Puma was working during the day Monday and this was a good chance for me to head to the mountains for a longer hike. Better yet, there was a beautiful, clear day forecasted.
My local backyard mountain range, the Sangre de Cristos were on my menu. My friend Drew Petersen recently visited the Lakes of the Clouds near Westcliffe, CO. The area sounded appealing and it's surrounded by numerous 13,000 foot summits. The east side of the Sangres has numerous alpine basins with high mountain ponds surrounded by summits. I have visited several of these basins and they are enjoyable hikes. The Lakes of the Clouds sounded promising.
I headed out Columbus Day on a beautiful, cloudless morning. I departed the Gibson Creek trailhead at 7AM which is before sunrise this time of year. The first half mile or so I followed the Rainbow Trail and enjoyed watching the sunrise over the Wet Mountains to the east. I have now seen the sunrise over the Wet Mountains numerous times on my hikes in the Sangres.
|Early morning sun hitting Spread Eagle Peak
|The sun rising over the Wet Mountains
|The turn off from the Rainbow Trail
|An early look at the higher summits
|Peak of the Clouds over the first lake when I first arrived at the lakes
|Looking toward Silver Peak
|Peak of the Clouds over the upper lake. Notice the cliffs just
above the lake. These are the cliffs I talk about on my final
descent from Silver Peak.
I stopped to assess my route, grab a snack, and put on more layers. The mass of Spread Eagle Peak blocked the sun making it chilly enough to put on a hat and gloves.
With no better option, I continued straight up the rocky slope. I found that the rock was very solid and I managed to make good time despite the steep vertical climb. After gaining nearly 3/4 of the elevation, I rounded the steep slope into more gentle terrain. I finally got out of the mountain's shadow and into the sun at this point, well after 10AM. I had a more gradual approach toward the ridge. The terrain was still rocky. To save some time I intersected the ridge by climbing up a short couloir. The couloir met the ridge just below the toughest point along the ridgeline. There is a narrow section requiring some scrambling that is at least class 2+ difficulty, maybe class 3 depending on the line chosen.
|Looking down toward the lakes
from the slopes of Spread Eagle
|View across the rocky slopes of Spread Eagle
toward Peak of the Clouds
|Climbing up the couloir
|Rito Alto on the left and the Crestone in the distance
|Coming down from Spread Eagle with
Rito Alto and Peak of the Clouds ahead
The ridge between the two summits was grassy much of the way. Even the steep ridge to the summit of Peak of the Clouds was mostly grass, making for a fairly easy summit climb. I reached the summit fairly quickly.
|Rito Alto Peak is the most prominent summit
to the left of Peak of the Clouds' ridge
|Another look at Rito Alto
|Approaching Peak of the Clouds
|Looking toward Silver Peak from a
notch along the ridge to Peak of the Clouds
|Looking across Cotton Creek basin from the summit
|Looking south from the summit
The Crestones in the distance
|Looking back toward Spread Eagle
|Looking ahead to Silver Peak
|The view over the lakes from the summit
|The ridge doesn't look to bad from the summit
|Close up of the ridge. It's a nearly vertical drop to the right and the left
is much worse than it appears
|Moving further along the ridge
|Looking back at Peaks of the Clouds after the worst of the rocky ridge
|Looking across the jagged face of Peak of the Clouds
toward Spread Eagle Peak
|Looking back at a nearly vertical section that I had
to downclimb. The picture doesn't
capture the steepness that well.
|The crest of the ridge is jagged with a drop into space beyond it.
The smoother looking section below the spine is much steeper
than it looks.
|Looking ahead to a more mellow section of rock
|Another look back to Peak of the Clouds
|Looking into the Cotton Creek basin
|I believe this is Mt. Owen
|The climb of Silver Peak traverses nice tundra
|Cotton Lake basin
|Looking back at Peak of the Clouds
|Much of my route is visible here
|View north toward Cottonwood and Electric Peaks
|Spread Eagle closeup
The descent traveled over a moderate grassy slope allowing me to make good time. Not too far above the upper lake my travel was impeded by a cliff band. Rather than guess on which cleft in the cliff descended to the bottom safely, I paralleled the top of the cliff until I reached its edge and could simply pass around it. I had to descend through one steep gully but it was fairly short with not too much risk.
|Looking down the grassy slope toward the lakes
|Continuing down the slopes before the cliffs
|Looking back up the grassy slope toward Silver Peak
|I nice look at Peak of the Clouds on my descent
|Looking down at the three Lakes of the Clouds
|Below the cliffs and above the lakes
|Traveling along the shore of the upper lake
|More trout, clicking on the picture helps seeing them more clearly
|A final look back over the lowest lake
before heading into the woods with both
Spread Eagle and Peak of the Clouds in view
|A waterfall just off the trail
|Another look toward the distant Crestones
between Rito Alto and Peak of the Clouds
|A final closeup toward of the Crestones