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…
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.
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.
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….
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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….
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for reading.