I talked to Steve last week and he indicated he was ready for another alpine adventure of some kind. With Christmas and New Years around the corner I figured it’d most likely have to wait until January, but as it turned out we were both able to get Monday off from work, which happened to be the winter solstice. Although I haven’t summited many peaks on the solstice, there’s something unique about being out there on the shortest day of the year.
With a few options thrown out on the table, we eventually landed on Eagle Peak A (13,205 ft) in the Sangre de Cristos. High winds and cold temps made heading south attractive when comparing forecasts to the Front Range and Sawatch, although what we wound up experiencing was hardly an ideal weather day in the mountains.
Steve and I rendezvoused at my place and motored down to Canon City, up 50 to Texas Creek and south on 69 to the small town of Hillside, CO. From there it’s a few mile drive to the Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp and the start of the Rainbow Lake Road. We were able to drive maybe a mile up the road from the camp before being stopped by a downed tree. After parking the vehicle out of the way we donned our Gore-Tex and mountaineering boots and began the 4 mile slog to Rainbow Lake.
I was stoked about the familiar (but somewhat distant) feeling of walking up a snow-covered road in winter, the crunch of frozen water crystals underneath the boots marking each and every step. Eventually the snow became deep enough to warrant Steve and I strapping on our anti-posthole devices, which did their job pretty well I suppose.
We toiled in the trees to the east of the lake, trying to find a suitable line to gain the base of Eagle’s northeast ridge. A steep climb up a frozen talus field punctuated by downed timber eventually forced us farther to the north, which is where we should have gone to begin with (note to future travelers: resist the urge to take on the slope directly above the lake too far to the south, it doesn’t work out very well).
We plunge stepped through deepening snow, gaining altitude until things flattened out a bit indicating we had gained the base of Eagle’s northeast ridge. We turned southwest and continued on up mellower slopes until finally breaking out above tree line. One thing was clear – it was one hell of a windy day up there.
We worked our way west around a final grove of pine trees, dropped our slowshoes, and threw on every layer we had in our packs before starting the long ridge slog to the summit. The ascent was a clinic in patience and perseverance, as we seemingly got blown one step back for every two steps forward all the way up the ridge line.
We eventually worked our way around to the southeast side of the ridge crest which did seem to help with the winds somewhat. Steve was in the lead and after what seemed like an eternity (it’s a longer ridge than it appears to be from below), we finally topped out on the summit ridge and had a short hundred yard walk to the top. Steve got there first, tapped the wooden stick that marks the summit with his pole, and immediately turned around and began his descent.
I was a tad warmer than Steve and was able to stay on the summit for a few minutes to snap a set of photos. Though miserable in the moment, the high winds created some incredible scenes among the surrounding peaks…
Just before my hands were about to freeze off I got out of there and caught up with Steve down the ridge line. The winds seemed to get worse on the descent and even knocked us off our feet once or twice in the grassy tundra. We were happy to have gotten the summit but even happier to finally get back below tree line.
In the trees we were amazed at how much of our trench had completely disappeared in a matter of only a few hours. Despite not being able to follow it were able to take a similar line back down to Rainbow Lake. Upon crossing the north shore at dusk, we were granted with one last view of Eagle Peak.
Steve led a fast charge down the road and before too long we were back in the Duckett Fire burn area. The moon rising over a sea of charred tree trunks made for a surreal and beautiful experience.
Incredible Pedal and chips back at the car capped off the day quite nicely. Steve and I made sure to hang around for awhile and relish it, knowing we both had to be back at work the next morning.
When it comes to low-hanging winter 13er fruit, Eagle should be at the top of everybody’s list. The lack of avy danger, simple nature of the route, and general absence of snow up high in the Sangres makes it an ideal winter day trip.
Steve, thanks for battling the winds with me up there. And Merry Christmas to all! 🎄