North Face of Peak “I”. Not friendly.

From the lake, we picked our way through some cliff bands to reach the 12,845/Elephant saddle. Mike and I went for 12,845 as Scot chilled around the saddle, with some precipitation closing in on us. Mike had plans to get both peaks, since he was heading out afterwards, so I tagged 12,845 via it’s East Ridge, then rejoined Scot at the saddle, with plans to hit Elephant the next day. We parted ways with Mike as he jetted off towards Elephant and descended towards Bubble Lake. This descent was arguably the highlight of the trip, as the perspectives we had of the lake, the upper lush benches and the peaks to the West were not of this earth. They looked Teton-esque! Some scenics….

Gore Math 101 : Creek + foliage + jagged peaks – gapers = Gores.

Gores give new meaning to the word “Tarn”.

Peak D looking fierce.

Nice spot for a swim.

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Don’t mind if I do!

Neither does Floyd.

Our body oils floating on the surface was a pleasant sight, but this was top 5 most refreshing dips thus far in the mountains. When is LOJ going to come up with a List of Lakes to jump in??

Mike showed up a little bit later with some surprising beta on “The Elephant” (more on that later). The hike around the lake could’ve been viewed as “tedious” but it was such an incredible setting, none of us could really complain (aside from our grumbling stomachs).

Eastern end of the lake. There are places to camp right behind me to the right.

Scot didn’t trust that log crossing so found alternate means of getting across.

Vibrant scenery.

We felt sorry for Mike as he packed up his stuff at camp – mainly cause he was missing out on a feast and textbook relaxation session going on. To make matters worse, Scot put on some Paul Simon which we amplified through the extra Jetboil and laid there in the shade downing Pringles, while Mike prepared for the 7 mile pack out. We said our goodbyes and called it a night not too long after, as we were both zonked.

Day 3 began with a re-climb of Pt 12,845 via a North Couloir right out of Upper Bubble Lake. I climbed it in Scot’s microspikes, since I sold all my contact strap crampons and enjoyed Scot’s kicksteps the entire way up.

“The Elepant” sadistically smiling at us from afar.

D/C/Powell/Eagle’s Nest and Upper Bubble from 12,845’s unique summit.

While the easiest of the 3, Pt 12,845 was a fun climb from both the North Couloir and the East Ridge, and it could’ve very well had the best overall views in the area.

All Gore peaks include 60 degree grass slopes.

Now Mike had warned us of the inherent dangers and obstacles of “The Elephant” so Scot and I naturally didn’t listen to a word her said. Right from the get go, we decided to stick to the ridge proper and got in to trouble immediately at the first of 3 knife edges. These knife edges made Capitol seem like a Disney movie, and walking across the ledges and “avenues” of “The Elephant” reminded me of Clarice Starling descending in to Buffalo Bill’s pitch black basement after having seen a rotting corpse in a bathtub. This peak was no joke.

A little off route.

Cliffy.

Relent you f’ing summit!

Some fun, Peak L-esque scrambling to the summit ridge.

There are 2 ways to climb this mountain. Either stay on the ridge and test your fate, or drop down below all the cliffs to almost the lake below and then find a weakness in the Southeastern slopes and climb up a class 3/4 gully to the summit ridge. The North Face looks a lot tamer as well, but getting to it from the lake could prove arduous.

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This is a first come, first serve summit.

Peak Q showing it’s teeth.

The descent was kind of a chore. From the summit ridge, we descended refrigerator sized blocks to a series of cliffs, which we had to pick our way through via a series of ledges, some more exposed than the others. Once we were down those, we basically had to make a low hanging traverse from the base of the cliffs, through now car and house sized boulders, to the Elephant/12,845 saddle. From the saddle, we made a beeline for the NE slopes below 12,845, ending up eventually at Upper Bubble and then followed our tracks from the morning to lower Bubble and camp.

Peak C and the highpoint of the range.

Peak C – aka “The mini-Grand”.

Now it was my turn to be tortured by Scot as I packed up and took off. Scot was left in the most isolated basin in the range with 2 sleeves of pringles, Salmon patay, 3 Berry cobbler and enough Mountain Houses to feed a legion of llamas. He also had a Dank, a Deviant and some tunes – it was tough to depart from that to say the least.

We said our goodbyes and I began the slog out and it was every bit of a bear as I feared it would. It was a nice solo hike though and I cherished every bit of it, longing already for the day I return to this fine part of the world.

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Sun sets over the Gores.

Thanks for reading.

20 thoughts on “Bubble Lake: Crown Jewel of the Gores

  1. Ben

    Looks awesome guys! It’s hard to read the text when the pics jump out at you like these ones do, but I managed to read most of it. Yet another basin it looks like I’ll have to head up to someday. Good call on staying away from that butthole, there’s no knowing what could come out of that thing. Lemme know when you wanna tackle those lines on Powell, Brian.
     
    P.s. It’s nice to know safe havens like Bubble Lake exist and will always be there, pristine and untouched, no matter how over-populated Colorado becomes. Gives me hope for my thirties and forties.

  2. Brandon Chalk

    Brian – you’ve outdone yourself. So beautiful back there. Some great peaks as well and even better pics. I’m very envious and so wish we could have made the trip with you. Well done, man!

  3. Floyd

    That last night… Nirvana/Alice in Chains Unplugged before nodding off to some Symphonic Floyd. Good Times.
     
    Brian, thanks for writing this up. 3 years in waiting and this one didn’t disappoint. These are some days we’re livin’, huh? As far as the Elephant is concerned, that mountain got “real” real fast. Thanks for an incredible weekend and who would have thought Mike would stay neutral in a debate? The guy should run for governor someday. As far as the top 3-4 basins, the Lone Eagle Cirque needs to enter the conversation at some point.
     
    Ben, I may be your huckleberry for those snow lines in the coming years. As a Gore Enthusiast, I’m a little embarrassed that I haven’t been up EN or Powell yet.

  4. Dillon

    Nice report, Miller! I read very slow, but these pictures made it easy for me to stay focused. A couple of these shots remind me of RMNP, well maybe RMNP on steroids! Looks like one heck of spot. Glad you all had a fun and memorable trip. I’m also glad the marmots didn’t eat your Pringles! Looking forward to the rest of this bad @ss summer fellers!

  5. Sarah B.

    Reading through this, kept finding photos I wanted to comment on specifically, then got to then end and realized there are just too many. So I’ll just say, WOW, amazing f-ing photos, Brian. Obviously not too hard in an area like that, but still. Looks like an absolutely amazing trip you guys. And to think, you’ll be right back there in Slate in just a few weeks, then on the JMT a few weeks later! You’re gonna get spoiled. Might need to book a quick trip to Dayton this fall to shake off the sensory overload. : )

  6. Ryan M

    Fantastic pics, especially the corn lily one. Nice writeup and beta too. One of the few 12er basins that looks intriguing enough to know the 12er names.

  7. Michael R.

    Nice summary Brian! It was great getting back there with you guys, and a long time coming on finally getting to Bubble. That is a special area indeed, wish I could have stayed longer. “Elephant” was certainly a surprise, it looks a lot more straight forward from a distance but it holds secrets. I was just glad the monolith on top was a few feet lower, I couldn’t see a reasonable way up that thing! Those “L” like slabs Floyd is on look a lot like what I ended up descending, that and the traverse on the knife edge gave the whole peak a sort of “L” quality to it. Definitely one of those hidden gems you hear about.
     
    Unfortunately Ben, even Bubble did not fully escape the ass-clownery. Someone had built this silly log bridge to the island, who would cut live trees in Bubble to make a bridge over 3 feet of water? Their Gore Card has been officially revoked!
     
    Otherwise, there aren’t even really any cairns, all the ones I made – I knocked down on the way back. Some places deserve to feel like you are the first person to ever visit, Bubble is such a place.

  8. kimo

    You did that place right Brian. Your photos and write-up conjured up the feeling of the area. I remember my trips up Kneeknocker in glorious detail. Not many trips remain so vivid in my head. It’s pretty wild. From your pics I’d say that Bubble could be the real Valhalla of the Gore. It was a good reminder that there is another world out there.
     
    Nice trip guys.

  9. Brian Post author

    Jason – glad you are back in the motherland. Domestic trips > International trips – I’ll prove it to you in the coming weeks.
     
    Ben – If Bubble gets gaped out in our lifetime, I am moving 100%. I doubt that’ll happen though.
     
    Brandon – This obviously needs to go on the list, probably before the little Chalk arrives.
     
    Scot – #1 Gore trip of all time, great days indeed. The Paul Simon was much appreciated, as was the gluttonous cobbler.
     
    Sarnelli – Bubble = RMNP + Tetons. Your gonna love those mountains, I guarantee it (In Men’s Warehouse voice)
     
    Sarah – life should always be sensory overload. Can’t achieve that rotting in a cube. Thanks for checking in. Slate will be just as good.
     
    Ryan – the corn lily was one of my personal favorites. Such a cool plant, I felt bad having to schwack my way through some fields of those, but thats what the Gores are all about I guess. I was thinking about you sand Furthermore’s Peak C climb as we crested Kneeknocker.
     
    Mike – Bubble made you feel like we were the only people on earth – at least for a couple days, till you arrive back at the ranch and there is dance music blaring.
     
    Kimo – Well said my friend. All those ups and downs required to reach Bubble certainly makes it seem like another dimension. It was melancholy to leave, I was almost getting choked up. I hope to return someday. Thanks for the comment.
     
    ZBauer – Thanks man. Not hopefully – definitely.

  10. Ryan M

    Ha, speaking of the Tetons reference – Peak C NW ridge seemed like a mini version of Upper Exum, minus the step across. Again, enjoyed the report.

  11. Matt

    Too bad for me that I’m such a fat ass these days. That trip looks incredible, even by your standards.
     
    From the looks of your pics, I should have stuck with the SX 280…

  12. Rick

    Awesome fellas…..simply awesome! I dont think lord gore himself would take offense to this trip report……

  13. Dave

    Very nice Brian! One of my favorite places in the Gore. So beautiful, so untouched. Very pristine back there. Last time I ventured to bubble was back in early July of 2006. Need to plan a trip back there soon. Looks like there’s still some excellent ski lines back there as well. Such a slog though. How were the bugs/flies/mosquitoes? Excellent work and thanks for all of the photos!

  14. DKYarian

    Brian…..I am way late to the party on this one, but awesome TR. The area looks incredible – can’t wait to get out there with you in a few weeks here.

  15. Erik W

    Hello. Yes, great pictures. I was just at Bubble lake on July 6-7-8. It was a solo trip and I was thinking to myself, “Is this the most beautiful place I have been, or is it’s beauty exaggerated by the difficulty in getting here?” Well, now I have confirmation. It is indeed a jewel. Check out this pic from the lake outlet, I’m proud of it.
    https://www.flickr.com/gp/54086124@N03/FmYRQi

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